2006 | COLUMNS | BEAUMONT
||Sahtis And Saunas In Lammi
One of the truly wonderful things about writing on the global
drinks industry is the cast of interesting and amenable characters
you get to meet along the way. Another is the wealth of unexpected
Still, in the interests of fair and objective journalism,
all writers need to set limits and establish a social or intellectual
border beyond which they will not tread. For some, it might
be not seeing industry figures on a social basis, while for
others, it could be the separation of work and family life.
For me, it’s always been this: Don’t get naked
with brewers or brewery owners.
In Finland, I broke my rule.
Now, lest you think there was something lascivious involved,
let me assure you that no brewer was trying to charm her double
IPA into my good books, nor was I engaged in any untoward,
uh, product sampling. No, I was in Finland and I was drinking
sahti, so the next logical step seemed to be to get into the
But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself, since how
I got to that sauna is a tale in itself.
The month was April, and spring was very much in the air
in southern Ontario, where I lay my head when not traveling.
So, flush with satisfaction at having survived another Canadian
winter, I boarded a plane and flew off to Finland, thereby
plunging myself right back into the season I had just triumphantly
exited. Granted, I knew from weather reports that the temperature
in Helsinki would not rise much above freezing for the length
of my stay, but as the plane touched down and I gazed out
the window, I spied a thick layer of snow. No one had warned
me there’d be snow!
I had no time to mourn my temporary loss of spring, though,
as my plane was late and my hosts, drinks scribe Mikko Montonen
and One Pint Pub owner Markku Korhonen, were anxious to hit
the road, bound first for my hotel and then, in quick succession,
the train to what’s known in Finnish beer circles as
the country’s Sahti Belt.
Sahti, for those unfamiliar with the style, is a form of
indigenous Finnish beer often described as rye beer, but which
in fact owes more of its character to a uniqueness of production
than to any rye content, which can be as low as 5% of the
total grains used. First, and perhaps most curiously, there
is no boil in the making of a sahti, and thus no real opportunity
to add hops. (Some sahti breweries add small amounts of hops
during filtration or fermentation, mainly as a preservative.)
Second, the mashed wort is filtered through a bed of juniper
branches, which not surprisingly bestows upon the beer a significant
juniper character. And finally, the yeast used is not a brewer’s
yeast but a top-fermenting baker’s yeast, which two
sahti producers separately suggested to me is likely the same
exact strain for all commercial sahti brewers.
Mikko and I made the train, and an hour or so later were
met at Hämeenlinna station by Pekka Kääriäinen,
proprietor of Lammin Sahti Oy, almost certainly Finland’s
most prominent commercial sahti brewery and, to my tastes,
without question its best. (Markku, whose mobile phone scarcely
stopped ringing the entire drive into Helsinki, was preoccupied
with Helsinki Beer Festival preparations and so could not
make the trip with us.) From the train, we drove to our first
stop a short distance away in Tuulos.
To call the location of the Lammin Sahti store and brewpub
incongruous is to severely understate reality. Tucked away
in a shopping mall, flanked by a supermarket and fast-food
outlet, the traditionally decorated Sipen Saluuna brewpub,
with its attached, hallway-sized Pekan Puoti store, seems
not only out of place, but actually out of time. Nevertheless,
it’s a welcome oasis in the highway-side mall, open
daily from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., and I’m sure it’s
a busy spot on the weekends.
It was at Sipen Saluuna that I first sampled the banana-ish,
fruity-spicy Lammin Sahti, as brewed on fairly modern equipment
by Pekka’s wife, Sirpa. It was impressive, and the more
shelf-stable, sahti-like Puhti beer the Kääriäinens
have contract-brewed for them only slightly less so. But my
true sahti drinking experience, and the beer’s more
visceral impact, still lay ahead of me.
Leaving the mall, Pekka drove Mikko and me to Lammi, where
the main brewery sits nestled on the shores of a small lake.
Here, the Kääriäinens not only run a more traditional
sahti brewery, but also a charming sahti pub called Sahtihaarikka,
open only during the summer from noon to midnight and by appointment
at other times. It being decidedly un-summery, Mikko and I
waited while Pekka opened up the building and started the
heat flowing, warming ourselves in the interim with bottles
of the faintly hoppy, still profoundly fruity and tannin-accented,
7% alcohol Puhti.
After a short chat and drink, we loaded back into Pekka’s
car, this time armed with a jug of Lammin Sahti and what resembled
a small, wooden bucket. Finally, we were sauna bound.
The “bucket,” I was soon informed, was a haarikka,
the traditional vessel for drinking sahti. Handmade from juniper,
it is a communal drinking pot which, as it grows wetter and
wetter, releases the fragrant scent of the wood and sends
it wafting into the face of the drinker, thus intensifying
the sahti’s natural juniper character. We drank, sat
in the wood-fueled “smoke sauna,” drank some more,
plunged into the lake through the hole that had been cut in
the ice, and celebrated our survival with another drink.
Sadly, traditional sahti’s delicate character makes
it unsuitable for export, since it is ideally consumed within
two weeks of fermentation. So for a true sahti fix, I’m
afraid there’s no choice but to travel to Finland. And
until I return, I’ll keep my haarikka moist by attempting
the occasional juniper-scented IPA or Belgian spiced ale.
Sipen Saluuna and Pekan Puoti
(brewpub and store)
Kauppakeskus Tuuloinen (Tuuloinen Mall)
14810 Tuulos, Finland
16900 Lammi, Finland
CBN Associate Editor Stephen
Beaumont brings his passionate and unapologetic opinions
to the Internet each and every month at WorldofBeer.com. His
most recent book is The Great Canadian Beer Guide,
Second Edition (McArthur & Company, 2001).