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It's all aboard for a Koff on the beer tram

In contrast, at the New Apothecary brewpub, they grind their grain in a coffee mill and brew in dairy tanks

A railway station is a landmark in anyone's language, but especially to a Beer Hunter, whose occupation precludes driving. One of the most distinctive such landmarks is the granite Central Station in Helsinki.

It is said to subsume elements of Romanesque, Vienna Secession and our own Arts and Crafts movement, but has a stark, clean, arched line that is much more modernistic. The station, designed by the Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen, took a decade to build, between 1904 and 1914. I just wish they had put a roof on the platforms. It snows in Finland.

On east side of the station square a tram leaves to tour the city, but this is a ride with a difference. This is a streetcar called Sparakoff ("Koff Tram").

The first word is a phonetic diminutive for the second-largest Finnish brewing company, Sinebychoff. This touring train is a mobile beer bar.

The sad news is that only Koff a standard lager is on tap but, given the number of beer-lovers who enjoy riding trains, perhaps the brewery might be persuaded to add its excellent strong Porter. If that is deemed too potent, how about a black-and-tram?

The vehicle was built in the 1950s, and has been restored to a style that reminded me of the Brighton Belle with inlaid wooden benches, cushioned head-rests, mahogany panelling and discreet curtains.

The Koff brewery restored the vehicle, as a promotional idea, and the city tram undertaking operates the service.

It leaves on the hour, between 10 and 3 (except Sundays), and tours for 60 minutes. The ride costs just under a fiver (Finland is not cheap). The ticket includes the first beer, the rest are at a normal Finnish price of about 3.70 a "pint" (half a litre).

I took the tram tour recently as a prelude to a train journey almost 100 miles west, to Turku, Finlands capital in the Swedish period.

When a Swedish king was imprisoned in the castle in the 1500s, he is said to have been given 10 litres of beer a day.

In country with relatively few old buildings, Turku is noted for its medieval church and castle. When a Swedish king was imprisoned in the castle in the 1500s, he is said to have been given 10 litres of beer a day.

In more recent years, Turku has been noted for its Aura lager, named after the river straddled by the town. With its accent of Saaz hops, this beer has a certain local following, but not sufficient.

It is produced by the national giant Hartwall, whose 1970s brewery on the edge of Turku is being closed. Why close such a modern brewery? Ostensibly because the Finn-in-the-street prefers the yet-lighter lager from Hartwall's larger brewery in Lapland.

I paid a valedictory visit to the Aura brewery, then the beers creator, the veteran Finnish brewer Boris Orb, took me somewhere more optimistic. We visited a 1906 building in the Finnish version of Jugendstil or Art Nouveau - a former pharmacy that has for the last couple of years been a brewpub.

The "New Apothecary" (in Finnish, Uusi Apteekki) is still lined with drawers that once contained curative herbs and spices. The old shelves are still there, too, but now lined with bottles. Three small, rooms open on to each other, round a central bar.

Five or six people are in one way or another involved in the running of the brewpub. All previously worked in the trade, four at what was then the best beer bar in town.

In the New Apothecary, they grind their grain in a coffee mill, brew in dairy tanks, ferment and mature in kegs. Each brew is a different style, and a variety of yeasts have been used.

It has a good, pillowy head; a hazy golden colour; a dryish, fruity, palate, with some hoppy acidity and a smooth, clean, drinkability.

When I was there, the beer on offer was described as a Kölsch. It has a good, pillowy head; a hazy golden colour; a dryish, fruity, palate, with some hoppy acidity and a smooth, clean, drinkability. Although it was made with a top-fermenting yeast, it reminded me of some unfiltered lagers I have tasted in Franconia.

The brewery has also made an organic wheat beer, an Oktoberfest, an ale and a stout (with Guinness yeast), among other styles.

Whatever, the style of the moment, the house brew at the New Apothecary is known as "Cellar fleer" (Kellari Olut). There are also a dozen or 20 other brewers beers on tap, and 30 in the bottle, but no food. It is a real pub, in which to have a quiet beer, read the paper, or indulge in some student artiness.

This brewpub is about a hundred yards from the town square. Five minutes' walk away, across the Aura river, is a 1907 former bank building in handsome Art Nouveau. The tellers departed three years ago, and The Old Flank (the name is rendered in English) is now a pub and "restaurant" (actually, it serves sandwiches).

Its owner also has plans for a brewery. For the moment, he has a dozen beers on tap and more than 100 in the bottle, including some from Estonia and Latvia.

It is a splendid place. The original, wooden counters are now an island bar; there are marble pillars, with gilded capitals; upholstered armchairs sit in the "saloon bar"; and the safe is now the cellar as it is in a similar establishment in Edinburgh.

The only pleasure missing from my visit to Turku was the town's famous horsemeat sausage. By the time hunger struck, the sausage shop had closed.

Published Online: MAY 16, 2000
Published in Print: DEC 1, 1995
In: What's Brewing

Brew Travel - Brewery Review

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