No vacation for me is complete without trying a local craft beer (or two). Luckily, the craft beer scene in Estonia is exploding and there are a lot of superb microbreweries, and plenty of beer for me to sample. But I also love visiting a local brewery if I can. And Tallinn has one of the top Estonian breweries: Põhjala Brewery. The main brewery is a good six miles from where we were staying near Old Town, and we didn’t have a car. Another stroke of luck…they have a tap room/speakeasy practically right outside the city walls. There was no question, we had to check it out.
A Little Background
First opened in 2014, Põhjala Brewery is the result of three friends’ dream to create a full-bodied, flavorful beer that completely differed from the “tasteless watery lagers that the faceless megacorporations have saturated the beer market with” (per the Põhjala Facebook page). They have created a number of small-batch, hand-crafted ales using the best malts and hops they can find. They take lead from others in the industry, finding inspiration in fellow brewers ideas and concoctions.
They specialize in dark beers, mostly because of the country’s location in the north. Those cold winters inspire some heavy dark beers to warm their drinkers. They also have a selection of lighter, fruitier beers, and they’re always experimenting with different flavors to come up with new brews to please the wider market. Because, let’s face it, not everyone loves a porter – but I definitely do!
The speakeasy by Põhjala is located northwest of Old Town Tallinn, just across the Balti Jaam train tracks. The outside is not much to look at, and we probably would have walked right by it had it not been for the large, white Põhjala painted across the front of the building.
When we walked in, I thought the place was still under construction. The walls weren’t painted or plastered. They were made from wafer board. It took me a moment to realize that’s how they wanted it to look, it was part of the feel: Purposefully unfinished, uniquely re-purposed. The theme continues on the outdoor patio. All the tables are made from huge wooden spools, probably once used to wind rope down at the docks or wire in warehouses. There are chairs reminiscent of those I sat in back in elementary school, and old bookshelves dot the patio covered in succulents and cacti. Table tennis can be played outside, if you’re in the mood, but mostly, it’s a relaxing spot to share a few drinks with friends.
We went on a Saturday evening around 6pm. It was relatively quiet, with only a few customers sitting out back. As we sipped on our first beers, the place cleared out for a little while until the next wave of people showed up. It never got overly crowded or loud, and was actually very quiet and peaceful. I didn’t really want to leave.
When we walked in, the girl behind the bar happily welcomed us. She spoke perfect English, so communication wasn’t an issue. We asked her for her recommendations on beers, and she gladly recommended a few brews to us. She was incredibly friendly, and never felt inconvenienced when we had another question.
Põhjala‘s speakeasy may have been small, but there was no lack of beer available. There were at least eight beers on tap, and even more available in bottles. While we usually go for a flight when we visit a new brewery, to sample as many beers as possible, we decided we’d commit to a full glass this time.
For my first beer, I chose Kirg, a passion fruit and blood orange IPA (6% ABV, IBU 15). The fruity smells were strong, and when the beer hit my tongue there was a surge of juicy, citrusy flavor, with the perfect balance of malty bitterness. It’s the ideal summer beer, truly refreshing on a warm day.
Steve had the Meri, a Gose, a sour wheat beer made with coriander and pink Himalayan rock salt (4.4% ABV, IBU 5). He’s very into sours right now, and he loved this one. I tried a sip, and even though I usually don’t go for sours, I could definitely drink a whole glass of that one.
For my second beer, I selected one that wasn’t on tap. The Hooaeg is a dry-hopped saison (5.5% ABV, IBU 25). The hazy, golden beer went down smooth, with notes of pineapple and fresh lemon coming through. I really enjoyed this one, too. Even though I’m a fan of saisons over IPAs, I think the Kirg may have won out between the two, but barely.
Steve went strong for his second beer. Öö is an imperial baltic porter (10.5% ABV, IBU 60). The name means ‘night’ in Estonian, which makes sense considering it’s dark color. The brewery describes it as being strong enough to keep you warm during the cold Estonian winters. It was very rich, with fruity notes complementing the sweet, caramel flavors. I think he preferred the sour, especially considering it’s more of a summer beer. However, on a cold snowy night, that porter would do the trick.
The speakeasy doesn’t have a kitchen, but you’re more than welcome to bring in food. You can also order a hamburger from the Burger Box, located right next door. There’s a window cut through the wall between the bar and the restaurant, and when your order is ready, they just hand it through to the bartender. We ordered the kimchi fries, which were delicious, and helped absorb some of the beer.
I’ll be honest, I’m not entirely sure if the brewery offers tours, but I imagine there is an option to take one if you visit the main location.
This quirky bar is definitely worth a visit. It’s full of character and personality. It doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not. It focuses on offering a friendly, social atmosphere, and serving up kick ass beer.
If and when I make it back to Tallinn, I’m definitely planning another visit. I need to try a few more of their beers. They unfortunately don’t distribute in Colorado (please work on that!), but based on the map, there are some select places in British Columbia and Alberta that have their beers. Guess I’m making a trip to Canada in the interim.
If you go…
Main Brewery Address: 28, Serva, 11618 Tallinn, Estonia
Speakeasy address: Kopli 4, 10412 Tallinn
- Hours: 6pm – 2am
- There’s a lot of room out back and inside, but if it gets too crowded, it could get tight. We were lucky not to have a huge crowd when we were there.
- You can bring in food or order it from next door.
Have you ever tried any Estonian beers?
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