Fallout of Last Christmas (Part 1)

So with the year 2014 officially kicked to the curb by young up-and-comer 2015, even Big Bison has decided to switch gears a little. Thanks to some unfortunate circumstances, most of December was nothing but a blur for yours truly. There was something about bears, claws, wrestling and illegal groin-shots, but so far piecing what happened together has been a hopeless task. Still, January is here, and it is time to throw out the pile of party-goers in my bed and trim the forest growing from my chin. This is the internet, after all. I have to look presentable.

Still, there was one thing from last December that stuck to my mind. As Big Bison decided to brave the three-month annual blizzard of Finland to visit his friend, Colonel, he was thrust into situation most unorthodox. The only things I felt were the taser lodged to my armpit, and the bag thrown over my head. The next thing I know, I'm waking up in a great underground bar only spoken in whisper.

Indeed, I had been abducted by the Beer Society of my hometown.

So there I was, sitting next to men in big black hoods who were carrying bottle after bottle to the table, in the name of tasting the great tastes of winter times. No words were exchanged between us, but the message was clear: I had been given a challenge. Judge these beers, and prove my worth. Of course, being a Man (remember, the upper case M is important), I set out to prove my worth. Even if the Illuminati of Beer was after me, there was no way in hell I was going to give up.

Besides, this meant that I had a chance to taste some beers I had never seen before. Like I was gonna let that chance pass me by.

So let me recount those fateful four hours to you, dear readers. Sitting here, drinking local brews and watching Japanese, oiled men beat each other up to the tune of Good Ol' JR, it all seems rather funny. But back then, it was a matter of life and death... and getting drunk.

Name: Saison D'Absinthe
Strength: 6,2%
Served: From the tap
Thought: Not actual absinthe (unfortunately)...

There are beers that are strong like a burly grizzly bear, ready to rip your throat open the moment you gulp them down. Then there are beers that are mellow, like a hippie roasting in the afternoon sun of June. However, sometimes you come across beers like Saison D'Absinthe which can only be described as "fairy-like." And this is not meant as a metaphor for a certain subculture. I save those for tropical drinks served poolside.

It might be a bit surprising, considering this beer has a sort of smoky, golden color, but the taste is as airy as a mountaintop breeze. While drinking, it brings forth surprising mental images of Royal Canadian Mounted Police. When combined with the clear smell of wyrmwood in the foam, the only way describe the whole experience is "Conan the Barbarian-like." Mind you, I don't think Mr. Cimmerian himself would have drank this. Probably one of his dozen sidekicks or something.

One thing to note about Saison D'Absinthe is that it's clearly not meant for fast-paced, competitive drinking. The fresh, almost spicy taste and the way the beer fizzles on your tongue means that you've got to maintain your pace with occasional pit stops to cigarettes or other forms of entertainment. This is the reason why it's so good that the whole beer can keep cold in taste, not mellowing out as your hairy hand warms it by holding the glass. In other words, even if you take your time admiring the sights of your local pub (the stuffed deer-head, the pitifully empty tip-jar or the local bum sleeping in the corner), you'll still be able to enjoy this beer to its fullest.

So, if you're looking for something fresh to sate your appetite, or just something you can keep as your companion for most of the night, this thing here might just be your choice. Big Bison, though, requires something stronger from the alcohol he ingests. While Saison D'Absinthe might kick all the way to the back of your throat, it's just not enough. Plus, this is not something meant to be ordered multiple times in a row. Just a word of advice.


Name: S'Feuillien Cuvee de Noel
Strength: 9%
Served: From a cooled bottle
Thought: Like a liquid Christmas rye bread

Unlike the appetizer that was introduced above, this beer here is last year's brew, giving it some age. As usual with Men and beer, the acquired age only comes as a plus. Therefore, as it was brought before me, even someone like Big Bison got a little bit excited. The bottle itself was very European in design, meaning that the moment I grasped it, it disappeared in my hand. In that sense, this beer is very useful. You can take it pretty much anywhere without those underweight bouncers seeing it.

