If you’ve ever heard of an Estonian craft beer, the likelihood is that it will have been brewed by Põhjala. Despite only bursting onto the scene a few years ago, these young upstarts based in the capital city of Tallinn have helped spearhead the craft beer revolution in the Eastern European country, hosting a 200-beer strong festival in a disused power station that brings thousands of visitors to the city each year.
However, there is far more to Estonian beer than just Põhjala, and indeed the Baltic country now boasts a thriving scene, complete with a huge number of bars, drinkers, and breweries. One such brewery is Tanker, set up by American Ryan Suske and Jaanis Tammela in the borough of Vaida, around 20 kilometers south of the Estonian capital.
Tammela and Suske honed their craft brewing together in Tammela’s garage, before teaming up with gypsy brewer Ants Laidam and establishing Tanker at the end of 2014.
The majority of Tanker’s production remains pales and IPAs, in keeping with the demand in the wider Estonian and European craft beer markets in which its beers are sold. However, the brewery also produces a range of highly acclaimed sour beers, experimenting with wild yeast to produce highly sought after and complex brews.
“The spirit of innovation is the key component of the Tanker ethos,” explains Tammela to me via email. “We are not only experimenting to create special and outstanding beers, but we are also the pioneers of sour ale production in Estonia. We will continue to produce and sell the core beers which are successful, but also to innovate other beer styles in the pursuit of new craft beer enthusiasts, markets and successful products.”
One such sour beer is the brewery’s Red Rain Blackcurrant Sour, a 7% mixed fermentation fruit beer, aged for around ten months before bottling.
Tammela tells me that the beer undergoes 5-6 months of primary fermentation with the brewery’s house blend of of Saccharomyces and Brettanomyces yeasts with Lactobacillus and Pediococcus bacteria, before around 300g/litre of blackcurrants are added. The beer is then aged for another 4 months in a stainless steel fermentation tank.
The end result is unsurprisingly bold and complex. Pouring a deep ruby red, almost black, in colour, the brettanomyces is immediately evident, along with strong esters of blackcurrant and vinegar that waft across the nostrils.
The beer is an assault on the senses, with a sharp, sherbert-like acidity and a dryness on the finish that makes it neigh on impossible not to smack one’s lips afterwards. There’s some wood and barnyard-funk here, but the overriding characteristics remain the aggressive, almost Gueuze-like acidity and intense dark fruit flavours.
Red Rain is not a beer for the faint hearted. However, If you like fruited sours, or harbour a soft spot for necking the occasional bottle of vinegar, you’ll absolutely adore it.
James Beeson is the British Guild of Beer Writers’ Best Young Beer Writer 2017. You can read more of his work on his website Beeson On Beer, in The Morning Advertiser, or by following him on Twitter @jdbeeson16. Purchase Tanker Red Rain Blackcurrant Sour here, or check out Honest Brew’s range of Estonian craft beers online.