By Michael Jackson

Near the Finnish line?

Michael Jackson enthuses, but finds it hard to finish
Is there no end to finishes? I keep asking myself. I had a Finnish finish back in the spring. This happened in a pub in a country town called Lahti, 60 or 70 miles north of Helsinki. I know this sounds unlikely, but believe me. Some rock groups are really famous in small countries far from home. I am big in Finland. Well, big enough to be a Holder of the Haarikka. This is a bucket-sized juniper vessel bearing a dangerous resemblance to a quaich. I used to wonder why the Finns kept giving me presents, then a friend explained: “Your books are like pornography. They are about forbidden pleasures. We read them and marvel to each other: ‘Ooh!! Look what the dirty b*gg*r says about Glenfarclas 101!’” In those days, alcohol was not so much prohibited as taxed out of reach, as a means of limiting consumption. This strategy was, to varying degrees, employed in several Nordic countries. It meant the working folk could scarcely afford a drink, while the super-rich carried on as normal. Perhaps the working man retained his purity and the rich man destroyed himself, in the view of the Lutherans whose lobby led to such policies. Did the Left-leaning Governments see it that way? Were they protecting the working man from himself instead of fighting for his right to unwatered whisky?Things have changed since Finland joined the European Union. This was evident in Lahti, where I met a publican called Anssi Pyysing (I am not making this up, as my colleague Dave Barrie frequently observes during his musings in the Miami Herald. He also appears in the Herald-Tribune, but I bet he won’t tell you how he lost his virginity – let alone which whisky was involved).Anyway, Anssi and his wife Marianne have two pubs, both called the Teerenpeli. One, in Lahti, has its own brewery. The other, in Tampere, has a whisky cellar. They buy whiskies in Scotland and finish them in sherry, brandy and rum casks in Tampere. Both pubs serve these whiskies. Why do they do it? Enthusiasm, I suppose.You will thank me for telling you all of this if you ever happen to be in Tampere. Don’t laugh; it could happen. It’s a big conference city. If you are Scottish and go there, you may be surprised to discover there’s a neighbourhood called Finlayson. The name belonged to a Scottish family who established mills in this industrial town to supply Tsarist Russia. One of the mills now accommodates a pub that makes its own beer. The other good news is Tampere is famous for black pudding.The Swedish port of Gothenburg was once renowned for a black beer called Carnegie Porter. The beer is still made, but in Stockholm. Carnegie was a Scot, though not the one who won friends and influenced people. Nor did he have steel mills in Pittsburgh. There are almost as many Carnegies in Scotland as there are Michael Jacksons in the US. There is also a Scottish diaspora, hence Carnegie’s beer in Sweden.In the bad old days, it was the only beer worth drinking in Sweden. Now you can go to a pub like Akkurat, in Stockholm, and find more beers – and whiskies – than you could in Scotland. Akkurat is one of my favourite pubs anywhere in the world. I had enjoyed the place long before I started to present the occasional tutored tasting there. The astonishing whisky selection and organisation of the tutored tastings is down to Angela Forsgren D’Orazio. She also chairs a sizable annual judging at the Stockholm Beer and Whisky Festival each September. I‘ve been a judge for the last few years, and wanted to tell you how Angela made us rehearse with empty glasses. I also wanted to discuss a philosophical point regarding the judging, with respect to Connemara Peated Single Malt and Jameson Limited Edition.That’s why I invited you here for a drink. Unfortunately, they’re calling last orders. That’s what happens when you start chatting. Turns out to be later than you think. One for the road? Herring-barrel finish?