Maku Brewing

Finland's laid back heroes go from strength to strength


 Setting up home in an uninspiring industrial estate outside the town of Tuusula, just north of Helsinki, hasn’t stopped Maku Brewing from earning a reputation as one of Finland’s most respected and successful craft breweries. Like all great fairy tales though, Maku’s journey began with two Finnish IT workers getting drunk together in an Irish pub.

CEO Ville Makkonen picks up the story: “Jussi [Tamminen] and Juhani [Repo] met when they were both sent to Ireland with a bunch of colleagues from IBM. Naturally, they started drinking there, fell in love with beer, and the idea was born. When their time in Ireland was over, Jussi decided to travel the world for a year, talking to brewers, trying different styles and learning what made a successful brewery. His main conclusion was that there is a global community of people who are as passionate about beer as he is, and that passion and determination are the two most important ingredients, as long as you can surround yourself with the right people.”

When he returned to Finland, Jussi and Juhani took everything they had learned and started collecting other people from fields including marketing and sales, so they’d have all the skills they needed as soon as they launched their first beer in 2014.

Brewing-wise, Ville is proud to say Maku has never chased the more extreme fringes of the craft beer world, opting instead to focus on easy-drinking, well-balanced beers, brewed to the highest standard possible. The line-up therefore mostly consists of pale ales and pilsners, with the occasional easy-drinking saison thrown in for variety. Recipe creation remains in the hands of founder Juhani, with fellow brewer Jani sometimes pitching in.

The past couple of years have been good for Maku. With bars and restaurants severely restricted, drinkers have been almost entirely reliant on retail, which has always been a big focus for the brewery – even its can art features characters enjoying beer at home – and traffic through its small brewery retail counter went through the roof.

Ville, the CEO

“People have shown a lot of community support to local small entrepreneurs. Plus I think people probably didn't have much to do at home. Like even though you're kind of working, you're still at home, right? So ‘should I drive to Tuusula to buy some beer? Yeah, why not? What else am I going to do?’ So we've almost reached our maximum capacity in the Tuusula site and are looking into ways that we can expand without taking more space.”

Other exciting developments include an almost doubling of the small team, and a new venue in the heart of Helsinki; a legendary brewpub that was until recently served by one of the country’s larger craft breweries. 

“They’ve now quit brewing beer there, so we're going to step up,” says Ville. “It’ll be a whole new brewing location for us, way smaller than we have here, and doesn't really increase our capacity, but definitely gives us the chance to brew more exciting beers and get immediate feedback.”

Juho Virtanen, Maku’s new community manager, chimes in: “It’s just a really good vibe for the people working in production to actually play around with new kinds of yeast, hops, techniques… whatever. And the monetary risk of playing around with the full 3500-litre badboy is quite big! So this is exactly what we've been looking forward to, in terms of connecting with our customers. Our location in Tuusula, you’ve been there, there's really not much of a chance to get people there and enjoy the beer on site. So this is really a new home base for us to hold tastings and meet our customers and collaborators as well.”

It may be growing in most areas, but there has also been a big push to reduce Maku’s environmental impact, with the result that it has now been independently verified as carbon negative.

“We now started overcompensating our carbon emissions, mitigating twice the amount of carbon that we’re actually producing. And that takes into account everything from the production of raw materials, brewing, logistics, right to actually getting the beer into the customer’s hand.”

One interesting quirk I’m keen to catch up on before we finish up is Maku’s passion for cask beer, acquired during Jussi’s fact-finding tour and nurtured ever since. Pleasingly, the cask mission has advanced considerably since we last spoke in 2009, with more venues installing pumps and Maku even importing metal casks from the UK.

“The locals love it,” says Ville. “And, of course, one of the problems with Brexit is that bars here haven't got their usual supply of the British cask ale. So we've stepped up to the cask rescue.”

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