Wrap-up of 2020 and Plans for 2021

Wrap-up of 2020 and Plans for 2021

It’s time to wrap up the past year and plan the future.

In 2020, my beer writer’s highlight of the year was certainly a trip to Voss in Western Norway. I was there in February just before the pandemic began to spread. In Voss I learned a lot about kveik and traditional Norwegian farmhouse ale, vossaøl. I also got lots of good photos that are now an integral part of BrewingNordic’s imagery.

After this trip, I was confident enough to write a long-planned practical guide to kveik. This thorough guide is divided into four parts:

Practical Guide to Kveik and Other Farmhouse Yeast: Introduction
Practical Guide to Kveik and Other Farmhouse Yeast: Fermentation
Practical Guide to Kveik and Other Farmhouse Yeast: Reusing and Maintaining Yeast
Farmhouse Yeast Descriptions

Because of the visit to Voss, I was able to replicate vossaøl’s unique flavor at my home brewery. The practical brewing tips are documented in this article:

Heimabrygg, Vossaøl, Hardangerøl and Sognøl – The Farmhouse Homebrews of Western Norway

In 2020 I also finished documenting my Viking Age Brew & Brew Beer Like a Yeti Book tour (with Jereme Zimmerman) to the Pacific Northwest USA in 2019. The final piece was our commercial sahti collaboration brew in Bend, Oregon:

Brewing Sahti at The Ale Apothecary

Maria Markus from Media Road Service kindly edited this video from our fun brew day.

Other noteworthy activities in 2020 were:

  • I malted a small bach of barley with traditional farmhouse methods and brewed sahti from self-malt malt for the first time. 
  • I founded the Finnish-language site fi.brewingnordic.com to promote traditional farmhouse ales and home brewing.
  • I gathered traditional wooden and metal brewing gear. Now I have a full brewing setup for Viking Age, Iron Age, and medieval brewing demonstrations.
  • I gave a one-day course on historical brewing techniques for homebrewers and Viking Age / medieval enthusiasts.
Mika Laitinen at Voss Folkemuseum in Norway
Without the trip to Voss my kveik guide would have been less grand and I would have skipped writing about western Norwegian farmhouse ales. Here I’m posing at the Voss Folkemuseum. Photo by Lars Marius Garshol.

Brewing Nordic in 2021

For years I have blended traditional and modern brewing techniques for my house beers and now I have decided to document these techniques and recipes. I brewed plenty of tasty and unique beers that aren’t yet documented: juniper beers, rye beers, raw ales, and ales with vossaøl-techniques. This will be the main theme of Brewing Nordic in 2021.

Another important topic will be eastern Finnish and Karelian farmhouse brews, taari and kalja. I will also continue experimenting with traditional malting, and I plan to build some kind of small combined malt and brew house into my backyard. Historical brewing sessions with traditional wooden gear will show up in Brewing Nordic Facebook and Instagram. I have planned videos of historical brewing and some other stuff too.

In 2020 I planned to go to The National Archives of Finland to research ethnographic questionnaires dealing with farmhouse brewing. I postponed this task because of the pandemic. I won’t be visiting the archives in Helsinki soon but perhaps later in 2021.

Ingredients and equipment for brewing taari farmhouse ale
I have brewed Karelian farmhouse beer taari four times and now I’m beginning to understand how this probably extinct ale should be brewed. I will publish the brewing details in 2021. Photo by Mari Varonen.

Brewing Nordic Statistics

In 2020 visits to brewingnordic.com grew 50 % from the previous year. Now the site has typically 1500–2000 visitors per month. 44 % of the visitors are from North America and around 40 % from Europe. 15 % of the readers are from the Nordic countries. A large share of readers are from Britain and Germany but the readership is considerable in many other European countries too, for example in France, Italy, Poland, The Netherlands, and Russia. It is fascinating to see how international the community around Brewing Nordic is. Surprisingly many readers are from the other side of the globe, for example from Australia, Brazil, and Argentina.

My book Viking Age Brew book has sold around 2000–3000 copies which is less than I expected. I’m OK with little income from the book sales (that was as expected) but I’m hoping that the book makes an impact on the beer culture. Beer writing is a hobby for me and writing merely funds this hobby. Hopefully, the book will gradually find its way to brewers and people interested in how beer was brewed in the past.

Readership of brewingnordic.com in 2020.

