Sahti, the traditional Finnish beer

Shopping for something to drink in the Finnish Alko – the state-owned shop for alcoholic beverages – is usually expensive. That’s why “social drinking” in Finland doesn’t really happen the same way as in other countries. But with the growing popularity of the microbreweries these days, it’s a good time to talk about a true classic: the traditional Finnish beer, Sahti.

Sahti, traditional finnish beer
A pint of Sahti. Source.

What is Sahti

The beer expert and beer writer Michael Jackson (no relation to the deceased King of Pop) defined the Finnish beer Sahti as “the only medieval beer that survived in Western Europe”. This Finnish beer is drunk today in the same way as it was in the Finnish inns during the XIV century. Sahti also holds the EU seal of “Protected Geographical Status”, which is similar to the Denominaciones de Orígen (D.O.) labels for excellent Spanish wines, or similar labels for Bavarian beer, Italian balsamic vinegar, and many others.

The Sahti is the traditional Finnish beer. It is brewed from different kinds of grains – with and without malt – and includes most of the usual grains used for beer: rye, barley, oats and wheat.

To these grains, one must add juniper berries and hops for flavour. Barm, or even normal yeast, is used during the fermenting process. All of these ingredients come together to create the classic Finnish beer, with a distinct dark colour. The taste of the final product, after fermentation, is somewhat similar to banana, and the alcohol percentage is relatively high for a beer, at around 8%.

Although it can be brewed at home, there also exist some commercial brands of Sahti. They can be found in the Alko or served in bars, as the one on the following image. Once the Sahti is produced – at home or professionally – it must be kept cold in the fridge to make sure it doesn’t lose its distinct flavours or properties.

Sahti, Finnish beer, in professional version
A professional bottle of Sahti. You can see the juniper berries on the tag, and the dark color. Source.

Sahti recipe: how to make your own Finnish Beer

The most popular months to brew this unique Finnish beer are during the summer. You’ll need patience and some time to make a good batch of Sahti. These are the ingredients and the recipe, adapted (i.e., converted to grams and Celsius degrees), from BrewingTV.

Targeted Sahti volume: 15 litres

Types of grains – converted to grams

  • 4 kg pilsner malt
  • 1.5 kg Munich dark malt
  • 0,8 kg rye malt

Other ingredients:

– Some juniper twigs (with berries on them)
– Yeast (1 cube of fresh baking yeast)

Cooking the Sahti.
Cooking the Sahti: the traditional Finnish beer. Source.

Process

– Mash the different grains in three different steps, with 30 minutes pauses between steps, at 50°, 60° and 70° Celsius.

– Pour the resulting mash into another container, and place the juniper twigs in the original container.

– Pour the mash back into the original receptacle and remove the strain out the solid grains from it. Stir until target consistency is reached.

– Heat the mash in its container at 75°C and leave it on the fire for 20 minutes. Keep adding juniper twigs during this process. The Finnish beer will soon be ready.

– Cool the mash to under 20°C and add the yeast.

– Let it rest for some time to allow the fermentation process to run its course and bottle without the sugar that was generated.

What do you think? Will you try making some traditional Finnish beer? If you’ve already had a chance to try some Sahti, what did you think?

I've been writing about Finland for 8 years. In these articles I am trying to transmit my passion for Finland, its marvelous nature and cities, its people and the culture of the country. Thanks for reading!