Ruosniemen Panimo – interviewed

Ruosniemen Panimo emerged onto the Finnish brewing scene in 2012. Comprised of a bunch of engineers brewing for the love of it, but still on a large enough scale to sell their beers in quite a few of Helsinki’s bars, they occupy an interesting position somewhere between hobbyist and professional.

At OlutExpo back in October, they told their story, mentioning at one point that they sold their first beer to “an English guy” in Pikkulintu. Now, I happened to be in Pikkulintu that day when they tapped the first keg of their Pikkupomo, and I happen to be an English speaker, so I thought that just maybe they were talking about me. I got in touch with them, presented this possibility, and asked if I could have a quick interview.

It turned out that I was the not the only English speaker in the bar that day, so I’ll have to be content with being only the second ever person to buy a Ruosniemi beer. It also turned out to be quite a long interview, so I’ll reproduce roughly half of it here, and the rest when I get around to it. I must thank Antti for his time, and for a good discussion on the brewery’s history, the Finnish brewing scene, and, well, beer in general.

SETTING THE SCENE:

We went to Cella and had a chat over some hearty Finnish food and a couple of beers. (In an obvious attempt to curry favour, I ordered a Ruosniemen Piirimyyjä.) Our discussion started with the brewers’ history…

So, you started brewing 20 litre batches at home?

Yeah, it was a small apartment in Espoo, where our head brewer lived, and he got those small kettles for brewing, and then he invited some guys there with him to brew. Then he got more excited and decide to do something – to basically make his own brewery from old dairy equipment, and also some old fermenters from Germany. So it’s all used equipment..

It was a little bit of DIY?

Yeah, this guy, he’s doing this building of these processes at work also, so he’s quite good at that. Then he decided to build a bit larger brewery, and he got a place. His brother has a farm – actually, it’s not a farm anymore, but there are farmhouses. There was empty space, basically, so he decided to establish the brewery there. And then he did this building, and all the permitting and stuff, by himself mostly, and then asked us, some friends who were interested in brewing, to join the company. There were five of us in the beginning – all from Aalto, actually, originally, mostly from the chemistry, chemical engineering side – but now there’s seven of us. Two guys live in Pori who are a bit younger beer enthusiasts, and they do all those tasks which you need to do there at the brewery during the weekdays, watching fermenting and controlling and kegging and so on. And the guys who are living here [in Helsinki] go there at the weekend and brew. I was there last Saturday actually, doing a batch of Pikkupomo. So, that’s how it goes.

So it went pretty quickly from the 20 litre batch in the kitchen to going commercial?

Let’s see, the year 2010, he did all the building and permitting, and in the beginning of 2011, we mostly started doing test batches in the brewery, but we actually started commercially in 2012, so now we’ve done it one and a half years – almost 2 years – and the first kegs were on sale in the summer of 2012.

So, for you guys, you’re still working your jobs, and, this is the interesting thing for me, it seems to be somewhere between a hobby and a business, somewhere in the middle. How do you see it?

Yeah, it’s a hobby. Because there’s quite many of us, there’s seven of us, so we can share the tasks quite easily. Because we all brew – we need two people usually to do the batch – so I don’t need to be there every week or every two weeks. So I’ve been there maybe once in six weeks. Most of us also have family, small kids, so that’s time-consuming too. So it’s a hobby still, but it’s taking more and more time all the time, and we need to think about expansion in the next few months. We need to think should we continue like this or should we do something else, because it’s not really reasonable to continue like this very long, because now we’re doing all the time at full capacity. We’re selling everything quite easily actually, so we should do more beer, but we don’t have the time, or the capacity at the moment, so something needs to be done.

Would you see that as a natural thing, that some of you, or all of you, would jump in and do it full-time?

I guess the first step will be that we will hire a brewer, in Pori, and we do all other tasks by ourselves, selling and logistics..

So you could keep it with that kind of hobby status in your own life?

Yeah, I will not be the first one to jump to the brewery, but maybe the guy who started it all, he will be the first maybe. And I think it will happen, but i don’t know the timeframe at the moment, so it might take a year or two, when he can do that. But our plan is to hire first a guy, some guy to do the brews.

When you started selling to bars, how was the response at first?