Brewing Nordic Facebook account has settled to around 1400 followers while the Instagram account is approaching 1000 followers and growing. I’m keeping Facebook very information-oriented and almost solely dedicated to beer and brewing. On Instagram, I’ll occasionally share also glimpses of my non-beer life as well as sceneries and culture from the Nordic countries. My Twitter account has been merely an outpost for announcing my main writings. I also have a few videos on Brewing Nordic’s Youtube account.

The featured image of this post shows the magnificent Hardanger Fjord which I saw on a day trip from Voss.

Plans and Goals for 2020

Plans and Goals for 2020

At the moment my mind is bursting with new ideas for writing, brewing and beer research. Hopefully, some of these ideas will take BrewingNordic into new interesting directions. To give you a glimpse of the future I’ll now list my plans and goals for 2020.

At the end of February, I had the opportunity to visit Voss in Norway. This small municipality in western Norway is known as one of the main areas where farmhouse yeast kveik is alive and kicking. I was there at a kveik seminar where Vestnorsk Kulturakademi announced its project for getting kveik listed as Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage. I learned a lot about kveik, juniper, and local farmhouse beer vossaøl. I’m going to write at least one BrewingNordic story about Voss and the material will show up in several other stories as well.

Making juniper infusion for a Norwegian farmhouse ale in Voss
In Voss I got an excellent stock of photos about Norwegian farmhouse brewing. Here Dag Jørgensen of Voss Bryggeri warms by the juniper infusion kettle.

In early March I gave a course on medieval and Viking Age brewing in Pirkkala, Finland. This was a hands-on brewing course with emphasis on using kveik and maintaining a kveik culture. The course was sold out and I was very pleased with it. The course enforced the idea that I should write more practical brewing instructions. 

Currently, I’m writing a practical user guide to kveik and other farmhouse yeasts. I will publish this next BrewingNordic, but it will take time because it is such a large topic. In fact, it seems that I have to divide the guide into two or more stories.

In the meantime, check my latest story Brewing Sahti At the Ale Apothecary from my trip to the USA last summer. I think this story demonstrates well how sahti can be brewed outside of Finland. Do not forget my report from the Norsk Kornølfestival 2019 either. I plan to go there also next October if the pandemic is over by then. 

Concerning research, these are now my top priorities:

  • Lars Marius Garshol has pushed me to dig Finnish ethnographic questionnaires dealing with farmhouse brewing, and now I should have time for it. Earlier I have referred to ethnographic studies that rely on these old questionnaires but now I should examine this data first-hand. Perhaps the most important questionnaire is from 1958 and it probably contains around 2000 pages of responses from farmhouse brewers. I just have to wait for traveling to become normal again, because I need to visit archives in Helsinki. 
  • Malting with traditional farmhouse methods has been my dream for years. I hope that this year I can realize that dream. The first experiment will be to malt in a traditional Finnish smoke sauna. I have preliminary agreed on a co-operation with a local sahti brewer. 
  • Brewing beer as it was brewed a thousand years ago, with wooden vats and hot stones, has been my long-term project for a while. Last year I bought a wooden tub and kuurna for lautering. Now I only need to acquire a few buckets and scoops before I can start test brews. 
  • I have written about taari and kalja type of farmhouse ales of eastern Finland (see Viking Age Brew or Small Beer Called Kalja) but many aspects still remain a mystery. I hope that the questionnaires together with brewing tests will shed a light on this topic. 

Other activities include:

  • I’m planning to create a Finnish-language version of BrewingNordic. The English and Finnish sites would be far from identical. My idea is to have only some of the crucial stuff in Finnish, and then transfer some writings from my Finnish beer site maltainen.fi that now feels outdated. Although I usually introduce myself as a beer writer, my most popular writing ever is cider-making instructions in Finnish (over 50,000 views annually). 
  • I have started to learn video making. For some things, video is a far better media than plain text and photos. I’m also collaborating with video professionals but I need to have basic skills to make short clips myself. 
  • I’m now learning Swedish for two hours a week. This seems to be the only new year’s resolution ever that I can keep. My goal is to be able to read Scandinavian texts and communicate better when traveling in Scandinavia.  

For brewing, I don’t make tight schedules because it is my way to relax. Likely I will brew several batches this spring and I have some ingredients to test, such as Yeast Bay Simonaitis yeast and pale ale malt from a Finnish craft malthouse, Pehkolan mallastamo. 

At the moment the coronavirus pandemic affects only a little my life. Working from home and spending a lot of time at home is completely normal for me. When I was writing Viking Age Brew I was pretty much like in quarantine for half a year to finish the manuscript. But that’s enough about the pandemic. In this site, I intend to keep your thoughts away from miserable or boring things. Kippis (cheers in Finnish)!

