Last Updated : 12/06/05
TICKING IN TALLINN
by "Beige" Phil Booton
Many people may be asking – Tallinn, where’s that? Well, it’s the capital of Estonia, for many years part of the USSR, but now proudly independent. It is a city with a population of 415,000 and has been described as “the new Prague”. Perhaps this is a bit of an exaggeration but it is becoming a popular tourist destination for a weekend break. It is a compact city and the best way of getting around is to walk, although there are trams and trolley buses.
The attraction of Estonia for the beer tourist is that it has a well-established beer-drinking culture, rather like other East European countries. There are seven Estonian breweries and although none are actually located in Tallinn, all their beers are available in the city. The most common styles of beer are the ubiquitous Pils, stronger lagers and strong porters, an Estonian speciality.
My first port of call was Hell Hunt, Pikk 39, in the old town. This vaguely Irish-style pub, bare boards, beer-related posters, blackboards, has an interesting intimate snug to the rear. It had a few Estonian beers on draught among the Guinness and Kilkenny. I tried A Le Coq Premium (4.7) from the Tartu Brewery and Magus Mary (4.0) from the Parnu Brewery. The latter was a clear, sweetish cherry beer. In bottle I sampled two beers from Estonia’s largest brewery, Saku – Hard Rock (7.5) and Sack Bei Reval (5.0), the former being deceptively easy to drink. This pub also serves cheap, filling food – try the soup!
The next pub was Kalle Kusta, Viru 21, a rather bare cellar restaurant with a horse theme. Here I tried two beers from the Viru Brewery, Toolse (4.7), a pils, and Palmse (5.6), a dark porterish beer. I thought both these to be a bit bland. As everywhere in Tallinn, English was spoken here and service was good. Both beers were 25 Estonian Kroons (EK) a half-litre, which equates to about £1 a pint, a pretty standard price in Tallinn.
Near the centre of the old town, just off the main square, is Karja Kelder, Vaike-Karja 1, another cellar bar, with an excellent range of beers. On draught I had Saku Tume (6.7), a very tasty dark beer. In bottle (in the course of two visits!) I tried A Le Coq Porter (6.5), more like a strong mild but very nice, Rock Ale (5.3), Bear Beer (4.9), Alexander (5.2), all these three lager-type beers, and Tartu Double Bock (8.0), a surprisingly light beer for its strength. Very good-value food here also - sausage, sauerkraut and fries for 50EK, for example.
I called in another recommended bar, Vana Villemi, Tartu mnt. 52, situated on the way to the airport some distance out of the centre. This was a traditional-style pub, bare boards, spacious, dartboard. Only about three Estonian beers available here. I tried Saku Original (4.6), the biggest-selling beer in Estonia, an ordinary Pils, which I nevertheless found quite hoppy and refreshing. If anything prices for Saku beers seemed higher than for other breweries.
The highlight of my visit was the Olletorn, Liivalaia 40, near the new Hotel Olympia. This pub is quite difficult to find – look out for the sign on an archway set back from the road. It is a locals pub with a small outside drinking area, away from the tourist beat and consequently cheaper. Almost every Estonian beer seemed to be available. On draught I sampled Munchen Vaskne (Sillamae Brewery – 6.2), an amber, supposedly Munich-style beer. In bottle: Nigula Brewery WBG Swing (6.5), which drank its strength; Parnu Brewery Viking (5.5), a rather bland lager; Karme Brewery Ordumeister (6.0), a dark beer which is unpasteurised and unfiltered. This completed my collection of all seven Estonian breweries. I was sorely tempted by the Viru 2000 Millennium (10.0), as all the bottled beers were 19EK, or about 70p!
Other places worth a visit are Molly Malone’s, an Irish pub just off the main square; Tristan and Isolde, a cafe on the main square, at which I tried Karksi Premium (4.7) from the Karme Brewery; and, the hotel where I stayed, Mihkli, Endla 23, which serves beers from Sillamae Brewery, including Munchen Tume (5.8). I had obtained a list of pubs in Tallinn from the internet but discovered that several have closed. One recommended pub, Ale Kok, Tatari 56, was closed when I called, but it wasn’t clear whether this was permanent. I didn’t have time to try Bierstube, Suda 7, which is a German-style restaurant with a good range of beers. There is also an “English pub” called the Englishman in the Hotel Olympia, Liivalaia 33.
So to sum up I would recommend Tallinn for a weekend break. It is cheap and friendly with some excellent pubs. I did however find many of the beers to be a bit gassy – the darker beers were on the whole less so. Incidentally I was interested to see that the custom in Tallinn is to order and pay at the bar as in the UK, rather than table service, as in many other continental countries. Another plus is that pubs are usually open all day from 11 in the morning until at least midnight. For more information on Tallinn in general, visit the informative website at: www.tallinn.ee, or for details of Estonian beers: www.beerguide.ee.