Michael Jackson claimed that "Sahti is the only primitive beer to survive in Western Europe.The beer that peasants learned to brewing in the 1500s is still made much the same way today." Bare Bear is our interpretation of this traditional Finnish beer. Sahti has a long and peculiar history in Finnish culture. Most sahti today is still brewed in saunas. Saunas are a substantial part of Finnish culture and brewing. Nothing illustrates the sauna's role in Finnish culture more than the estimated 2 million saunas in Finland for a population of just over 5 million. Saunas have a long history in Finland not just for brewing beer and relaxing but also for baking bread, celebrating business deals, smoking meats, and even giving birth (before modern healthcare). With 200-day winters in some parts of the country, having a place to warm up when it is negative thirty degrees is important.
Inside the typical home/sauna brewery is the Finnish mashing vessel called a kuurna. The bottom of this long, trough-shaped vessel is lined with juniper branches and straw that act as the filter to separate the wort from the grains in the mash. The mash often, but not always contains a large quantity of rye malt (sometimes up to 50%).The juniper berries on the twigs often add a spicy, aromatic note to the final beer. The berries may also be used later in the process as a anti-infectant and flavoring ingredient. Traditionally, sahti is unboiled and only sometimes hops are added. Instead, the wort is run off into milk churns and fermented with bakers yeast. This yeast would give the traditional brew a clove and/or banana flavor, similar to modern hefeweizen. When the beer is done fermenting it is poured into the traditional serving vessel which is a two-handled vessel made of juniper wood. While some commercial examples are now brewed in Finland, most sahti is still home brewed and there are many different distinctly different versions of the style.
Check out the type of equipment sahti brewers used to use against the equipment we are using...
Bare Bear, at 7% ABV, is actually fairly weak when compared to traditional examples that would range from 7 to 9% ABV. We also don't use any of the traditional equipment, because, well, we don't have it. But we do add juniper berries to the mash and then again in the kettle along with oak staves that impart a tannic character to the final beer. We use a saison yeast instead of bread yeast because we like it better and we use stainless steel fermenters instead of milk jugs because we are a commercial brewery and our customers would probably get mad if we served the beer flat out of old milk jugs. Consumers today are way to particular for my tastes.