Tartu: the city of good thoughts (and good beer)

It’s common sense that wherever you can find students you can usually find plenty of beer. Heading to Tartu, known in Estonia for housing the country’s oldest and most prestigious university, therefore seemed like a sensible option.

As well as the university, the “city of good thoughts” as it’s known is also home to one of the country’s largest breweries, A. Le Coq, as well as two up-and-coming names in the Estonian craft beer scene, Pühaste and Anderson’s. Unfortunately neither of the smaller breweries are open to the public, but A. Le Coq offer a 90-minute guided tour plus the chance to sample a beer for €10 per person. The tour was pretty interesting, particularly the huge bottling plant and the beer museum. It was a little disappointing at the end to only have the chance to try one bottled/canned beer; with two of us we had the chance to share but wouldn’t be ideal for those on their own. I went for the Imperial Extra Double Stout (7%), which was tasty enough but a little thin, and Poppy tried the 1807 Special (5.2%), which was admittedly quite a nice pilsner.

There’s nothing quite like sampling beer at its source (even if it does come in a plastic cup!)

After the tour we were in the mood for something a little craftier, so we made the short walk back into the Old Town, aiming for the deTolly Õllebaar we’d spotted on our walk around town that morning. Step down the slightly questionable looking staircase and you’ll find a small but comfortable bar offering around half a dozen beers on tap and at least 100 in bottles. We tried a handful in here, highlights of which included UHHUUU, a 7% NEIPA from Käbliku Pruulikoda, and Bassfender, a 5.5% hefeweizen from the local Anderson’s Craft Beer.

Next up was another venue we had spotted during our morning stroll, the Emajõe Pruulikoda tap room located beneath the market hall. Of the 12 options on the beer board, Poppy chose the brewery’s own hefeweizen, Gunnar (4.5%), while I went for the deTolly Šokolaadi Stout (5%) from Juhus Brewery. The bar itself was very pleasant but unfortunately neither of us was particularly impressed with our choice of refreshment.

The deTolly Õllebaar is certainly cosy but offers an excellent selection of draught and bottled beers

It turned out we’d arrived in Tartu during the city’s annual International Literature Festival, so we decided to try and combine beer with culture and headed to a poetry slam at Vilde ja Vine in the hopes that we might be able to understand something. Somewhat unsurprisingly everything was in Estonian so we couldn’t (the locals seemed to be loving it though) but fortunately the bar had a decent selection of bottled Pühaste beers. We decided to finish our evening in the Gunpowder Cellar, which claims to be the tallest pub in the world at a height of 10.2 metres. It’s not much of a beer place but still worth a visit for its impressive stature.

The Gunpowder Cellar, apparently the tallest pub in the world

The morning of our second full day in Tartu took us to the Estonian Museum of Paper and Printing, where we got the chance to make our own paper. It turns out this is thirsty work so we decided to head back into town to visit a bottle shop we’d been told about, Õllepood Nr.1 Gambrinus, the sister shop of the one we visited back in Pärnu. Like that one, the Tartu version had a great selection of bottles and cans, both Estonian and international. It did also have tables for sitting in but the shopkeeper here wasn’t as keen on hosting so we decided just to stay for a couple. Joonik, an 8.7% rye saison from Pühajõe Pruulikoda, was easily the best beer for me, with the yeastiness complimenting the spicy rye perfectly.

Another place we both wanted to visit while in Tartu was the Pühaste Kelder just down the street from the bottle shop. This is the official brewery tap and offers 20 beers on tap (plus “craft water”!), around half of which are the brewery’s own, as well as an extensive bottle list. We opted for a tasting flight at a very reasonable €6 for four 100ml pours. My favourite was Pühaste Värin (2.5% gose with Himalayan salt), while Poppy’s was Põhjala Kosmos, a 5.5% NEIPA with Citra and Mosaic hops. Before leaving Tartu we both agreed that a second visit to deTolly was in order, so we made time for a quick couple there to round off an enjoyable few days before heading back to the apartment to pack our bags ready for the next leg of the journey.

Pühaste’s tap room has the largest selection of draught beer in town

I’m in Tartu for the day, where should I visit? The Pühaste Kelder tap room was comfortable, spacious and very reasonably priced, as well as having the largest selection of draught beers in town.

Brewery to look out for? Anderson’s Craft Beer have recently relocated from near Tallinn to the brewer’s hometown of Tartu and offer a really interesting range, from more traditional styles such as amber ales and porters to more modern offerings including triple IPAs and fruity sours.


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