Eero Mander has long been viewed as the mad inventor of the Estonian craft beer community, having started out as a prolific home brewer back in 2011, delighting friends and colleagues with his inventive use of unusual ingredients. Despite having grown considerably since then – with a brewery of his own and a taproom on its way – Eero’s brewing still retains that same spirit of adventure and unpredictability.
Having honed his skills for six years, brewing two or three small batches every week at home, Eero finally decided in 2014 that he needed to take a step up in scale. He partnered first with Põhjala and then Lehe, Õllenaut and Tanker to produce a series of gypsy brews, raising his profile and the funds to build his own brewery. In September 2016, this dream became reality, and Pühaste opened its doors in the university town of Tartu, a couple of hours south-east of Tallinn.
“The brewery is named after the village of Pühaste – ‘holy’ in Estonian – which is where I started brewing,” says Eero. “When it came to choosing a location for the brewery though, Tartu made perfect sense; it’s a university town, very cool, with some of the country’s best beer bars and better transport links.”
From his new base, Eero – together with co-founders Üllar Kaljurand and Lauri Eidermann, as well as a new assistant brewer – is making consistently great beer to meet the still-growing demand. He’s not letting this success get in the way of enjoyment though; as well as the brewery’s busy 24 hectoliter main kit, Eero also runs a 200-litre pilot kit, on which he continues to develop his wild and wonderful small-batch creations.
There are all sorts of things you can do to steer a beer
He currently has a list of more than 100 beers that could be scaled up to commercial production in the future. But where do these ideas come from? “It’s hard to point to one inspiration,” says Eero. “It can be something from around us, from nature, or from the food we eat. Or often I’ll drink another brewer’s beer and it will give me an idea for doing something differently. I always carry around a notebook so I can write down ideas as they come to me. I usually have one ingredient I want to work with, then build a recipe around this special ingredient. That ingredient doesn’t have to be anything crazy; it could just be a new kind of malt. There are many craft maltsters nowadays and new varieties of hops. It’s such an interesting time to be brewing.”
Although he admits these pilot brews sometimes don’t work out precisely as he expects, he is relaxed about “following the beer where it wants to go”.
“As long as it’s a clean, hygienic fermentation, there are all sorts of things you can do to steer a beer that isn’t going quite in the direction you anticipated,” he says. “Sometimes you’ll discover something amazing that you can then replicate later on.” This summer, Pühaste will be opening its own 50-seat taproom, attached to the brewery. Eero is looking forward to having a permanent home for his pilot brews, where he can chat to drinkers and get direct feedback. Beyond that, he is hoping to expand the 25-30% of Pühaste’s production that currently goes to export.
“Export is a big deal for all Estonian breweries,” he says. “Between ourselves, there’s really not much competition; we’re all great friends, we even put in ingredients orders together to get a better deal. In a sense, export is where we compete, and our competition is the rest of the world rather than each other!”