Fat Lizard is footloose and looking abroad
Amidst the current wave of Finnish microbrewing, Fat Lizard is raising eyebrows with its folksy marketing gimmicks and American styled craft beer flavours.
Diving into the craft brewing scene might prove difficult for a person more familiar with run-of-the-mill mass-market beers. The countless different types of beer, the varying and complex flavours, and details of the brewing process might seem like a distraction if you’re out and about just looking for a nice cold one.
Then again, the familiar mass-produced suds you may have had since you were a teenager might not quite do the trick either, especially with the variety of new quality beer available. So, what resides between the two extremes?
Turns out, all you have to do is look for a ’54 Chevy with a green and white lizard logo on it and follow it to its destination. The pickup belongs to Fat Lizard, an Espoo-based Finnish microbrewery that is filling the gap between unchallenging beer and sophisticated artisanal ales.
“Our aim is to produce quality beer that’s easy to drink,” explains Eero Kukko, who is in charge of marketing and sales at Fat Lizard. “Whether you’re downing two or ten beers, a good and drinkable beer will taste the same as the very first sip – even the following morning.”
Starting from scratch
The story of Fat Lizard started in 2013, when Kukko and his friends Topi Kairenius, Heikki Ylinen and Tuomas Koskipää were craving for fresh IPAs in Finland. Koskipää and Ylinen had been brewing hobbyists since the 1990s, and the whole crew had experience from the United States, where their taste buds had been tickled by fresh American hops.
“For me the whole hobby of brewing beer is fundamentally based on the fact that, at the time, there were no American styled IPAs in Finland,” says Ylinen, the brewmaster. Shipping beer intercontinentally from the US would hurt the most delicate flavours, so the options were quite limited for the passionate IPA lover. “We had to start doing it ourselves,” he explains.
“We’re pretty uncompromising when it comes to beer. We just want to make beer that we love, which is a part of our whole concept. As a simple-minded bunch, we don’t really look at the markets, we rather focus on the beer.”
There is a broader do-it-yourself attitude and vibe to Fat Lizard – a characteristic that the founders cherish. “Our idea in the beginning was to make quality beer and have fun doing it,” explains Kukko, “This is more of an adventure than a job.”
The uncompromising attitude towards making beer they personally enjoy is visible at the brewery, where Kukko has a story for every single detail of the newly renovated space.
Starting out, the guys admit that none of them really had an idea what it means to establish a brewery. However, a mutual passion for just the right beer has driven the quartet forward, while a good sense of humour has helped along the way.
Every last drop
The pig-headed approach to please their own taste for American-style beers has taken the quartet from hobbyists to the point that Fat Lizard is trying to keep up with the exploding demand.
“In the summer of 2017 we moved into the new premises and doubled our production and thought that we’re good. Well, we ran out of beer again in July,” says Kukko.
The rise in demand has not diluted the ambitious focus on quality. Each new brew has to be signed off by all of the founding fathers, and new flavours are cooking in the Otaniemi-based brewlab. Equally importantly, the humour and DIY attitude haven’t faded with success.
Fat Lizard has collaborated with Finnish surfers to create the Ankle Slapper Pale Ale and with local rugby players to create a tasty beer to enjoy after a rough game – the Rib Tickler Pale Ale. For the island restaurant Lonna, located off the coast of Helsinki, the guys created a sauna beer called Lonna Saunakalja. There’s even a newly opened Fat Lizard restaurant located nearby.
Five years, 41 beers and four discontinued day jobs later, the Fat Lizard guys have definitely found the sweet spot in the microbrewing scene and are pushing it towards the masses in their distinct way.
So how does the brewery plan on expanding internationally, yet keeping true to its do-it-yourself vibes?
Fat Lizard currently exports its beers to Sweden and the founders have been busy touring industry fairs and collaborating with like-minded breweries in other markets, including Germany, Estonia and Denmark.
The quartet are looking at the Nordic countries for their next phase of expansion. However, ensuring the quality and freshness of their products is a challenge that must be overcome.
“We’re on the lookout for partners that represent the same values as us. Luckily, there are several people we’ve already found mutual ground with,” explains Kukko, “We’re ready to put in the work, but we don’t want to be just another brewery. I don’t think it’s a question of whether our beers will sell, it’s more about finding the right partners with the same philosophy.”
After many stories about building a successful brewery and coming up with names for dozens of beers, the only question left to ask is: what’s behind the name Fat Lizard?
For the first time during the interview, Kukko and Ylinen fall silent.
“Well, there’s actually no story behind the name. Topi drew us a picture of a fat lizard and we thought it was funny.” They both burst into laughter.
Text: Samuli Ojala