Golden Memories from the Book & Beer Tour to the USA

Golden Memories from the Book & Beer Tour to the USA

When I signed a publishing deal with Chicago Review Press for Viking Age Brew the editor laid down a condition: I should do a book marketing trip to the USA. I have always wanted to travel to the west coast USA and I instantly thought it’s now or never. The trip to Oregon and Washington came true on July 2019 and I’ll now recap the highlights.

Luckily at the same time, American beer writer Jereme Zimmerman was planning a book tour to the west coast. Jereme was about to market his latest book Brew Beer Like a Yeti that deals with traditional brewing techniques. His earlier book Make Mead Like a Viking wasn’t far off from my work either. Gradually we matched our timetables and we ended up traveling together for two and half weeks along the route Seattle – Bend – Portland – Williamette Valley – Cannon Beach – Astoria – Seattle. This route took us through lively cities, mountains, deserts, fertile valleys all the way to shores of the Pacific Ocean. The featured image of this post show us enjoying the awesome ales of the Ale Apothecary at their tasting room in Bend, OR.

The Book Events

We did together four book events targeted for homebrewers, beer enthusiasts and fans of Nordic culture. The events were at Nordic Museum (Seattle), Base Camp Brewing (Portland, in collaboration with F. H. Steinbart homebrew store), Belmont Station (Portland, in collaboration with the Ale Apothecary) and Skål Beer Hall. The details for these events are given at my Events page.

Each event had around 30–40 participants. The events at the Nordic Museum and Skål Beer Hall were especially popular, likely because they were in Ballard district of Seattle known for its Nordic heritage. At all the events, people in the audience had Nordic ancestors.

Homebrewers brought me some samples of their sahti to evaluate because they didn’t know what sahti is supposed to taste like. These beers were already in the right direction but I guided them to bump up the gravity. Norwegian farmhouse yeast kveik was a hot topic and I donated dried flakes of kveik (Sigmund’s) for both commercial and homebrewers.

Talk on sahti at Nordic Museum in Seattle
The hall of Nordic Museum was a great place to talk about Nordic culture and Nordic farmhouse beer. They even had a hollowed-out sahti kuurna (lauter tun) that has been used at the museum’s sahti brewing courses.
I brought a traditional wooden sahti drinking vessel haarikka for Jereme. Drinking beer out of haarikka became a popular sideshow at the events.

The Highlights

It was an awesome road trip. In addition to the book events, we visited around 20 breweries and chatted with dozens of brewers. Visits also included a malthouse, distillery, cheese farm, and a beer festival. The highlights of the trip were: 

