Lumi may be tiny, but its ambition is boundless
Monday 28 October 2019
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Helsinki x Tallinn
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Lumi Brewing is tiny, and I say this having seen quite a few tiny breweries. In terms of its actual footprint, it’s not a lot bigger than a large garage. What it does have though is height, and the ingenious layout takes full advantage of this fact, with kit stacked up on top of the cold room, and racks of raw ingredients perched above the miniscule, wood-panelled brewhouse. I point this out only to excuse my first, tactless question to head brewer Greta: “This is cool. Where are you brewing the 7,000 litres for Beer52?”
Astonishingly, the full order is being brewed right here. This small but mighty brewery has only been going for around 18 months, founded last year by restauranteur Ryan Lumb and sous chef (and avid homebrewer) Greta Mäkinen.
“Ryan and I had worked together for years – he discovered craft beer through his involvement in the Helsinki Tap,” says Greta. But of course as soon as you’re involved in that scene, you immediately want your own brewery. He knew I brewed, so we started talking and this space came up – it had been used by another craft brewery that was moving to much bigger premises – so it all happened quite quickly in the end!”
As a Brit, Ryan opted for quite a traditional, English-style brewkit, complete with wood-panelled sides. Style-wise though, Lumi is more American, with nods to German technical values and a dash of their own creative flair.
“We never set out to brew English styles, because they just don’t sell here. We’re chefs, so we always think in terms of what flavour combinations will work. For example, we just made a cherry gose based on a tart tatin with cherries and allspice that Ryan baked when he was a chef. So you have all these memories of what you cooked and what worked, and you can feed those into beer recipe creation.
“We also like traditional flavours of course. There are some beer styles you’re not supposed to go and ruin. German Pilsner is the best thing in the world, so I’m not going to ruin it by adding fruit or something. Some things are best left alone.”
Greta is proud of Finland’s relatively young brewing scene, and the roughly 100 breweries that have sprung up here over the past few years. She acknowledges that it’s somewhat less mature than the better-known craft countries around it – Sweden, Denmark, Estonia – but is confident it’s on a fast-track to become one of the great brewing nations.
“Trendy, weird stuff is what sells here in Helsinki. People want beers that are sour, with fruit berries, spices and anything that’s hazy. Like everywhere else, what we’ve had for such a long time is bad bulk lager, and drinkers here are in the phase of wanting to get as far from that as possible. Assuming we follow what’s happened in other countries, people’s tastes will become more sophisticated and they’ll appreciate a wider range of styles over time.
“In terms of the future though, I’d personally like to go to a fine dining restaurant and get a beer menu with my 10-course food tasting menu. That would be fantastic!”
Since the Beer52 order is reaching the end of its fermentation while I’m there, we stop to sample a couple straight from the tank. Go West is a classic west coast IPA, and an excellent example of style, with a real bitter snap and tasty but subdued malt. Its name apparently was informed by the fact that, seconds after deciding they should brew something in this style, the classic Pet Shop Boys tune started playing on the radio. “I want to do a big imperial stout called ‘it’s a sin’ next,” says Greta with a grin.
There’s also a freshly canned Queens of The Sour Age to try, named after the traditional Finnish ‘Queen’s Jam’, made from Strawberries, Blueberries and Raspberries. “This is a very traditional thing here,” explains Greta. “You eat it with pancakes. It was funny, because as soon as we first did this, all the local breweries did their own queen’s jam sour. Jesus Christ!”
I’m relieved to hear Lumi is planning to expand, albeit in a fairly modest way; the next-door unit will soon be vacant, allowing Greta and Ryan to knock through. They’ll need the extra space too – a great year of collaborations has helped get Lumi’s name heard across the region and beyond. It’s already exporting to Sweden, and hopes working with Beer52 will drum up an appetite among UK drinkers.
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