January 15, 2010

Finnish your beer

Ahh ... sahti. It's like drinking a Christmas tree. For those of you who may be rye-curious, here's how to craft a pint of piney cheer:

Kalevala Sahti: the recipe
(five gallons)
  • 9 lbs Munich 40 EBC
  • 9 lbs malted rye
  • 1 lbs flaked oats
  • 1 lb rice hulls
  • 1 oz Northern Brewer pellets (mash hop)
  • 2 lbs (approx) fresh, non-chemically sprayed juniper branches (watch out for Xmas wreaths, y'all)
  • Wyeast 1007
Kalevala Sahti: the process

Layered juniper branches over false bottom in mash tun; add grist, mash hops, and strike water.

Step mashed with rests at 90, 120, 150, and 160 F. Ran the wort off and let cool overnight (if it's -20 F air temp, you'll be authentically Finnish). Pitched yeast the following morning. Fermented at 68 F for about 8 days ... then kegged. Yup, she's boozy, yeasty, and ready to drink.

Kalevala Sahti: the tasting notes
Appearance - golden orange, turbid, dense white foam (we carbonated it more than is traditional)

Aroma - balance is way towards intense, pungent, resiny juniper (pine sap and needles) with spicy grain at the back

Flavor - more of that juniper character, strong in the front and tapering through the middle, grudgingly sharing room with bready malt, spicy rye and a suggestion of oats and alcohol. Surprisingly smooth and balanced for a beer of this gravity with nothing but mash hops. Prickly, piney evergreen tree in the aftertaste.
Body - oily and warming

Overall - not as unfamiliar or weird as it might sound ... it's not such a huge leap from Chinook and Simcoe to actual pine bough flavor. And definitely drinkable! Juniper does a nice job standing in for hops and offsetting the sweetness of a doppelbock-strength grain bill.

And finally ...

Optimally enjoyed next to an ice floe in a t-shirt on a cold Minnesota day. Don't forget to pour a little out for your homies in Lappland!


  1. so... can you recommend a good source for "non-chemically sprayed juniper branches"? Pretty please?

  2. 1. The forest (what we wanted to do)
    2. A nursery or greenhouse with knowledgeable staff (what we actually did)

    Barring that, you could use juniper berries: http://www.northernbrewer.com/brewing/juniper-berries-1-oz.html

  3. So I'm interested in duplicating this. Two questions:
    I presume the overnight chilling (instead of a wort chiller) is traditional because those crazy finns have such cold weather an infection is unlikely—that and the crazy german ale yeast would be pretty competitive against any wild bugs. But would chilling and pitching right away also be apropos?

    Then let's talk about priming for a minute: I'm not rigged to keg, so I'm curious if you'd given thought to bottling. Would you recommend priming? That 1007 yeast is so fast, I would think 8 days could fully ferment out most worts. Except this thing is so big, might the short fermentation leave enough residual sugar and yeast in suspension to bottle it directly from primary? And if a person does bottle, do you have recommendations on carbonation level? You guys said you did it a little higher than tradition calls for. But I also don't want to make bottle bombs!

  4. re: #1 ha! I thought about that but wondered where I might find a juniper tree to "prune" w/out getting shot!

    Many thanks! Kiitos paljon!

  5. Jon - By all means use a wort chiller if you like. Traditionally sahti was not even boiled, but the combination of cold weather and little to no aging might have worked together to keep flavors from wild yeast in check.

    It would also have been served at very low levels of C02 (like a cask ale, < 1 vol. or so) ... to help offset the gravity and low bitterness, we wanted it fizzier. I'd suggest fermenting to completion and then sugar prime to your taste.

  6. I have a ton of rosemary growing so I think I'm going to substitute it for the juniper and throw in some cascade I picked out of the garden this year. No boil and use a chiller to pitching temp where I'll pitch a bread yeast starter like they do traditionally. I'll make 3 gallons just in case its horrible, but it will something cool to have on thanksgiving. Thanks for reposting this!!!

  7. Jon - one more thing: if you're bottling, you should definitely boil the wort, even if only for a few minutes.

  8. Dawson, I don't have the ability to step mash, so what temp would you recommend for a single infusion?

  9. Rick - I would do a sacch' rest of 150 F. My personal experience with mashes with this much rye has been lower efficiency without the low-temp rests of a step mash, YMMV ... maybe have some DME on hand just in case.

  10. For anyone interested... Northern Brewer's webshow Brewing TV just released an entire episode dedicated to the beauty that is Sahti.


    All for brew, brew for all!

  11. Sorry that was the recipe... here's the episode.
    Early AM. No coffee. My bad.


  12. I am curious if the lemon sour isn't from a wild yeast of some kind of the branches, seems hard to belive it would live through the hot mash filtering through it, but if they say boiled hot water and stuck the braches in say ten min or so, they could be pretty sure no nasties got in. really my only thought, not even positive it is possible.

  13. @ most recent "Anonymous" -- Michael Agnew from the Brewing TV episode above mentioned (not in the episode, but during the shooting) that he thinks the lemon-ish taste may stem from the use of baker's yeast instead of a full-fledged beer yeast. For whatever it's worth. He has done the beer three times and it seems to be a common flavor in differing degrees. One should try a batch with baker's yeast side-by-side with one made from beer yeast... though I don't know which beer yeast to suggest. Hope this helps.

    Chip W. / Northern Brewer / Brewing TV Videographer