  • Sahti collaboration brew at the Ale Apothecary in Bend, OR. 
  • Mecca Grade Malthouse in Madras, OR. 
  • Upright Brewing in Portland, OR.
  • Hair of the Dog Brewing in Portland, OR. 
  • The brewery tour at Deschutes Brewery in Bend, OR.
  • Lively high-beer-quality brewpubs everywhere: Base Camp, Black Raven, Boneyard, Breakside, Buoy, Cascade, Cloudburst, Crux Fermentation, Culmination, Fremont, Machine house, Reuben’s, Stoup
  • Food trucks along with the pubs. 
  • Oregon Brewers Festival. 
Seth Klann (middle) showed us around the Mecca Grade Estate Malt. This malthouse has the most impressive malting machine I have ever seen. Grain steeping, germination, and drying are done inside the machine shown on the left. The malt is made from the estate’s own grains.
Because speaking about Nordic farmhouse ales is difficult without samples to taste, I definitely wanted to brew sahti at a local commercial brewery. Luckily the Ale Apothecary in Bend, OR accepted my collaboration invitation. The photo shows Seth Klann (left) from Mecca Grade, Paul Arney (middle) of Ale Apothecary and Jereme Zimmerman (right).
We brewed Nordic-Oregonian raw ale (devoid of wort boiling) from Mecca Grade Malt, Bluegrass hay from Mecca, Fir from the brewery’s property, Finnish Dark rye malt (Tuoppi) and Norwegian farmhouse yeast (Sigmund’s kveik).
Sahti brewed at the Ale Apothecary was served one week later at Belmont Station in Portland and 12 days later at Skål Beer Hall in Seattle. That’s very fresh beer! Normally Ale Apothecary ages their beers for one to two years. I was very pleased with the flavor: smooth but robust raw ale with fresh cereals and nice fruitiness.
Measured in production volumes, Deschutes in Bend, OR is among the Top 20 breweries in the USA. It also measures high in quality and their Black Butte, for example, is a world-class porter. The brewery tour going through an actively working plant was superb, as if the brewery had been designed for a pretty walk through the production. In this photo, a brewer is adding hops to the Mirror Pond Pale Ale.
I had the pleasure of meeting great philosophers of brewing. These people know the craft but are also willing to re-think every aspect of brewing to get unique results. One of them, Alex Ganum of Portland-based Upright Brewing is shown on the photo. Paul Arney of the Ale Apothecary is certainly a great brewing philosopher too.
When I started sampling American craft beer in the early 2000s, Hair of the Dog’s Fred was an amazing flavor bomb that stood out. In July I sampled this beer again at the brewpub in Portland and it was still an amazing beer. I also had the pleasure to chat with the founder Alan Sprints about the brewery and Portland’s beer scene.
Oregon Brewers Festival was an unusual beer festival for me. Instead of brewery staff the beer was poured by an army of volunteers. There were around one hundred taps, one tap per brewery or a cider maker. The festival looked more like a park picnic rather than the usual beer geekdom. Most were there just to enjoy beer, and this created a very relaxed atmosphere.
Oregon and Washington have an amazing array of excellent brewpubs. Most of them concentrate on making well the basic beer styles. Good fresh solid beer instead of gimmicks. Often IPA was a flagship and hoppy pilsner was popular too. Several of them combined the brew and the pub intimately, like this Cloudburst in Downtown Seattle.
A food truck along with a brewpub is a great combo. For example, Stoup Brewing (Ballard, Seattle) shown in the photo gets a different food truck three times a week. In Europe, American food is often a label for boring cliches of burgers and Tex-Mex, but on the US west coast pubs greasy American street food is natural: it pairs extremely well with American pale ale and IPA. We ended up eating plenty of burritos, tacos, and other Mexican style food.
Astoria was a picturesque small town on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. The town had two (at least) superb brewpubs, Buoy and Fort George. This photo is from the terrace of Buoy where you can watch ships and sea lions while sipping excellent beer.


Viking Age Brew was published in the USA because it is the biggest market for beer information and the beer trends flow from the USA to the rest of the world. The book sales may not justify the costs of traveling, but I think it was important to meet the biggest audience of my book.

I also wanted to see the regions where the craft beer was virtually born, and from where the most craft breweries around the world pick their model of brewing. In Europe, some beer drinkers moan about the dominance of hoppy IPAs, but on the west coast USA I see no point in moaning. IPA is west coast’s own beer style and people drink it regularly in quantities, much like people in Munich drink Helles. Besides, 75 % of the US hops are grown in Washington.

Interestingly, many brewpubs had pilsner – well made hoppy pilsner in the vein of Northern Germany – as a popular alternative for their IPAs.
Somewhat surprisingly, Belgian influenced beers were relatively rare, apart from saison. Saisons, especially hoppier versions of them, are not too big of a distraction from IPA and pilsner. They seem to fit well to the line up of craft breweries around the world.

Sour beers from breweries dedicated to the craft were outstanding. Access to fine oak barrels from nearby wine counties has created a great symbiosis between winemakers and brewers.

I tasted several kveik-fermented IPAs, but I was surprised how little kveik is used outside the hoppy styles. Brewers seemed to be experimenting with kveik and still working on their comfort zone. I guess it is just a matter of time when brewers find the full potential of these yeasts.

Overall, I think Oregon and Washington showed signs of a mature beer culture: people drink more well-made fresh local beer instead of gimmicks. The high density of breweries and educated beer drinkers have created really skilled brewers. I didn’t see new big trends that would spread from the US to elsewhere, and that’s a good thing. I’d rather drink good solid beer rather than trendy experiments.

I will not be making American style beers soon but this trip reinforced the idea of doing my own thing and occasionally rethink the way I brew.

On our way from Seattle to Bend. We spend a lot of time on the road and sceneries were awesome and highly varied: mountains, desert, seaside, evergreen forests, wine and hop growing valleys.

Book tour to Oregon and Washington

Book tour to Oregon and Washington

On Tuesday, July 16 I’m heading for Oregon and Washington. It will be a joint tour with American beer writer Jereme Zimmerman, the author of Make Mead Like a Viking and Brew Beer Like a Yeti. Hence we have dubbed trip Viking Age Brew & Brew Beer Like a Yeti Book Tour.

We have lined up four events in Portland and Seattle for homebrewers, craft brewers, and for people interested in traditional farmhouse beers and Nordic beer culture. Check the details from my events page.