One thing struck out immediately from this beer as I got it before me. In a strange way, it presented me with a paradox I've been trying to solve to this day: the beer had a clear, significant smell... yet you cannot smell it. For some strange reason, you can feel the fragrance in your nose, but nothing is transmitted to your brain. It's bit like that greasy pizza you order as a take-out as you stumble out of the bar on the wee hours of the morning: you can eat it, but it never gets all the way to your stomach to satisfy you.

As for the taste itself, it was rather familiar for a Finn like Big Bison. The texture of the beer is thick and sugary, almost like a jam. That means it's a bit of a work to swallow, but what sort of Man would shy away from a challenge? Especially when it concerns beer.  Now, aside from the texture, the taste is brought out by the malt of the beer. It is bread-like, reminding Big Bison of the typical Finnish rye bread served during Christmas. For those not honored to live in this asshole of the world, it is a good type of beeswax. The type you can actually eat and enjoy. This warm, pleasant taste stays on the tongue long time after you've finished drinking, making it a beer perfect for those moments when you have to gab about some inconsequential stuff to entertain whoever is drinking with you.

So, if you need to socialize, consider this for your Christmas dinner. If you have it good and spend your Christmases alone, then go for something bit stronger. Like before, there is no definite kick to this beer, and despite the nice strength, it still lacks that little something to make it good.


Name: Mikkellen Ris a 'la M'ale
Strength: 8%
Served: From a cooled bottle
Thought: Wait, am I drinking spritz?

Next up on the list was Ris a 'la M'ale, a clear and very fresh-looking beer. There was a clear smell of fruit the moment the bottle was brought to our table, and it was a welcome change to the more mellow beer that had been brought up before. In that way, it sorta did resemble Saison D'Absinthe, only without the mugwort-style alchemical concoction feel to it. Which is a shame. After all, who wouldn't want to drink some potion made by a mystical druid? I know I've wanted to, ever since I was old enough to read old Asterix comics. 

Unfortunately, this beer was no creation of Getafix. Instead, it was like it was straight out of some southern country. Which is weird, because this beer is from Denmark. And what have the Danes ever done? They're like pity-members of Scandinavia, even more so than Estonians. Still, this wasn't a bad try from the farmers down south. As I mentioned, the fruit-like smell brought to mind spritz, which immediately took me out of the snow-topped Finland and to the vineyards of Italy. 

The beer itself was like a burst of frizziness, like a cluster bomb of freshness straight into your mouth. And hey, what's more manly than military-grade weaponry aimed at yourself? Not much, lemme tell you. Still, the sourness of the beer works a bit against it. In a way, it doesn't even taste like a beer as it should, but as mentioned before, some sort of weird southern concoction. In summer, this might work as its advantage, but in the middle of winter, it simply depresses you. So, perhaps its a good thing the beer disappears from your mouth just about the moment you've gulped it down. It simply evaporates, leaving nothing behind. So, at the end, you're left with a short summer-like burst and not much to say afterwards.

Pretty much like any summer relationship.

Still, there are worse beers in the circulation, and while it might not be the Manliest of the beers, even Big Bison can understand it might have its fans. But he himself is not one of them.


Of course, that wasn't all of it. We were just about half-way done, and the beers would just keep on coming. Sitting there with these hooded clansmen, there was no way to know what would happen next. But even Big Bison did not think the things would end up as they did, as he and the Beer Society clashed together on a cold December eve, determined to settle their differences through drinking of copious amounts of alcohol.

But... that conclusion will be discussed next time, in Part 2.

This is Big Bison, heading out west again.


The usual suspects

Being the national past-time of Finland, drinking is something many people practice within the lovely and not-so-lovely confines of their own homes. Most enthusiastic people even make a sport out of it. Great many are the times I have compared the amount of empty cans on my sofa to the collection of my buddies. If there's a problem in clarity of the situation, fists are employed in gentlemanly manner. Emphasis on the "manly."

So, it should come as a no surprise that even Big Bison likes to crack open a nice, cold one while watching little people beat each other in TV. Hey, it's entertainment! All the way from USA, no less.

Today, as promised, we'll be looking at the home-game variety of Finnish beer. These suckers are the two brands that Finnish men think whenever someone mentions "beer." They're cheap (whatever that means up here in God's asshole) and they do what they promised to: Get us totally newscasted if we drink enough of them.

