Supermarket beers in Finland

One of the things that take some getting used to when moving to Finland is the beer. Quality and price are, well, different. I don’t really care about the price but quality is something different. You have to lower you expectations and standards in this country when drinking beer.

A big problem here is the notion of supermarket beer. Similar to Sweden, Finland has an alcohol percentage limit on what is legally allowed to be sold in the supermarket. For the real stuff you need to go to the pub or to the state owned liquor stores. Both of which will charge you steep prices. Somewhat to my delight the alcohol percentage limit is at least higher than the limit in Sweden where it is an unworkable 3.5%. At 3.5% most beers taste like shit, and that includes the full range of Swedish brands I can think of (Spendrups, Pripps). Swedish beers taste like shit even with the legally required bit of water removed anyway.

Finland on the other hand maintains an almost workable 4.7%. 4.7% is quite close to the percentage of most Dutch lagers which hover around 5 -5.5%. Real beer of course wants to be 5% (or above). You have to do some dirty tricks to get normal beer below 5%. And that is exactly what the Finns do, dirty tricks. Not only do they do it with the local beers, but they also do it to the imports :-(. You can actually buy a 4.7% Heineken in this country (Heineken can of course be expected to add as much water as is legally required, they have no shame). Of course Heineken is watery to begin with. Adding water does not improve it, I can assure you. Other brands that shamelessly add water to their beer products include Stella, Becks and an odd beer called Hollandia which i’ve never heard off. Probably even the Dutch homeless would frown upon this particular lager.

Some Finnish ‘specialties’ I’ve sampled over the last few months include Olvi, Koff, Lapin Kulta, Karhu and some others not worth remembering. I’ve listed them in the order I like them best. Olvi and Koff are quite tolerable though both a bit lacking in taste. Lapin Kulta and Karhu are definately worse. Both come with a strong taste, but quite unlike beer. Lapin means rabbit in French and I suppose kulta could very well mean piss in the beautiful but difficult finnish language. Nevertheless it seems to be quite popular here. All of these ‘beers’ exist in ‘normal’ variations as well. Koff in the pub is quite allright, actually. However, drinking any of the Finnish beers in large quantities is not recommended. At 4.7% they will have almost the same effect as normal beers. However, the taste (or lack theroff) makes the whole experience not quite as enjoyable as it would normally be.

Luckily there is another option for the thirsty supermarket shopper: British & Irish stouts and ales. These are very popular in the supermarkets here. And for very good reason. With an alcohol percentage typically below 4.7% no dirty tricks need to be performed on these fine beers to make it legal to sell them. Currently I am enjoying a nice can of Boddingtons (an ale from Manchester), conveniently containing only 4.7% of alcohol. Other beers I’ve enjoyed over the past few weeks are Guinness, Caffrey’s and Murphy’s. There’s quite a few more brands I can try. I’ve even sampled a few tschechian beers which are quite enjoyable as well.

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