Because demonstrating the special character of Nordic farmhouse ales is much easier when there’s ale to taste, I wanted to do a collaboration brew at a local brewery. We’ll brew sahti style farmhouse ale at the Ale Apothecary from Nordic and Oregonian ingredients, and we’ll launch the ale one week later at Belmont Station in Portland.

This will be my first time in the USA, and I’m going to delve deep into American drink and food culture. I will visit lots of breweries, pubs, and restaurants. The things-to-see list includes also Oregon Brewers Festival, a malthouse, at least one distillery, probably also a winery and hop farm, and places known for their Finnish and Nordic heritage. I’ll interview beer people for stories that will appear in Brewing Nordic and Finnish beer magazine Olutposti. On the road, I’ll post into Brewing Nordic’s Facebook and Instagram.

My route will be roughly this:

July 16–17: Reykjavik, Iceland
July 17–18: Seattle
July 19–21: Bend
July 22–27: Portland (including Oregon Brewers Festival)
July 28–29: Somewhere in Oregon, probably Williamette Valley and Oregon coast
July 30–August 2: Seattle

I will gladly meet beer and media people and I have plenty of time, especially in Seattle and Portland. If you would like to meet me, you can email mika@brewingnordic.com.

Viking Age Brew – a  Background Story

Viking Age Brew – a Background Story

My book Viking Age Brew: The Craft of Brewing Sahti Farmhouse Ale is now available worldwide (see Books for details). Here’s an additional background story of how I became an advocate for traditional farmhouse ales.

I had my first pint of traditional Finnish farmhouse ale sahti in 1991 at the age of twenty when I moved to Jyväskylä. This town in Central Finland is on the edges of the districts where traditional farmhouse ale culture thrives.

I’m originally from eastern Finnish district of Savo where sahti is an alien drink. Perhaps for this reason this pint wasn’t love at first sip, but the flavor certainly burned a mark into my brain. A still and hazy ale with viscous milkshake-like mouthfeel. Intoxicating and a nourishing meal on its own, yet easy drinking. Firm taste of malt and hefty banana aroma.

Ten years later I was homebrewing actively and eager to brew every beer style. My friend Petteri wondered why sahti hasn’t been on the list. I soon ticked sahti as a well, but as homebrewers often approach sahti, I mixed tradition with some modern brewing practices. The ale turned out OK, but it missed a soul.

Then, in 2007 in the Finnish Sahti Competition, I met true farmhouse brewers and the tradition began to unfold. It was spectacular to meet these countryside women and men who have never read brewing books and their recipes aren’t written down. Many of them have brewed for decades only one kind of beer, their family style of sahti.

Anyone who tastes sahti or sees how it is brewed, immediately notices that there’s something very unusual going on. The brewers stick to odd habits unknown to modern brewers, yet the brews are extremely tasty and unique. My desire to learn and understand more grew. Where do these odd habits come from? How old they are?

In 2013 I asked my friend Johannes Silvennoinen to join me in writing an article about sahti. Next week Johannes replied, let’s write a book. Soon Hannu Nikulainen joined the team. We traveled 8,000 kilometers in Finland and Estonia to document sahti and koduõlu. That was a gonzo road trip, and even after two books on sahti, I still haven’t drained all stories. The Finnish book on sahti was published in 2015.

In the Finnish book on sahti, our primary aim was to capture today’s alive culture into the book. We wrote a section on the history of sahti, but a full explanation of the origins was too big to chew on. I had heard people say that sahti dates back to thousands of years or that the Vikings brewed that way. But nobody could explain why.

This bothered me and I started to dig more into archaeology and the history of beer. With the help of Norwegian beer writer Lars Marius Garshol and few others, I begin to understand the full picture. I soon realized that the other alive traditions of koduõlu in Estonia, gotlandsdricke in Sweden, maltøl in Norway and kaimiškas in Lithuania are part of the same culture, and seem so peculiar only because similar traditions around them have disappeared. These folk beers are the remains of a larger culture in northern Europe and predate the hopped beer that started to spread in the late Middle Ages.

Now both alive traditions and the history of Nordic and Baltic farmhouse ales are documented into Viking Age Brew. Admittedly, the primitive folk ales of today aren’t a time machine that can take us directly back to how things were a thousand years ago, but in this book I will argue that they can come close. The fascinating thing about alive oral traditions is that they can reveal details that did not survive into historical archives or archeological findings. Hopefully, people begin to see Nordic and Baltic farmhouse beers are seen as significant remnants of beer history.