So, let's sit down in a pile of snow and see what we can scrounge up from within these pitifully small cans with no imagination put into them.

Name: Karhu III (Bear the Third)
Strength: 4,6%
Served: Cool from the fridge
Thought: Good old shit

Okay, so I screwed up a little. That "III" is supposed to signify the type of beer this is. But hell. Doesn't "Bear the Third" sound much more badass of a beer? I think so, at least. I wouldn't be ashamed to tell my Ma that, yes indeed, I'm drinking "Bear the Third" sixth day in a row. Somebody make that into a thing. Give the logo a crown and everything. And send me the money. I need it to buy this "Bear the Third."

So what about the beer itself? It's soft alright. Nothing too oppressive. Typical for lager, in other words. Think of sorta malt-flavored water that gives ticklish sensation in the back of your throat. This is what makes Karhu so popular as a tap beer in non-fancy-pancy places. You can water it down to your heart's content, and nobody notices any difference. You're already acting more drunk than you really are in order to fool your buddies to buy you drinks (and to have an excuse for hitting on girls other than your own), so the same end-result is guaranteed.

Still, everybody knows that beer like this ain't meant to be drank when you want to impress people. This is pure "get-shitfaced-cheap" guilty pleasure, and that's how it should be. Ain't nobody asking it to be anything more. So yeah, for what it's meant to be, it handles itself just fine. If it does one thing well, it's the aftertaste. Well, I say aftertaste, but it's really just the malt again. But hey, if something works, it works, right? I know there are those who turn their overly large noses up at shit like this, but they can go to hell for all I care.

This is a beer made for mass-consumption. And who doesn't like mass-consumption of alcohol?


Name: Koff III
Strength: 4,5%
Served: Cool from the fridge
Thought: Same old shit

You know how some guys have that younger brother who does exactly same shit as the older does, only a little worse? Yeah, that's this thing. Now I ain't sure which one came first; Koff or Karhu. Hell, they're both from the same source, and I can't be arsed to check their history. Both are integral part of Finnish drinking culture, at least. Still, the other is more mature in taste and texture, the other... yeah. The other's this thing.

Now, Koff ain't a bad beer, don't get me wrong. But it's decidedly different when you start poking up the innards of the can you're holding. Oh yeah, a quick side-note for both of these beers. You damn better get them ice cold, or you're in for a one hell of a disappointment. Think of your Impala jamming up and being left to the roadside only to be towed by some no-name company and their manslaughter-machine.

The main difference between Karhu and Koff is that the latter doesn't have the same malty goodness going for it. Instead it aims to taste and stay fresh, in a manner of Will Smith. The barley in it tastes rather sharply when you drink, and it stays on your tongue for a good while. Like a snoggin' from a particularly persistent lady. There's really no aftertaste to speak of, since it aims to cool your mouth with freshness. During summer, this works great, but now that the temperatures have dropped like my salary, it just annoys.

The kicker, though? That same freshness makes this beer ideal for smoking a cigarette. When the liquid you pour down to your gullet resets your mouth and throat, every drag tastes almost as good as the first one. So those of you out there that smoke, this might be up your alley even in the middle of Edward Stark's nightmare. For those who don't, however, save it till summer. Or when you can't afford anything better.


(Add one middle finger if you're a smoker)

And that's the two most common names in Finnish drinking culture. There are more, of course, out there. This is the promised land of over-priced lager and people with nothing better to do than pass out in the snow while searching for the heart of the Saturday night. And on following nights, I'll be going over those too. But next time, I might head out again to see what the pubs have to offer. And maybe I'll find that damn heart. Or maybe I'll just get into a fight while trying to get a cheap burger. Both sound pretty good.

This is Big Bison, heading out west again.


You've probably met a motherfucker just like me

With November rolling along like the teats of a pig well on its way on becoming a yuletide ham, the air is starting to turn cold in Finland. With temperature creeping to that of a well-digger's ass, even Big Bison is forced to burrow deeper into his fur-rug jacket and seek shelter inside the many pubs and bars of the city.

This time, the bar in question was a rather well-respected corner pub with a simple name. Sure enough, there's leather chairs and even a smoking section out in the back. No bullshit about kicking us out to the street to practice our vices. But that's not what this blog is about. Interior decorating, that is. Smoking, though, is big part of it.

