Sahti: The Farmhouse Style of Finland
Sahti is a traditional farmhouse ale from Finland (though it is linked to the wider Scandinavian world) that is thick, somewhat sweet, and flavored with juniper. The techniques and ingredients used to make it traditionally have kept it from being sold commercially in it’s most authentic forms but because of work done by writers and researchers like Lars Garshol and Mika Laitinen and their books and blogs more examples are popping up on the market.
In true farmhouse style fashion, sahti was made with grains grown on the farm where it was brewed. Unlike other styles like biere de garde which would be stored for long periods, sometimes months, sahti was made to drink fresh, within one to three weeks of brewing.
Because of this freshness factor, many technical choices are made that don’t mirror today’s brewing techniques. For example, historically sahtis are not boiled and sometimes they do not use hops. Both boiling and hopping are known methods for staving off bacteria and microbes in beer, but since sahti is served so quickly there is less concern about infection or souring.
What Does Sahti Taste Like?
Skipping the boil also gives this farmhouse style a very full, almost custardy texture because the proteins from malts are not coagulated and removed from solution. This weightiness on the palate is a major reason sahtis are described as “nourishing” or “substantive.” These proteins also carry more of a cereal and grainy flavor from the malts in the beer giving it a different more raw character than other malt-forward styles. This protein carry over makes the flavor of Finnish dark rye malt “kaljamallas” used in sahtis brewed in Europe stand out. Kaljamallas contributes nutty slightly zesty spiced notes.
Authentic sahti uses baker’s yeast for fermentation. The bread yeast produces similar characteristics to German ale yeast with bubble gum and banana-like esters and spicy clove-like phenols. Sometimes German weiss yeasts are used in place of baker’s or bread yeast when making sahti.
Finally, the most noticeable attribute when tasting sahti is the use of juniper branches to produce herbal, woody, and resinous notes instead of using hops for those flavors. To extract flavor from juniper branches the spent grains were separated from the wort using a filter woven from the branches. Sometimes branches were also steeped in hot wort but the goal was a subtle juniper flavor, not an intense one.
Sahtis that are brewed properly should not be sour!
Even in Finland, the best way to enjoy this style is by drinking beer brewed by local farmers in the home so it’s not surprising examples brewed commercially are few and far between…but there are some out there!
Sahti BJCP Parameters
IBU 7-15 | SRM 4-22 | ABV 7-11%
Explore Sahti Flavor Profiles & Brewer Interviews