Sahti

Anmärkningar öfver Finska Allmogens bryggnings,-sätt, or, Remarks about the Finnish peasantry brewing method by Carl Niclas von Hellens (1780).

Carl Niclas von Hellens worked for the Swedish Royal Academy in Åbo (Finland). He, and others, would travel the country side, interview people, and write up a little book, or novel, about what they saw. These printed publications would be sent to Kings and Queens and noble men who founded these academies, and would often be rather patronizing. From the writings it seemed the travelers did this with an air of “I am so above these poor people around me, but I have studied the ants work, and here my lord, I shall tell you what I have found.” Good, though, that they did, as sometimes the writings detailed things “everybody knew” not deemed worth writing down, but as they wrote about these poor peasants they could do it. This specific publication is about the Finnish general peoples’ way of brewing. This account is the earliest written account of sahti, which is regarded an ancient traditional Finnish beer.  As the account is voluminous, and regularly goes off in tangents, the following quote will occasionally switch between summary and literal translation.

This translation is based on a digital copy obtained from the Swedish National Archives.

Title Pages 1 – 2
Preface; Pages 3 – 4: A praising of the high lords that made the publication possible.
Paragraph 1; Pages 5 – 7: Background.

A description on how important the “inside work” of the common people is for the success of the country, that the common people can be helped by tips on how to properly make their food and drink. Aimed at the production of food and drinks.

Paragraph 2; Pages 7 – 11: A description on the good properties of malt drinks.

A description on how water is the most common way to sooth the thirst, but that as many enlightened people know it can be full of “bad stuff”, the word where Heterogenea, or Stererogenea, might be some sort of reference to small animals and bacteria… weird, these can be “adventurous for the human life”! So the conclusion is that many shy away from plain water and like more prepared drinks for health reasons, beer…. Pages 9-10 are brilliant, after a rant about how water can be dangerous, the fantastic properties of barley and malt is described, and the conclusion is that it is everybody’s interest to utilize malt in the production of a thirst quenching liquid, that will also serve as a treat towards all the unhealthy things in the air. It cures pneumonia, all sorts of coughing, rheumatism, strengthens bones and avoids scurvy. On page 10 a fantastic deduction concludes that malt liquor is healthier in the cold north than the sugar made from the Indians sugar canes. A nice paragraph is that the fermentation process can be altered for the seasons, so a speedier fermentation makes a more drunkenness inducing drink, which is more suitable for the winter times, and the opposite for summer times A section on how chronic diseases and all sorts of ailments comes from drinking wine in our cold climate hammers away at the point, that beer is good for us.

Paragraph 3 – Pages 11 – 17 Manufacture of beer described.

Describing how important, for the end product, the use of good barley is, grinding it to the right size, using good water, and so on is. A point that he mentions that finish farmers do is, to cover the barley before and during use so it is not mixed up with contamination.

On page 12 – 13 the production of beer is described.

In the evening moisture the malt-meal (?) with cold water. Roughly one “vanligt ämbar” to one barrel of malt-meal. On the following morning, pour one “vanligt ämbar” boiling water over the moist malt, then stir and cover. Repeat this until the mash is so thin that the spade (big spoon) you stir with can without much effort be moved from one side of the mash tun to the other with one hand. Then toss stones in the fire to heat them, and so many that there is one stone for each “kappa” malt-meal. Each stone should be 6 “markers” weight, or if that size is unavailable, twice as many. When these are burning hot put them in the tun. All the time a second person stir vigorously. Stir until the stones do not burn the tun. Then cover the tun rather well, to ensure the boiling is going well. The hop is boiled in cold water without being rinsed before and is used in the following proportion; one handful for each “kappa” malt-meal. It should be boiled on a good fire for half an hour, or until the scales separate/loosen from the hop cones. During this time the mash is poured into the mashing tun (“rosten”), which in the usual way has the bottom covered with fine “kåslingar” and straw. As long as the liquid coming out of the tun is unclear, it is poured back in, for a new filtration. When it clears, pour the boiled hops and the hop-water into the vessel where the wort is gathered. Then slowly cold water is added to the mash. This is continued until enough wort has been collected, as much as the volume in the mashing tun was when it all started. This wort is stirred, so that it cools faster, the desired temperature is when dipping the elbow feels cold. Then the yeast is added, one quart, or one half “stop”, depending on how good the yeast is, for each barrel of brew. The yeast is mixed in as the wort is stirred, as soon as it has dissolved, cover rather well, to make sure the warmth which is needed for fermentation stays. When the fermentation has become good, and the covering begun to raise, remove the covering, and leave that way until the hop-lid sinks, and until the middle has become “concamt” (concave?) and the foam stretches from one end of the vessel to the other. Then remove the hop and wring the hop out. Scoop the beer into barrels and leave them uncovered (“osprundade”) until the second day, or until the fermentation slows down (“stadnar”). Seal the barrel well. After a couple of days, it is considered ready and can be drunk.