One of the difficulties in getting a publishing contract in the USA, especially as an unknown foreign writer documenting something as obscure as sahti, was that I wanted color photos throughout the book. I rejected all cheaper options that included black & white photos or a photo insert. In the end this stubbornness paid off. The book has over a hundred color photos deeply integrated into the story of the book, like this magnificent shot by Sami Brodkin from the Turku Medieval Market. We didn’t plan this photo. The reenactors came to enjoy sahti while we were taking press photos, and Sami took a shot.
Brewing Nordic Events 2019 and a Recipe for Kalja/Taari

Brewing Nordic Events 2019 and a Recipe for Kalja/Taari

Lately, I have spent a lot of time planning my upcoming events and travels. This year, I will be drinking, brewing and talking beer at these events or places:

  • May 23: SOPP Beer Festival in Tampere, Finland.
  • June 14–15: OlutSatama Beer Festival in Jyväskylä, Finland.
  • June 28–29: The Medieval Market in Turku, Finland. I will demonstrate historical brewing techniques with Olu Bryki Raum brewery. On Friday and Saturday the demonstration brews will be Karelian taari and medieval gruit ale. I will also give a talk “What the Vikings Drank in Their Feasts?”
  • July 16–August 2: Viking Age Brew book tour in the Pacific Northwest USA. I will arrange several events in bars, bookstores and museums with beer writer Jereme Zimmerman, the author or Make Mead Like a Viking and Brew Beer Like a Yeti. The preliminary route goes through Seattle, Bend, Portland, and Vancouver. We will also do a commercial farmhouse collaboration brew.
  • October 11–12. Norsk Kornøl Festival in Hornindal, Norway. I will demonstrate brewing sahti give a talk about it too.
  • Late October: OlutExpo Beer and Whisky Festival in Helsinki, Finland.

I will announce the event details once the schedules have been confirmed.

Sketch of a Kalja/Taari Recipe

A few weeks ago I made a traditional farmhouse beer known as kalja or taari, by first baking a rye porridge or pudding (called mämmi) in the oven, and then fermenting it into a beer. I was asked for a recipe, and I will now report my observations so far.

I already discussed the background of these drinks in article Small Beer Called Kalja, but I’m still in the middle of research, based on my brewing experiments, Finnish ethnographic texts, and Karelian cookbooks. All the texts and cookbook recipes I have seen are very sketchy and missing important details. As far as I know, these kind of traditions in Finland died in the first half of the 20th century. Eventually, I will publish a proper recipe with plenty of photos.

A glass of taari farmhouse beer

My latest experiment with traditional Finnish farmhouse kalja/taari. It feels extremely nourishing with grainy notes of baked rye porridge. Mouthfeel is incredibly viscous from 100 % rye – certainly an acquired taste. These kind drinks were usually made for food and nourishment of farmhouse work, and this certainly does the trick.

0,7 kg unmalted rye flour (coarsely ground)
0,35 kg malted rye (coarsely ground)
Yeast of your choice

The process consists of four steps: sweetening, baking, diluting and fermenting. In the past sweetening was often done in a cauldron, and then continued by baking in clay pots or birch bark baskets. Sweetened mash have also be also baked into a shape of bread. The bake was diluted (mixed with water) and fermented in a wooden tub or cask. For convenience, I did all four steps in a 10 L stainless steel kettle. See the procedure below, and you’ll realize the realize how the brewing vessels are married with the process.

Sweetening: pour grains into a kettle, cauldron or clay pot. Mix in warm to hot water, 1.5 times the grain amount. Keep this porridge-like mash at 60–80°C until it tastes very sweet. You can keep it on a stove or put the vessel into the oven as I did. Mix and check the mash occasionally. This step should take around 3 hours.

Baking: bake the mash at 100–150°C in the oven until the mash looks dark brown. Depending on the temperature and various other things, this takes from several hours to overnight. In the past, this step was done overnight in the afterheat of a wood-fired oven.

Dilution: now the baked mash needs to be diluted with water. My sources do not reveal how diluted beer one should make, but everyday ales have generally been low in gravity and alcohol. Occasionally for celebrations, it was less diluted. I suspect that one kilogram of grains should make at least ten liters of kalja. In this experiment I added only 5 liters of water, that makes more like a high-end celebration drink. Whatever water-to-grain ratio you use, pour warm water over mämmi and stir heavily.