Very good response actually, the bars were very interested in the new brewery in Finland, because the craft brewing wasn’t really growing at that time. It’s been growing now two years, quite fast. We and Rekola brewery, we started basically at the same time, and before us, i don’t even remember which brewery was the one before us, so there might have been some years between, but now there’s 4 or 5 breweries per year starting in Finland and it’s growing all the time. But at that time two years ago it was quite easy, we had bottles of beer, and we went to the bars, and gave a tasting to the chiefs there and they decided if they want to buy or not. That was how it was done in the first bars, but when we got a little bit of a reputation we didn’t need anymore those tasting bottles. And we have had quite an active Facebook community, cos it’s our best way of marketing. It’s cheap – it’s free – and we have almost 800 likes in Facebook, so it’s a community and we have fans there who spread the word. And that was actually very intentional, to build that kind of community, right in the beginning, because we all have a lot of friends in the engineering business, and from Aalto, and because, there’s quite many of us, so the group of people who we can take into this fan-net is quite big, all the way from the beginning, so that’s how we did it in the beginning. And we still don’t have the website, we only have the Facebook

But that’s enough for you, for now

At the moment it is, yeah, But we should do the website too. [Looks like it’s on the way..]

INTERLUDE, during which Antti tries Thornbridge‘s Raven for the first time…

..quite a good dry hopping also, for a black beer. It’s quite unique, i haven’t tasted anything like this before.

I’ve had a few black IPAs recently and they’re really all over the charts, everyone has their own interpretation of it. I’ve had some really nice ones and some really messy ones.

It’s quite nice. I usually don’t like black beers that much, I’m fond of IPAs and pale ales, and Belgian, weissbier, those are my favourites, but i’m trying to learn.

I grew up with Guinness, so it’s kind of natural for me to drink stouts..

And we’re actually brewing porter now. It will be our new product, so maybe next weekend we will do the first big batch. It’s maybe a 7% porter, quite traditional..

Baltic style..

Yeah, but with a little of spices also. Let’s see. I don’t tell yet!

Ok, fair enough!

But we, many people have asked us to brew something black, some dark beer, so, now we do it.

[Note: This turned out to be Vahtimestari, a vanilla porter that has been well received.]

What’s your favourite beer then?

[I proceed to gush about Plevna‘s Siperia imperial stout, in particular the magnificent Hanniku variant that I had back in the day…]

…so yeah, I’m a fan of stouts, but I love a good IPA as well..

For me, if I name one style, it would be actually, maybe Belgian tripels and blonde ales. I like – I love – IPAs from the US and all those, a lot of hops and a lot of dry hops, that’s very good. But still, I really like Belgian, and also sour beers.

It seems to be the next trend is gonna be sours..

It’s growing.. I always loved lambics, and saisons. They are very very interesting beers.. very different from any others.

I think it’s kind of a seasonal thing for me too, like coming into wintertime now it’s time for darker beers, heartier..

And that’s how it’s supposed to be. That’s the greatness of beer, of course, that there’s seasonal things. It’s a bit more difficult with red wine for example. Ok, there’s heavier red wines and lighter, but still, it’s red wine..

How do you see the brewing scene in Finland, in general?

At the moment? If i think about the breweries first, then there’s of course three big ones, they are mostly in charge of lager, bulk lagers the same as every other country, so these big labels.. Then there’s these, quite many of these middle-sized breweries, like Malmgård and Suomenlinna, maybe Nokia, Saimaa, maybe Laitila also, but they are more like.. they have their brews in the markets and people start to know those beers quite well.

But there’s a community of these small ones, like us and a few others, so actually there’s been a few festivals, in autumn, for which they only asked these very small breweries to come and attend. They didn’t even ask Malmgård or Suomenlinna, they only asked us and Rekola and Hiisi and Rousal and all these new and very small ones. So that’s a very new scene here, just maybe half a year or a year old, rather interesting new angle. There’s five or six of these very small ones, who also share a community, like we discuss a lot with things together, like problems, and we try to do also the collaboration with brewing. We’ve done one collaboration brew with Beer Hunter’s in Pori, and Rekola and Hiisi are doing something together. So, it’s interesting at the moment, and it’s getting more and more interesting all the time.

