Meet The Brewer – Ilmar Räni, Õllenaut

Hobby that got out of hand.

Brewing for Ilmar Räni, of Õllenaut, is ‘a hobby that got out of hand’. So much so, that from starting out only five years ago in his back bedroom, he now produces and sells 180000 litres per year from his brewery – luckily still close to home in Saue.

We have a Saturday morning TV show (and a previous period living in the US) to thank for inspiring him, with his home brew habit reaching 2500 litres per year before he made the leap to move it from hobby to profession.

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The story of Õllenaut

Ilmar expected to sell about 30000 litres of craft beer in his first year of production. In fact, once his beer hit the shelves in the winter of 2013, its popularity meant that he sold 100000 litres in the first twelve months.

Ilmar and his team established Õllenaut as a quality craft producer, with the master brewer touching each bottle personally before they were released into the world. The rate of production soon got beyond the reach of hand capping, although Urmas, Ilmar’s partner at Õllenaut, tells me he developed some quite impressive muscles in the interim.

These days some technological wizardry and an expanded team means the production levels have increased, but kept the same passion, great quality and good fun that characterise the business and the beers.

The beers are bottle conditioned, meaning there’s no plan to produce draught brews at the moment outside of special occasions, but the bottled range includes something for every taste. The brews are completely unique, being made with the Saue water, from the town’s own well – and using interesting and local ingredients like Estonian rye, clearly appeals to Ilmar.

Take for example Metsik, the Õllenaut brew made from entirely Estonian ingredients (with the exception of Brewers yeast, which is not locally available) and wild, locally growing hops.

Õllenaut do share some of their brews with the world beyond Estonia, exporting occasionally, but most of the sales come locally. The broad appeal of the beers means that people from all walks of life can be found with one of the distinctive Õllenaut bottles in hand – each one with the Õllenaut character on the front (who bears more than a passing resemblance to the brewer himself, albeit somewhat more rotund!)

The core range of four beers which have been produced since last year are supplemented by other seasonal brews and some sold only to specialist stores. The team are still experimenting, with new brews Ilmar’s ‘homework’, based on his increasing knowledge of his own and his customers’ tastes.

The future

Õllenaut started as a direct reaction against the bland corporate world Ilmar and his team had grown from; so retaining the personality and freedom of the small business are important. Growing to 200000 litres in their current facilities should be a possibility, but Ilmar tells me there’s a ceiling above which the independence and character of the craft brewer doesn’t scale well.

Perhaps, though, we might hope for a Õllenaut brewpub in future, bringing the beer, the passion, and the story to more of us.
Until that time, the bottled Õllenaut range is fun, and quirky, with something new all the time to make sure you raise a smile while you raise a glass.

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