Fermentation: you are going to ferment the diluted mash, and the grain solids will be sieved out after the fermentation. Usually, the beverage was fermented, stored and served from the same wooden vessel that facilitates the sieving. The most common vessel was a kind of lauter tun: a tub with a tap and straws for filter on the bottom. The second option is a wooden cask with a tap high above the bottom so that grain solids fell to the bottom and the liquid is drawn above the dregs. Since I had neither of these vessels, I just scooped mostly liquid from the top of the fermenter and poured it through a kitchen sieve.

Whatever vessel you use, pour the diluted mash into the vessel, let cool to fermentation temperature and add yeast. I added one flake of dried kveik (Norwegian farmhouse yeast). Ferment for one to two days at room temperature and then move the vessel to cold. The fermentation need not be complete at this point. For everyday beverage, the main purpose of fermentation was preservation.

In the past, as the kalja or taari was drained, the vessel was topped up with water, for getting more out of the grain sediment. The resulting weaker beverage was drunk, and the cycle of topping up and drinking was repeated several times, until it was unpalatable. The disgust with several-cycle-old kalja or taari has been immortalized in many sayings, such as “like the seventh water over the top of kalja” for describing something worthless.

The Month of Sahti Art​icles

The Month of Sahti Art​icles

In February I picked fruits of beer writing during the last six months. Within a week, my articles on sahti farmhouse ale appeared in both Zymurgy Magazine (American Homebrewer Association) and Olutposti (Finland’s Beer Society).

Zymurgy’s article is what I would say a definitive introduction to sahti, and my best effort so far. It was nice to have SAHTI – FINNISH YOUR BEER in the cover of a major homebrewing magazine with a circulation of over 46,000. The article includes a recipe of Olavi Viheroja, the most triumphant sahti brewer in the history of the of the Finnish National Sahti Competition. As far as I know, his recipe hasn’t been published before. When I observed Olavi’s brewing in August 2018, it was probably the first time when his recipe was written down. As a side note, I have another great sahti master’s recipe lined up for Brewing Nordic.

Olutposti’s article was entertaining documentation of an eight-day road-trip to sahti heartlands in August 2018. Since I was traveling with experts specializing in farmhouse brewing traditions, I simply had to write for the Finnish audience what these experts have to say about sahti. I got very good comments from beer writers Lars Marius Garshol (Norway) and Martin Thibault (Canada), as well as brewmaster Amund Polden Arnesen (Eik & Tid, Norway).

To put it shortly, although similar alive traditions of farmhouse beers have remained elsewhere in the Nordic and Baltic countries ( koduõlu in Estonia, gotlandsdricke in Sweden, maltøl in Norway, the kaimiškas beers of Lithuania), Garshol, Thibault and Polden were surprised about the marked and well-established role of sahti in the Finnish culture. Finns know their sahti, and also the brewers know each other fairly well. On the other hand, our guests were surprised of how similar sahti brewing process was across the 13 municipalities we visited. It seems the well-established culture has also lead to some homogenization of traditions. During the trip, we also talked about a lot about the main ingredients of sahti (baker’s yeast, malt, and juniper), and some of that talk was documented in the article. Thibault has documented some of the sahti adventures at his web site Les coureurs des boires (in French).

In February I completed another long term goal, giving a course on traditional brewing for Finnish re-enactment and history enthusiasts,  Pirkkalan Muinaisaikayhdistys. I have taught brewing sahti and modern beer before, but now I was testing the waters of how to pack hands-on brewing, history, and tradition and into an easy-going six-hour course. The challenge is that traditional sahti brew day usually lasts around 12 hours. I think the concept worked well, and surely more traditional brewing courses will follow.

My next malty endeavors include brewing with Nordic farmhouse brewing techniques purely for the sake of flavor, instead of following the tradition. How does raw ale porter with kveik and hop tea sound?

Sahti article in Olutposti magazine
My sahti article in Olutposti magazine reported to Finnish beer geeks how international beer experts view sahti.


Frost and Hibernation

Frost and Hibernation

The dark winter months between November and February drive me into a state of hibernation. I tend to work a lot, but only later in the spring, I start to realize the achievements. I can also recognize the seasons in my writing. Winter texts are usually seriously fact-packed while the summer texts are more in the easygoing story-telling mode. 

Despite the hibernation, I have now made the final corrections to my forthcoming book, Viking Age Brew, to appear in June 4, 2019. I will introduce the book later with a background story, but a preview is already shown at Brewing Nordic Books page, and the book is sold at online bookstores like Amazon.