The collaboration thing is interesting, I’ve seen that from quite a few places, but it’s always fairly small breweries. But then suddenly a couple of months ago there appears the Two Tree porter – Sinebrychoff and Brooklyn – and like, since when did Sinebrychoff get interested, or since when did anyone get interested in collaborating with Sinebrychoff?

Yeah..

For a big commercial brewery like that, I was really amazed to see this collaboration thing happening, and maybe it makes a little bit of sense when you realise that Carlsberg is distributing Brooklyn in Europe, and Carlsberg owns Sinebrychoff, that maybe there’s some kind of corporate situation there that makes sense, but other than that, it really surprised me.

Brooklyn is a quite large brewery, too.

Yeah, but they still seem to keep at least the mentality or the attitude of a small brewer..

But one interesting thing about the collaborations of course, for example, if you think about Mikkeller and To Øl in Denmark, they did one collaboration together, because – I don’t know if you know the story behind – but..

something about “apprentices”..

Yeah, this Mikkeller guy, or Mikkel, he was a teacher, and these To Øl guys, they were students of Mikkel,and when these two guys started their brewery, To Øl, and this Mikkel guy, he just noticed that, “hey, these are former students of mine, so let’s do something together.” And then the brewery To Øl got famous basically, from being part of this collaboration with Mikkeller. Now they’re exporting a lot of beer from Denmark.

I didn’t realise it was as simple as that!

No no, if you make it simple.. But actually, I’m just thinking that, if we or some very small brewery would do something with BrewDog for example..

That would get you attention, yeah.

Quite a good boost for a brewery.. And it could well be possible, that some big brewery is interested to brew something with these small breweries who just started to do business.

Something I thought, from the Koff situation, that it could be this way of one of the bigger guys getting some credibility or something by doing this, or trying to..

Yeah, maybe it’s a credibility thing.

Or just like a marketing trick, basically..

The Koff porter, there’s a story behind that beer that the brewmaster at that time at Koff, he was visiting Guinness, and after the visit, Koff porter was born..

THERE FOLLOWED a discussion about the differences between porters & stouts in different parts of the world, and the tricky porter/stout naming conventions…

..but our porter will be closer to Koff porter, of course, strong in alcohol and, quite a low amount of hops. Guinness has a lot of hops also, so it’s very dry and hoppy, but you don’t really taste the hops, because of the black malts.

The roast hides so much.. Were you at one of the Nøgne Ø tastings [at OlutExpo]?

Yeah, I was there.

He [Kjetil Jikiun, Nøgne Ø’s founder, who had brought over four of the brewery’s rare beers for the tasting] had the light and the dark #1000 & #1001, with the spices. I couldn’t believe how much the dark malts completely disguised the taste of the spices. You could smell them but you couldn’t taste them.

Yeah it was a quite interesting tasting, the beers were very different from any other beers I’ve tasted actually, those spicy beers, but I liked the dark one.

You really had to go hunting for the spice. When you knew what you were looking for, you could find it, but otherwise you wouldn’t really notice it.

The spicing is a difficult thing of course, you can quite easily overdo it. We had this brew called Sihteeri – Secretary – which we did for the summer. I think we managed to do that quite well, because we have coriander there, we have ginger, we have black pepper, also, a hint of black pepper. You don’t really taste it, but it’s there anyway. But there’s quite many of these spiced beers which have too much ginger for my taste, for example. In our brew it’s quite mild, and it’s refreshing, so the balance is quite good. It’s been a popular brew, and people like it a lot. And it also has a little bit of sweetness, so it’s really a brew for the summer terrace. But we still do it now, because bars ask for it.

But yeah, I was just about to say something more about our story.. As you may know, there’s five of us and we are all engineers, and many of us do some consulting stuff and a lot of Excel and PowerPoint and Word, and we basically produce paper of some kind, so reports.. So one of the drivers to join the brewery and be a part of it was to do something where you can see the result quite fast, and do something with your hands, and do something else than resourcing and reporting and consulting – something meaningful, so to speak.. Brewing beer, i don’t know if it’s meaningful..

And has it satisfied you?

I think we managed to do it quite well, what we wanted to do. It’s a hobby still, and it might become a job in the future, but still it’s quite a satisfying hobby, and we really love it.

Go to part 2…

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