Q and A with CHRIS PILKINGTON: Head Brewer at POHJALA
We thought it would be fun to share a little more of an insight into the people that help make the beer over at Pohjala, and who better to ask some questions and gain some insight from, then from head brewer: Chris Pilkington. Enjoy the little interview below.
1. Where did your love for beer come from?
I think the time that I realised how much I love beer was the time I realised that you could do anything with it! Back in student days then you could see Dogfish Head brewing with all these crazy ingredients, all sorts of breweries were modernising traditional Belgian styles… it was a wild west, and the only thing that mattered was the flavour. This is a pretty stark contrast to almost every other beverage out there, especially the very rigid rules of Scotch Whisky, so that very much appealed to me as it could be such an outlet for creativity. Of course, it wasn’t always easy to get these beers you’d read about in the UK back then, so I quickly turned to home brewing to fill those cravings
2. What’s your favourite / strangest ingredient you have used in your brews?
Great question! We’ve done a lot of Forest Series beers using ingredients native to Estonia - from pine needles, birch bark, to mushrooms, but of them all the strangest would probably have to be something we’ve just ordered, which is a whole load of esoteric medicinal herbs and flower blossoms for an Imperial Gruit. I don’t even know how I would translate some of them into English, so you’ll just have to taste the results when it comes out of barrels. In terms of my favourite… well there’s just something about heather honey that works so great and calls to the Scot in me as well as coming from the Estonian nature, and the stuff we get here is just the best.
3. Do you notice a cultural difference in the Beer industry between the UK and Estonia?
Yes certainly, there is a cultural difference in how people drink and what people drink - starting from the fact that nowhere in the world has the Pub culture quite like the UK does. It’s far less common, for example, to go for drinks after works, and much it’s more of a social thing after dinner, on a weekend night, or with friends on a night-long sauna in a country house. As a result, a lot of the beers over here tend to be stronger than those in the UK, and people are very interested to try out a wide range of styles in company and share them. Likewise, there is a strong tradition of making things yourself - baking bread, keeping beehives, growing your own vegetables, so homebrewing really fit well to the culture and in turn excited people about craft beer from the beginning. This excitement also goes into wanting to use local ingredients here no matter the style - rye malts and other forest ingredients especially!
4. Do you have a favourite beer in the vast catalogue of Põhjala beers?
That’s always a tough one, as it’s usually the most recent one that’s my favourite, or the next one just about to be brewed… but I’d say that Porridge Bullet from way back in 2016 would have to be up there. This was a blend of a BA Multigrain Barleywine with BA Imperial Baltic Porter and was one of the first times we’d really looked into the possibilities of blending barrel-aged beers together to really make the most of our barrel stocks. The result was just absolutely sublime, and it’s held up well to this day - both the beer and the concept. In fact, this same mix of strong Barleywines with Imperial stouts has been one we returned to again and again, most recently we’ve started classifying them as Stoutwines due to the really unique flavour of this type of blend.
5. How did you start working with Põhjala?
I first came to work with Põhjala way back in the distant past of 2012, after two of the founders (Peeter and Gren) had come over to Brewdog for a short internship to learn a bit more about craft brewing. I was running the shift they were put on and so we worked together, and after work, we drank together, and of course, talked about the beer world too. It was pretty clear from the beginning that we shared very similar ideas about what we liked in beer and so we stayed in touch, with me visiting Estonia to help out with the first test brews, help choose equipment, and then eventually on March 8th 2013 I moved over permanently, living in Estonia ever since.
6. What inspired the cellar series?
Funnily enough, the roots of our Cellar Series go back to the earliest days of Põhjala as myself and the founders really bonded over a shared love of barrel-aged drinks, and wanted to push these beers in our own special way. I’d worked with barrels a lot at Brewdog, and we really felt like we could put in the work to create some really special brews. What was especially great was that the concept of cellaring beers is really not anything new in Estonia - many people have a little land cellar in the country to keep pickled vegetables or cured products in, at a nice stable cool temperature. So this is just applying that same concept to beer - and it’s a lot of fun to go down to your cellar and have a choice of beers for any occasion.
7. How much does releasing your own Baltic porter mean to you and what plans do you have for next year?
At Põhjala we’re no strangers to Baltic Porters, our very first beer Öö was one as the beer style is so closely linked to Estonian brewing history! So in a way it’s a bit long time coming for us to truly celebrate the Baltic Porter day, but we surely made up for it by going all in this year. All I can say is that we had such a good time doing this that we can’t wait for next Baltic Porter Day - you can expect even more next year, with a *super* limited barrel-aged version of this year’s release (sssshh!), as well as a brand new Baltic Porter Day release to celebrate with.
8.What does the future hold for you and Põhjala?
First of all, I would have to say we’re in the best shape we’ve ever been - Covid of course has caused a whole heap of problems (especially as we’d opened a brand new brewery just the year before!), but we’ve used this time to improve ourselves and hone our practices, and now we’re ready to embrace the world again. So what’s coming next is more focus on long term ageing projects in the cellar series, looking inwards a little at our own borders and the produce that’s around from there, and working with our partners across the globe to get you better, fresher beer in the true Põhjala style.