Then on page 15 a discussion about the drawbacks of the method is conducted, and what improvements could be made. The heating with rocks is prone to causing contamination, primarily from gravel and dust from cracking rocks, but also gives an uneven heat, burning some of the malt, not heating other of it sufficient, so heating in a pot over fire is much better. And the fact that the Finns did not rinse the hops before boiling them was a source of contamination too in the authors opinion. By adding the yeast while the wort is a little warmer, then a stronger drink can be achieved, but it gives a bad taste to the drink. If it is too cold, then the fermentation does not take off properly. One way to check for the right temperature that the author was described by experienced brewers (probably from non-Finn brewers), was to check for the right temperature by sticking a finger in the wort, if the feeling is that of a cold ring around the finger where the surface of the wort is, and a little warmer deeper down, then the temperature is right. Some problems with doing this in the different seasons is noted.

The Finns did not care much for how clear the drink was, on the contrary, they often praise beer for being dark and thick in consistency as “swine blood”. Then the author goes on about how the drinking of thick liquids cause long term stomach problems.

On page 17, the production of Sahti is mentioned as below.

After the mash has been taken from the mashing tun for the beer, as described previously, then the Finns make their “sahti”. They scope over more water into the mashing tun, and the wort they get from this is used to produce the sahti, or kalja. The method is the same as for the actual beer brewing. It does not say if the water they pour over the mash is cold or warm, just that more water is added.

Paragraph 4 Pages 17 – 19 Manufacture of meal-drink is described.

Since the only occasion to make sahti is when making beer, which is not that often, the Finns have discovered the following method, to brew as similar drink, for the times in between beer brewing. They call it Jauho, or kalja or meal-drink (“mjöldricka”), referring to the rye-meal they use. The process is the following:

Take one “kappa” rye-meal, moist it with one half “” lukewarm water, while constantly stirring. Put it on the fire, then pour another “” of cold water, only let the brew barely boil, then pour it into a barrel which has had the same kind of drink before. First pour cold water into the barrel, until enough space is left for the heated liquid. After pouring in the heated rye-water, add some yeast, which will start some weak sort of fermentation. Once the fermentation has stopped, seal the barrel, and the next day the drink is ready for consumption. “This drink can not, as each and everyone easily understands, be other than more unhealthy than the previously described “after beer” (svagdricka = weak drink)”. They use rye-meal which has not undergone any malting and is not as healthy as the barley. This gives the same ill-effects as the bark-bread, “cardialgier and stomach-stone” (some sort of stomach problems I assume).

As everyone who knows basic chemistry knows, for fermentation to be successful a certain proportion of substances is needed, the excess amount of water used in this concoction makes it as best a meal-water mix. He describes it the process more as rotting than fermenting… And it is not spiced with hops, which would help in the process, by stopping foreign contamination, as well as be good for the stomach. Rawness, and sourness of the stomach is therefore inevitable effects of this drink.

Page 19 – A description of how the dark personality of the Finns, could very well be attributed to their food and drinks being detrimental… Their work-hardened bodies resist the bad food and drink for a time, then as time goes by, and nature has its way, they decay due to their bad nutrition.

“No these poisonous drinks are for them, in their stupidity and simpleness, their outlet for enjoyment, to the detriment of them.”

Paragraph 5 – Page 20 – 20 Manufacture of Kapataari (?) in Savolax and Karelen

The mash after beer or “svagdricka” (week-drink) is kept for some time, until it is well soured. This is put in a pot with a hole and spigot in the bottom, fill half the pot. Then pour cold water on the sour mash, which after a couple of days will have assimilated the sourness of the mash. And this is as a drink used, as the drink is used, more water is poured on, and this is kept on until all sourness is gone from the water tapped out of the bottom. The mash will float as a lid and cover the water. “He who for the first time drink this, can not other than get fear and loathing for this. And hardly believe any human would consume this.” The tun is kept uncovered, probably to avoid mold and it going dank. But that also causes it to soon be contaminated with all sorts of unclean and bad things that exist in their living quarters. All the fly-maggots and other creatures that make a living in this… On this lid water is poured, that once it has passed through the disgusting lid of sour mash is considered fit for drinking! This is a habit that is a great cause of unhealthiness of the nation.

Paragraph 6 – Pages 20 – 22 Finishing words

These are the drinks the common people of Finland use, with some small regional differences in manufacturing process. They all have in common that the drink is thick and sour or “raw”. The effects of their use are truly bad and sad. Care for the people of our nation should make us do something about this. Etc.

Translation by Robert Hedström, 2018.