At the moment I’ fixing travel plans for this year. I will be marketing my book in Oregon and Washington states in July 2019. Oregon Brewers Festival in Portland and an event at Nordic Museum in Seattle are already in the schedule, but other events will be planned as well. I will announce the details when I know more. I try to meet beer enthusiasts, brewers, and medieval-Viking geeks as much as I can.

Another almost confirmed event is a fabulous Nordic farmhouse ale event Norsk Kornøl festival in Hornindal, Norway in October 2019. In Finland, the most likely bigger events are OlutSatama (Jyväskylä) in June, Helsinki Beer Festival in April, the Medieval Market of Turku in June, the National Sahti competition (Hartola) in August and OlutExpo (Helsinki) in October. Meanwhile, in February I’m giving a course on traditional brewing in Pirkkala, Finland.

The colder it gets, the more beautiful winter is. This is my backyard in January at -28°C.



Raising a Puppy and Finishing a Book

Raising a Puppy and Finishing a Book

In October I traveled to Stockholm with my wife to pick up a Scottish deerhound puppy. A week later I found out that I need to do the final edit to my book on sahti. Training a puppy and finishing a book at the same time isn’t exactly my idea of fun, but now the deerhound named Helga is almost house-trained and the book is very close to a completion.

Now that I have time to pause and think, I realize that in the past few months have been very eventful when it comes to farmouse ales. In August we did an amazing eight-day tour in the sahti districts with a team of Norwegian, Canadian and Finnish beer geeks. We started from the national sahti competition, and then visited 13 home breweries and five commericial ones on all major sahti districts. We saw three sahti brewing sessions, a craft malt house, and a farmhouse museum. We enjoyed sauna, traditional Finnish foods and the lakeside nature.

It took few weeks to process all the data I gathered: around 700 photos (after deleting bad ones), plenty of stories, and three detailed recipes from sahti masters. One recipe is reserved for an article appearing in English in winter 2019 (more about that later) and the other two will appear in Brewing Nordic.

While recovering from the book project, new quests haves started to spring to my mind. Brewing with pre-industrial farmhouse gear and techniques will certainly be one of those quests and I have already started to acquire wooden vats suitable for medieval and Viking Age brewing demonstrations.

Old wooden vats for historical brewing
Buying old wooden brewing gear is surprisingly easy in Finland. The difficulty is that most vats are built for brewing 100-200 L of ale for big feasts, and not easily transported to brewing demonstrations. I found these vats suitable for mashing and fermenting from a local junk shop. When I find a kuurna (lauter tun) I’m ready to fire up brewing stones.


Helga, Scottish deerhound
This sneaky little devil, a four-month-old Scottish deerhound named Helga, is keeping me busy. Photo by Ari Lehtiö.

Brewing Taari at the Medieval Market of Turku

Brewing Taari at the Medieval Market of Turku

At the end of June I traveled to Turku with five kilograms of sweet and dark rye breads in my bag. I had baked these special taari breads for a traditional Karelian-Baltic farmhouse ale taari that I helped to brew at the Turku Medieval Market

Jouko Ylijoki from Olu Bryki Raum brewery invited me to this medieval fair. Jouko is a veteran of medieval fairs and his crew had built an impressive outdoor brewery and tavern where the audience could follow the brewing demonstration and sample the ancient ales of Olu Bryki at the same time. The Medieval Market on the  whole  is a very large event, and there were 160,000 visitors during four festival days. The fabulous photos of this post were taken by Sami Brodkin.

I have been searching data about taari from Karelian cookbooks and ethnographical texts, and I’m now very close to understanding how this very unusual type of historical ale has been brewed. Perhaps one more test brew, and I can publish the findings.

Taari breads for brewing
I baked these taari breads from unmalted and malted rye at home. They are kind of malt extract of the past: crumble them into a vat, pour in water, and add yeast (or let ferment spontaneously). Taari is usually brewed into a vat that has a straw or juniper branch filter on the on the bottom, and the grain solids get sieved off just before drinking.

After Turku I spend a week at a summer cottage by the lake, and there I finally managed to document the last story from my maltøl tour to Norway a year ago: Commercial Farmhouse Maltsters and Brewers Around Stjørdal. This story feature some of the best photos I took on this tour.

Now I’m planning an eight-day sahti tour for August, in which we will be visiting around twenty domestic and commercial brewers all around sahti heartlands. Some of the photos, stories and recipes will eventually appear here at Brewing Nordic and perhaps in some beer magazines. In the meantime, I will throw some snapshots to Facebook and Twitter pages.



Knight at Turku Medieval Market
Also distinguished nobles visited our sahti tavern at the Medieval Market.