Anyways, beer! And not just any beer. First choice happened to be something of a "local taste", a draught beer named after the only decent landmark (a pile of dirt) around: Harju. The second choice was Irish sucker, Kilkenny by the name. Despite how it may seem, the beer has nothing to do with best American comedy around. Instead, it gets its name from some punk-ass Irish city. They probably don't even have hobos on the streets.

So, enough gabbing. Let's see what these bad boys have to offer. Without any fancy words or shit like that. I don't know any of those.

In the front: Harju Pale Ale. Kilkenny is shamefully hiding in the back.

Name: Harju Pale Ale
Strength: 5,2%
Served: Straight from the tap
Thought: Better drink this shit fast

So, Harju Pale is bit like that annoying friend you meet while out drinking. At first you're like: "Hey, haven't seen this jackass in a while!" But then, just as quickly, you realize why you originally hated his sorry ass, and just want to beat his face in. What do I mean with this? Other than some guys annoy the hell outta me? Well, lemme elaborate.

The first sip from the glass is soft, I give it that. It goes down your throat nice enough, without any objections. The taste is sorta like syrup on a block of old wood. In other words, it doesn't attack the drinker with the intention of strangling them upon the first encounter. So yeah, it's pleasant enough. Hell, the after-taste is somewhere close to salty liquorice. In other words like ammoniac. Not as bad as you might think. At least it feels that you're drinking something.

But then the magic happens. And I don't mean that in "Disney, Tinkerbell, Fly all the way to England, bitch!"sense. No, this is more like those saggy old raven-hags from Skyrim. You notice that the after-taste, what little there is, doesn't remain for long. In fact, nothing of this beer refuses to sit down and instead books it like a penniless alcoholic in a bar. The taste, the look, the foam... they're all gone in under ten minutes, leaving you with swill roughly the color of that mud puddle outside. There's nothing really to be done after this. All you can shake your head, bare your teeth, and gulp it all down as fast as you can so you can move on to the next drink on the list.

I mean, it's still alcohol. No sense in wasting it.

Now, that said, if you can drink it relatively fast, then this is fine enough beer. Nothing special, and there's nothing new in the taste itself. All the parts can be found in just about every other beer you can order at your local pub. That is, unless you live in USA. Then you're probably drinking something way worse than this. In which case, go for it if you get it.


Name: Kilkenny
Strength: 4.3%
Served: Straight from the tap
Thought: Easyrider

So, after the disappointing last five minutes, it was time to get some  Kilkenny and figure out the deal with this so called red ale. Of course, it's the inferior brand they ship out to foreign lands. Irish would never part with their good alcohol. Nobody ever does. And I don't blame them. I mean, have you tasted some of the shit out there? Wars could start from ownership of that stuff.

Now, first things first: Kilkenny is a showy beer. It's the type you can sit with in a bar and look cooler than without. So those out there on a prowl for whoever is sorry enough to spend a night with you, that's your tip of the night. Now get out of here. We're talking about drinking, not picking up the lady-folk.

Anyhow, the beer itself: it smells slightly like wood, which is always a good thing. Anything that smells weird is enough to raise my fluctuating interest. Unfortunately, it's here that the weirdness ends. Kilkenny tastes... really normal. Like normal normal. Wake-up-at-ten-and-finish-that-pizza-you-bought-last-night normal. It goes down easy, it doesn't try to fight its way back up like Brian Blessed on Everest, There's really nothing catch interest. And that's big sin in my books. Even bad beer can be nice to drink as long as its different. This thing, though?

Nothing. I might just be drinking back home. At least it'd be cheaper.

Still, I suppose it's easy, like I said. If you need that thing on your hand and sometimes on your lips to pass time, this might as well be your choice. Just don't come crying to me when you can't even remember what it was that you drank. Nothing bad and nothing good. Plus minus zero. Unless you live in USA, in which case you'd be blessed to drink this.


And with that, I'm outta stuff to say for tonight. Next up, I'm probably talk about Finnish store-variety beers. There's lot of shit to go through there, and lot of gabbing to do. Least not being to just what depths Finnish beers can sink into.

This is Big Bison, heading out west again.