Tallinn: a very crafty capital

After a few days spent relaxing on Saaremaa, it was time to head to Estonia’s capital city of Tallinn. We’d done our research and had a list of pubs and bars recommended by friends, people we’d met and, of course, the Internet. Our first task, once we’d managed to haul our backpacks up to the fourth floor to drop them off, was to get a city map from the tourist information centre so we could mark on all the pubs and work out how to fit them into our days.

Completely by chance, our visit coincided with Tallinn Craft Beer Weekend, a festival featuring more than 50 breweries from around the world. However, as we weren’t aware of it until a couple of days before (note to self – better planning needed in future!), all the tickets had sold out. You can’t miss what you never had though and fortunately for us many of the best places in town had put on some special beers for the weekend so there was even more new stuff for us to try out.

Old Town

We started off in the Old Town, where there are a handful of great craft beer places, some of them well publicised and written about, others not so much. The weather was terrible so we decided to head straight to the warmth and comfort of Põrgu, which translates into English as “Hell”! On a Friday night it was busy and there were no free tables but we found a spot at the bar, where I sampled Pühaste Mosaiik IPA (exactly what it says on the tin) and Poppy tried Sori Hardly Working (4.7%), a hoppy lager. We liked this place so much we ended up going back three times during our stay in Tallinn and it was here I had a can of Sori Ensemble Five (8.3%), the best Estonian beer I’ve had so far!

Despite the name, Põrgu (Hell) is a lovely place to enjoy a beer. The food’s not bad either!

Another bar well-known amongst Tallinn’s craft enthusiasts is Koht, which simply means “place” in English. The sign on the door declares that the bar is open if it’s not closed, and thankfully for us it was the former. On our visit they had a great selection of rare beers from around the world on draught, including Rose de Gambrinus from Belgian lambic legends Cantillon. Just next door, Rebane (“Fox”) had reasonable prices and a dozen or so taps, which when we were there had been handed over to Lehe and Õllenaut breweries as part of TCBW.

One of my personal favourites in the Old Town was 100 Õlle Koht, which had been recommended to us by Martin from the bottle shop in Pärnu. It took us a couple of minutes to find, hidden around the side of a row of buildings. Once we’d managed to find the door, a steep spiral staircase took us down to the old troop movement tunnels under the Kiek in de Kök tower, now converted into an atmospheric but comfortable bar with a good selection of Estonian and international beers. My favourite here was a bottle of Anderson’s Trickle Rick (10.1%), a single-hopped triple IPA. Poppy fancied something a bit more familiar and opted for a classic Leffe Blonde.

Poppy enjoying a Rose de Gambrinus in Koht

No article about Tallinn’s Old Town would be complete without a mention of Kompressor, a pancake house with legendary status among the locals. It’s not much of a beer place although there are a couple of lagers on draught, but the pancakes are absolutely delicious. If you’re in Tallinn this really is a must visit – as well as the pancakes, the garlic bread and fish soup are highly recommended too!

Balti Jaam, Telliskivi and Kalamaja

Head north-west out of the Old Town, pass through the train station and you’ll come across the Balti Jaam Turg, or Baltic Station Market. This is home to Humalakoda (Hop House) brewery, with a large bar on the top floor of the building and a smaller bar downstairs in the main market. We decided to visit the latter – Poppy tried the Sulane (5% APA), while I had the Punane (4.5% red ale) and, much to Poppy’s chagrin, some of the excellent fish jerky which was only 2 for a very generous portion. The beers weren’t outstanding but it’s worth a visit if you’re in the area.

One of two Humalakoda bars in the Balti Jaam market

Not far from the station and the market is the extremely hipster district of Telliskivi. This was once a run-down area, but students and young people have taken advantage of the low property prices and turned it into an up-and-coming place. Telliskivi is home to a number of bars and bottle shops offering a huge range of Estonian and international craft beers. We visited Pudel and went for the tasting flight, which was 20 for five half pints. Our selection was somewhat hit and miss, but the highlight was Purtse Unicorn Tears (4.6%), a unique pale ale flavoured with rose water.

Just round the corner is the SIP bottle shop which featured all the biggest names in Estonian craft, along with a UK section that included Thornbridge Jaipur, just like being back in Sheffield. F-Hoone and St Vitus are both well regarded bars in this area too, but we didn’t get chance to visit them this time – sounds like an excuse to go back!

Tasting flight in Pudel – some interesting beers even if they weren’t our favourite ones of the weekend

Our real reason for visiting this part of town was to check out the Põhjala tap room in Kalamaja, about a 20 minute walk from Telliskivi or half an hour from the Old Town. As with most of our visit to Tallinn, the weather was wet and bitterly cold, but our trek through the elements was well worth it. The brewery building itself is pretty impressive and once inside it’s a trendy, airy beer hall with dozens of tables around a central bar. There are more than 20 beers on tap, most of them the brewery’s own, and a tasting flight of five 100ml pours will set you back a reasonable (for Tallinn) 10.

Walk back towards the Old Town via Fat Margaret’s Tower and you’ll come across Uba ja Humal (Bean and Hop). This coffee shop/20-tap craft bar/bottle shop has an excellent range to drink in or take away, all at extremely reasonable prices (there was a 1 per bottle/can corkage charge to drink in). We came across many of the beers we’d tried over the weekend for at least a couple of euros cheaper, so if you’re on a budget this should definitely be your first port of call! This was the place where Poppy discovered her beer of the weekend, KOLK Sumin (9.5%), a very enjoyable Belgian-style tripel with added honey.

Another tasting flight at the Põhjala tap room – these beers were much more to our liking!

Rotermann Quarter

A trip to the KGB Museum at the Hotell Viru (well recommended, by the way) took us to the east side of town. This area is mostly dominated by big shopping centres, but venture down a small alley and you’ll find TapTap, a large bottle shop with a table big enough for 8-10 people where you can sit and enjoy your purchases. The selection ranges from local names such as Põhjala and Pühaste to rare Belgian gueuzes and lambics from the likes of Fantome and 3 Fonteinen. Beers sampled here included another can from the excellent Sori Brewing, Shakeout B: Peach & Vanilla DIPA (8.5%), and UJH Man’s Brewery Õhus on hägu (5.5%), a New England IPA which somewhat strangely contained Australian hops but was tasty enough.

If you’re craving your fix of Punk IPA then head next door and you’ll find the Tallinn branch of Brewdog, the brewery’s first outing into Estonia. The usual suspects are joined by a handful of local beers, and on our visit a couple of Danish breweries were also represented.

Sampling some local breweries in the TapTap bottle shop and bar

I’m in Tallinn for the day, where should I visit? If you want a large range of beers at a good price then you can’t go wrong at Uba ja Humal. However, if I was to return to Tallinn I would go back to the Põhjala tap room without a doubt – for me, there’s nothing better than enjoying a delicious beer in the place it was made.

Brewery to look out for? Sori Brewing are fast becoming one of my favourite Estonian breweries. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to visit their tap room out near the airport, but it’s definitely on my list for the future!

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