From hobby brewer to brewmaster in Estonia's flourishing craft beer scene (2)
Not yet even out of his late 20s, up-and-coming Estonian brewer Peeter Kolk made the jump from brewing for fun and for friends to making a serious go of contributing to the country’s ever more popular craft beer scene with the establishment of his own Kolk Brewery in Uuemõisa, just outside of the western coastal town of Haapsalu in Lääne County, in early 2016.
Speaking to ERR News, Kolk described how, in just a few years, he went from brewing for fun together with a friend to establishing his own brewery whose products are available in an ever-growing list of establishments across the country.
How did you end up getting into brewing in the first place?
A friend and I began to brew beer together during our university years. One can jokingly say that we began brewing beer out of practical necessity — craft beer is expensive, and university students are broke!
We prepared ahead rather thoroughly for our first attempt at brewing — we read some books discussing homebrewing, as well as probably thousands of posts in brewing-related online forums. We also gained some knowledge in a University of Tartu class called “The Chemistry and Technology of Beer Production,” which was taught by A. le Coq brewmaster Lauri Lipping. The greater part of the necessary equipment we built ourselves, and we began producing beer directly from malt and hops, not from maltose.
At first we only made beer for ourselves. But then we were pleased with the results of the first experiments, by which time we had really caught the brewing bug. We ended up brewing so often and so much that we couldn’t keep up with drinking it all on our own anymore, and so friends and acquaintances were able to take part in our creations.
What then? Friends began buying beer from you directly and…
Since friends and acquaintances were pleased with the results of our experiments, with their support we were able to allow ourselves better and bigger equipment over time. One summer was spent on nothing but brewing beer — I think we brewed nearly 2,000 liters (nearly 530 gallons) that year, of which most were brewed in 20-liter batches.
How and when did you decide it was time to expand production and go professional, so to speak?
I had this idea at the back of my head pretty much from the beginning, however as I was short on both the experience and funds needed, it took almost five years to finally get to [the establishment of] the official brewery. Of course, we were further inspired by a warm reception and positive feedback from (beer) friends as well.
Describe briefly how you go from concept to production and distribution of a new beer.
Usually before a new recipe is developed, I already have an exact idea of how it should taste, smell and look. After that, a recipe that will bring this idea to life must be made up utilizing existing and available raw materials. This demands a good working knowledge of both the raw materials and the production process. We usually do two to three test batches on a smaller system before a new beer gets put into production using the full-size equipment.
How far has distribution of your products now spread? Do you plan on growing and increasing availability?
We currently produce an assortment of four beers; we will soon be introducing a fifth to the market, and plan to come out with at least another three or four this year.
Right now we can be found primarily in the cafés, restaurants and stores of Haapsalu. In addition, we are available in beer stores located in Tallinn, Tartu, Pärnu, Viljandi and Kuressaare, as well as in a limited number of dining establishments in Tallinn, Tartu and Pärnu. We plan on greatly increasing availability, and are slowly beginning to think about exporting as well.
What differentiates someone who brews beer as a hobby from craft brewing?
Homebrewers are afforded a great deal more flexibility in their doings than an official brewery. There is definitely more room for experimentation — for example it isn’t a big deal if one or another ingredient costs a great deal, as when dealing with such small quantities, it isn’t particularly hard on the wallet. Also, some ingredients aren’t that easy to acquire in large quantities.
Likewise it isn’t a great catastrophe if some or other batch is a dud. Pouring 20 liters down the drain does not compare to pouring 2,000 liters out. A homebrewer can focus exclusively on that which they enjoy, which is brewing; thankfully they do not have to deal with time-consuming and annoying bureaucracy.
Some selection of ingredients and even pre-assembled homebrew kits are increasingly available in regular stores, which allows for inexperienced people to dabble in beer-brewing all the more easily. Do you have any tips for someone who might be interested in trying their hand at brewing beer at home?
Before beginning any experimentation, it is definitely worth reading up and educating oneself on the subject first — this will definitely increase one’s chances of success. There is a whole wealth of useful and thorough information regarding beer brewing available online today.