Oi Mika Krapula!!!

Part 2

We left Vilnius in the rearview mirror of a LuxExpress bus and headed to Riga for a mere 2 days; I should have insisted on more. We stayed at a pretty swank hotel by the river and had spa privileges and even a massage one evening. Riga is a beautiful city, but missing the castle walls of the old city which were removed in the 1850s, unlike Vilnius and Tallinn which retained them. What Riga has in spades though are Art Nouveau buildings dotted throughout several sectors of the city. We visited the Labietis brewery for a few beers one evening in an older industrial section of town. We also shopped for amber and linen and walked through much of the old city.

Onward on another LuxExpress bus to Tallinn for 3 days and many miles of walking through the old town! My friend had read several posts on Beer Advocate mentioning pubs and breweries in town. 1st stop was Prago, a restaurant/pub in the basement of a medieval building. I had a Ukrainian smoked lager that was nicely understated, unlike almost everything else Ukranian. We tried a Saaremaa live ale that tasted a bit dated as well.On another trip, it would be great to visit the island and their farmhouse brewing culture. We visited the Pujohls brewery and tasted their mostly IPA beer list. My, now much improved, planter fasciitis made walking the old steep cobblestone streets quite an adventure, but the old castle walls and the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral were well worth the pain. The police presence at the cathedral was very pronounced as it was at any of the Russian embassies in the Baltics; I have to assume bomb threats are common. The young Mormon missionaries we shared flights with who had learned Russian in order to converse and preach in the Baltics might have wasted the time spent on doing so. The Maritime museum was also a great spot to visit and tour a submarine from the mid-thirties, as well as several other vessels.

We now did the multiple transits day, taking a tram to the Ferry dock and then traveling 2 & 1/2 hours to the dock in Helsinki. Once in Helsinki, where Citymapper utterly failed to be helpful (not to disparage them completely, Google maps was equally useless at times), we asked passersby and found that we could take a tram to the central tram station, which we did. More passersby told us we needed to walk a mile to the central train/subway station where we could catch a train to the airport and pick up our rental car we would use to visit rural breweries. Both apps and the display board at the station were equally useless, and we tracked down an employee who informed us of the proper track for the train and the fact that it was leaving in one minute! We arrived to our hotel after 9 hours of navigation, but with a rental car!

We made contact with Marjokaisa and plotted a course across the ring freeways to her home. She welcomed us and said we should go out into the wood with her to trim some juniper branches for the beer. Lingonberries and blueberries were ripe in those words, so munching and pruning were the order of the day. Back to Kaisa’s to start brewing sahti. Her setup for this is more modern than true farmhouse brewers normally have, but the brewing process is absolutely true to the designation of Sahti. Viking malts are commonly used for sahti, and we started with 30 lbs of their sahti malt and 2 lbs of rye malt. This was added to a steam kettle along with 2 gallons of boiling water. The mix was stirred until all the malts were moist and then the cover of the kettle was closed and not opened until an hour had passed. A second 2 gallons of boiling water was now added to bring temperature up to 65 degrees Celsius, the mixture was stirred and let sit for 90 minutes. After boiling another 2 gallons of water, the juniper branches are laid in the base of the küürna 1st rinsed with cold water, which is discarded, and then with the boiling water. The boiling juniper water is now used to sanitize the fermenter ( a metal milk can). Another 2 gallons of boiling water is added to the mash to bring the temperature up to 82 degrees Celsius. At this point, the grains are scooped into the küürna over the juniper branches to form a filter bed. The liquids are now slowly poured over this until they run clear out of the spout. The earlier liquid is repoured until it runs clear as well. We now have the milk can 2/3s full. The cover goes on and it is lowered into a 30 gallon plastic barrel with cold water running into the barrel. Once the wort reaches 20 degrees Celsius, Finnish bakers yeast is added and the milk can goes into a temperature stable room.

During the entire brewing process, Kaisa eagerly encouraged us to keep our glasses of sahti full and I and my friend caved to the pressure. After a nice hot sauna, we headed to the house and only consumed a couple more glasses before calling it a night at 2AM or so. Oi mikä krapula translates into English as oh my hangover, and I had a profound one the next day! They say you will not feel sahti impact your speech, until you feel it impact your feet; there is truth in this statement.

We started much later than planned the next day to drive to a couple of the best sahti breweries somewhat near Helsinki (Finland is a large country!) Our first stop was at Finlandia Sahti somewhere between Port and Tampere. They are a commercial brewer on a farm who produce 10%ABV and 7.5%ABV sahti. They hand bottle some of their production, but also fill 5 liter plastic jugs for pubs and festivals/gatherings. Petra heats the mash to 85 degrees Celsius, spin filters it in a converted commercial dryer, then chills the wort to 10 degrees celsius before pitching bakers yeast and then using hot plates under plastic drums to bring it up to fermenting temperature! Fermentation takes 2 days after which the barrels are put in the cold room for a week before bottling. He uses Viking Pilsner malt and 2 varieties of homegrown hops. The brewery is currently for sale as Petra and his wife are ready to be done with 12-16 hour days and no vacations in 10 years. Now could be your chance to own a brewery in Finland!

We next headed to Lammin Sahti where Pekka showed us around the modern brewery.

His family has owned it for a generation or more, and Pekka has been a tireless advocate for the sahti brewing tradition. The brewery has the largest küürna in the world which looks capable of handling 10 or more barrels at a time! He produces a 7.5%ABV sahti that is bottled in 1 liter bottles, 5 liter plastic jugs, and 50 liter kegs. He sells throughout much of europe, but his attempts to sell elsewhere were foiled by the necessity of well regulated temperature control to avoid spoilage. Both Finlandia and Lammin use very little juniper in their beers and Pekka uses no rye in his sahti. Pekka’s son Antti is now involved in the brewery and expanding production to more conventional beers. They are also starting to produce a quite delicious sahti whiskey!

Did I mention how large Finland is? I drove back from Lammi in pitch darkness and we arrived in Helsinki at 2 AM! Thank the stars for Finnish heavy metal radio!

The following day, Kaisa was kind enough to spend a day with us exploring Soumenlinna island which is a former Swedish fortress that now is mostly a historical site, but has artist shops, restaurants, and a very large dry dock for boat repairs. We crawled through tunnels that were dug and lined for connecting large cannons and ammunition.

In the evening Kaisa and several members of the local Sahti Society met us at Old Bryce Raum to sample several sahti. The dark sahti had some tarter rye notes/ the berry one didn’t mention if lingonberries or blueberries were in the beer, but had a balanced fruity flavor/the wheat sahti I didn’t much care for, notes of banana and spoiled muskmelon just aren’t my thing. I want to thank Kaisa and all the brewers and the Sahti Society members for their generosity and good will toward a couple tourists; we were so lucky to have shared time with them all, but particularly Kaisa who made us feel so at home during our stay!

We spent the next couple days exploring Helsinki including the most amazing public library I’ve even been to! It’s designed to be both amazing architechually and a true community resource. The transit in Helsinki is also word-class and nowhere did I see a homeless person on the entire trip.

And then it was over and after 8 hours in a tin can with coughing passengers and very few masks, we laid over in Chicago where Uncle Rico kindly met us at the airport and we went to a local brewery where they also make diamonds from cremated remains! Rico bought a couple rounds, drove us back to ORD, and we tin-canned our way home to catch up on sleep for several days. Would I do it again? Absolutely and for a longer visit!

Should you wish to contact MarjoKaisa to arrange a tour, I’d be happy to share the info with you. She has such great connections with all the brewers and such knowledge of the sahti traditions that you simply couldn't have as awesome a trip as we had without her guidance!