Finlandia Sahti

<< 2021-06-27 12:17 >>

Roadside sign showing where to find the brewery.

Finlandia Sahti is a commercial brewery making sahti way out in the Finnish countryside, roughly midway between the towns of Pori and Tampere. It's really a farm that's been turned into a commercial brewery by installing a brewkit and setting up a small bar. We park in the yard, where we're met by Petteri Lähdeniemi, the brewer and brewery owner. (This was part of the Finnish sahti expedition of 2018.)

Petteri takes us into the small bar he's set up next to the brewery. He says he arranges karaoke nights and rock concerts here, which seems a bit odd, as while the area is dotted with farms it's hardly densely populated. But he explains the bar is mainly "a hobby", and that the brewery is what really generates income. Most of his business is selling to the Alko, the government alcohol monopoly stores, and various bars.

There's a nice patio outside, and a small bar inside the pub, which is nicely rural with wooden paneling. Petteri's schäfer dog is very happy to have guests, but in the summer heat we're wearing shorts, and it keeps licking our bare legs. So Petteri throws the dog out. He explains that the area just inside the door is where he sells beer for takeaway. The rest of the bar is for consumption on the premises.

Petteri talking in the bar, standing on the edge of the takeaway zone.

Petteri explains that if you come to buy beer to take away but you go four steps inside the door instead of just three you walk out of the takeaway sales zone, and then you're technically breaking the law. The door is the obvious way to walk between the patio and the bar, but that's not legal if you're drinking on the premises, so you have to go round the back and in a separate door. Finnish alcohol regulations are just as strict and nonsensical as in the rest of the world.

At this point there is a noise at the door. It turns out the dog has come back and gone up on its hind legs so it can paw the door handle to open the door. After a few tries the door swings open, and before long the dog is licking our legs again, and again it's evicted by Petteri.

Now it's time to try the beer. Since Finlandia Sahti is available in Helsinki I've tried it several times. The first time I tried it must be back in 2005 or thereabouts, when I was still relatively new to serious beer tasting. At that point I had no idea what sahti was, but I found I hated the taste passionately.

The two versions of Finlandia Sahti: 8% and 10%.

Over the years I've become more used to it, and now I feel quite differently about this beer. This time it was quite sweet, tasting strongly of caramel and alcohol. Also strong fruit aroma, pear and banana, turned up to quite a pitch, and maybe a little over-ripe. Some earth and cardboard as well.

That was not unexpected, because I've often found that Finlandia Sahti is dominated by the fruit esters from the Finnish bread yeast Suomen Hiiva. It's a completely ordinary Finnish-made bread yeast that you can buy in any grocery store in Finland, and it's become the standard yeast for sahti. Olavi also used it. It makes a characteristic fruity aroma, often dominated by banana, that's now part of sahti as a style.

From the bar Petteri takes us through a side door, and now we are in the brewery. The brewery started in 1992, but in 2010 the owner retired, and so Petteri bought the brewery and moved the equipment here. The recipe and equipment have remained the same, and most people seem to think that the taste was changed very little by the takeover.

Former carpet washing machine, now lauter tun.

The previous owner was an engineer, and he automated quite a lot of the brewing process to make it easier. So the brewkit is not even remotely traditional, but the beer still definitely tastes like a sahti. And the process is still traditional, starting with a step mash with four steps over nine hours. Since it's automated, Petteri lets the mashing run while he sleeps.

After mashing the mash is moved into the lauter tun, which is a repurposed washing machine for carpets. The machine spins, using the centrifugal force to extract water out of the carpets, but here it's used to get the wort out of the mash. Petteri says it's very efficient, so that the mash is quite dry after lautering.

Next up is the wort cooler, which is repurposed dairy equipment.

He cools the wort to 10C, then pitches the yeast. The beer then gradually rises to room temperature, which is typically 15C in winter, and can be as much as 30C in summer. I guess that explains the intense yeast profile of the beer, and I suppose it could be different in winter.

Petteri with the fermenting sahti.

Fermentation is very fast, says Petteri, and it needs to be stopped at the right time, or the beer will go sour. This he does by cooling the beer and cold conditioning it for two weeks. He uses fresh yeast each time, 4 cubes per batch of beer. And a batch is 400 liters.

Petteri says the problem is that there are lactic acid bacteria in the baking yeast. And according to Mika Laitinen this is correct. Mika spoke with the producer of Suomen Hiiva, and they told him that their quality standard is that there should be no more than 1 lactic acid bacteria per 10,000 yeast cells.

Here Petteri is interrupted by some commotion from the door into the brewery. Turns out the dog has gotten into the bar, and is now trying to get into the brewery. Petteri sighs while everyone laughs, and there is a short break while the dog is thrown out yet again.

The brewery is fired with Petteri's own firewood. The only employees are him and his wife, and they distribute the beer themselves. Since they sell through the government monopoly Alko they have to supply beer to all the stores, so they drive 25,000 km every year, delivering to 50 stores. The stores in the north of Finland are too far away for this, so to those they ship by mail.


Petteri says he's also started brewing IPA, which I personally was a bit sad to hear. Intriguingly, he says it's bad business, because it doesn't sell much, but he does it simply because he finds brewing modern beer interesting. I ask him what he sees as the main differences between modern beer and sahti, and he points to the use of baking yeast for the sahti, and the lower carbonation. I try to get a less technical answer from him, but fail.

The name of the IPA is "Änkyrä," which in Finnish means someone who doesn't want to do as he's told. He doesn't enlarge on why.

It's a fairly small brewery, producing 20,000 liters per year, but a very important brewery, because it's one of only two that make sahti which is easy to get hold of. Well, easy in Finland. In the other Nordic countries you can't get real sahti at all.

It's getting late, so on that note we thank Petteri for the tour, then head off to the inn where we're spending the night.

The brewery building.

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AO - 2021-06-28 16:17:21

Saw this on Reddit, cool read. I've been interested in learning about Sahti for a while now... Thanks!

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