The history of the Finnish beer, Sahti, is certainly an interesting one, as it is one of the world’s oldest continually brewed styles of beer. The origin of Sahti beer was originally thought to be in 1366, with presumed references of the beer being consumed at the burial of a specific Bishop. However, in the 1930s, a sunken Viking ship was discovered off the coast of Norway, with casks of Finnish-style Sahti that date even further back to the 9th century.
Commercial brewing was never historically the norm for Finland, with small communities and villages that did not have the population needed to support a brewery. Instead, families and villages brewed Sahti beer for themselves on local farms with readily available ingredients. Women were the primary brewers of the Finnish beer, and it was common for the recipe to be transferred from a mother to her daughter.
Sahti beer was traditionally enjoyed during special occasions such as weddings and harvest festivals, but weaker versions were also made as refreshments to be enjoyed by village workers.
Sahti ale is unfiltered, unpasteurized, top fermented, and cloudy, with additions of juniper berries and branches. It ranges in color from pale yellow to dark brown, with most examples exhibiting a medium amber hue, and the carbonation is low giving the beer a little head. The nuanced flavors are banana and clove, which come from Sahti yeast, spicy rye and caramel notes from the grainy malts, low bitterness and flavor from the hops, and notes of pine from the juniper.
In the last 500 years little has changed in the Sahti brewing process. That being said, they have switched over to using Finnish bakers yeast instead of wild fermentation, since it has been shown to perform better in certain aspects. Nowadays, metal brewing equipment has taken the place of wooden pots that were previously used. Finally, direct heat is used to heat the mash or the water for the mash instead of heated stones, which were originally used. However, the breweries Hollolan Hirvi and Dogfish Head use traditional heated stones to produce their Sahti style beers.
This centuries old style has overcome many obstacles throughout its history to remain prevalent, yet ancient in style. To preserve the tradition and history of the beer, the Finnish Sahti society, founded in 1989, created an annual Sahti competition. The beer has since been granted Traditional Specialty Guaranteed (TSG) and Protected Designation of Origin (PDO).
The traditional Finnish food pairings with Sahti are pickled herring and Lohikeitto, a soup made from potatoes, leaks, and salmon, topped with dill. Other dishes to be enjoyed with Sahti are French onion soup, Indian food, dark rye bread with cooked vegetables, or any slightly spicy cuisine that makes use of cumin, turmeric, and coriander.
This beer with an ABV in the 7-11% range should be served young, chilled, and in a snifter or tulip glass. If you can get your hands on one, the traditional serving cup is a two handled wooden ladle cup called a haarikka.
We are lucky enough to feature a variety of Sahti beers. Check out our Beer of the Month Club to learn more!