I didn’t go to Finland to drink sahti. But tracking down the traditional Finnish beer made a nice side quest during our visit a few years ago.
OK, maybe calling it “beer” is misleading. Unlike beer, sahti contains no hops. Technically, that might make it a gruit. Either way, it’s made with barley and rye. Instead of hops, brewers use juniper to balance the flavor (without something to add bitterness, beer and gruit would be overwhelmingly sweet). Sahti dates back to at least the 1300s, which adds a nice bit of history.
If you’re beer-curious and plan to visit Finland, here are a few reasons you should search for a snort of sahti.
You Like Tracking Down Stuff Even Locals Don’t Know About
During my visit, Finns preferred mugs of whiz-colored lager to earthy-brown brews served in a small silver cup. It’s the stuff a Finn’s mothball-scented grandpa drinks, not the young and hip.
I found the Lammin Sahti Oy brand in a kitschy farm setting at Zetor near the city center. And my order surprised the bartender: I explained that trying local/regional food and drink is part of the reason I travel. I guess not many foreigners know about sahti.
You Like the Smell of a Forest, and Wouldn’t Mind a Taste
My first sip of sahti was like tasting liquid forest — pine, wind, cool air — thanks to its main flavoring ingredients of juniper and rye. The small pour had barely any carbonation.
A few years after I tried sahti, I had my first taste of gin, which also uses juniper for flavoring. They share a common note of forest. This makes me wonder if gin fans will also be more receptive to the distinct taste of sahti.
The bartender served it in a silver vessel that looked like a cross between a ladle and a cup. It’s dark and has a very homebrew look to it. You brewers out there know what I mean!
Oh, it’s also about 8 percent ABV.
Because Fake Sahti Isn’t Even Close
I’ve tasted several sahti-inspired ales in the U.S., including Samuel Adams Norse Legend or Dogfish Head Sah’Tea. They’re barely distinguishable from a brown ale — boring. To be fair, the brewers don’t label them as authentic versions.
And that’s the cool thing about travel: It gives you a chance to taste things you’ll never encounter at home.
You Can Brew Your Own Sahti
Live somewhere with access to juniper” Then you brew your own. This recipe is promising if a bit large; some recipes don’t scale down well, but experimentation is part of the homebrewing fun. And of course, trying the real stuff will give you a better benchmark to judge your brew.
Also, the story that goes along with the recipe is pretty cool. It’s definitely less scientific and sterile than commercial brewers in the U.S.!
An Extra Hint
I confused a lot of bartenders by asking for sah-tea. It’s pronounced sock-tea, like tea brewed in a sock. You can also add a bit of gravel to the “k” syllable. Yes, this seems like a small detail. But it can make the difference in finding this elusive beverage. Some even seemed annoyed by the mispronunciation once they realized what I meant.
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