Estonian Beer Review: Saku Koduõlu

Sahti is one of my favorite styles of beer; I’ve always been intrigued by exotic beers with unusual flavors and my career in forestry has made me especially keen to sample beers that use trees as ingredients. My first successful attempt at homebrewing was actually a Sahti inspired Belgian ale, which was quite ambitious for a novice homebrewer to pull off.  As a new brewer, I was overwhelmed by the creative possibilities of brewing and reached for the stars and decided to combine, juniper, honey, orange zest, coriander and Wyeast’s Forbidden Fruit ale yeast into a double strength concoction that would be used to ring in the end of skis season and the start of spring.  Instead of landing amongst the stars, I probably landed on the moon, but for my second batch of beer I was thrilled and the positive feedback kept me coming back for more.

So naturally being in the Baltic I’ve kept my eye open for examples of this style.  I’m pleased to report that while not ubiquitous, Sahti brewing is alive and well both in Finland and Estonia.  I recently sampled a fine commercial example of the style from Estonia, Koduõlu.

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mmmmm! Sahti! Terviseks!

The name Koduõlu mean literally homebrew.  True to style its hazy, with lots of sediment and big bite of juniper. While Finland gets all the credit for this style its actually a shared style brewed in Finland, the Swedish Island of Gotland and the Estonian island of Saaremaa. In all three areas beers were traditionally brewed with rye and barley,  because of the primitive sparging techniques and difficulties in mashing rye, brewers traditionally filtered their wort with juniper boughs giving this style one of its most unique characteristics.  Juniper also gives the beer a nice bitterness and eliminates the need for hops. I had long thought this was because hops couldn’t grow in such a cold and inhospitable climate as Finland, but a resent trip to Finland proved my assumptions wrong.  They actually can grow quite well in Finland, up to 20cm per day!  So the lack of hops in this style doesn’t reflect the inability to grow hops so much as the tradition of using more ancient brewing techniques used to make gruit.

Now on to the review!

Appearance-Deep orange, very hazy with a thick off-white head with good retention, plenty of yeast sediment in the bottle to swirl and add or leave alone depending on your preference

Smell-Slightly spicy with hints of alcohol and clove, some peachy esters

Taste-Mild fruity sweetness upfront, esters reminiscent of oranges, balanced by woody tannins from juniper with a dry and slightly mineral finish.

Mouthfeel– Medium to full bodied with medium low carbonation.

Overall-This beer is actually a very tame and approachable example of this style geared for a commercial market.  Nevertheless, this beer hasn’t been dumbed down in anyway, and came be thought of as a Sahti gateway beer; opening the drinkers world up to new and even more exotic examples of this quixotic style.  Highly recommended

Latvian Beer Review: Brālis bitter

In a land of malt-forward lagers, finding a hoppy beer is like…

FINDING THE HOLY GRAIL!

At least if you love Humulus lupulus.

IMG_7636Based out of Riga, Latvia SIA Alus Nams, produces a wide range of Latvian microbrews.  I was able to sample a few on a recent trip, and while some beers left a bit to be desired, I really enjoyed their Brālis bitter.

I couldn’t find any information on what style they were going for, but it tasted to me like hoppy lager.  It could have been an ale, but really had almost no ester character and was super clean, since most of their other beers are lagers I assume this one is as well.

Appearance-golden with good clarity and a surprisingly tan head, at least for so light a beer.

Smell-Wow you can actually smell hops!  what a change after other Baltic beers that tend to go very light on the hop aroma.  Smell like UK varieties although I don’t know which, earthy and floral, and not citrus like at all.  Also a really nice pilsner malt aroma

Taste-Very clean and crisp on the palate with bitterness to match, lots of pilsner character

Mouthfeel- Medium bodied with medium carbonation

Overall- A pretty nice, hoppy-beer from Latvia. Worth seeking out if you find yourself in Eastern Europe and are missing hops.

 

 

Estonian Beer Review: A Le. Coq Porter

After trying A Le. Coq’s flagship I was eager to try their porter.  This region of the world is synonymous with these dark and complex beers which were often brewed in the UK for export to Russia.  This example bills itself as a Baltic porter and clocks in at 6.5%.

While it really looks beautiful in the glass, it unfortunately leaves a lot to be desired.

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Full review below:

Appearance-Jet black color with a 1″ creamy tan head

Smell-Hints of roast grain but not much going on

Taste-Really off, was very dry and astringent for a porter with no maltiness or sweetness and a weird DMS or corny sour flavor in the background

Mouthfeel-Medium bodied medium carbonation

Overall-Avoid, hardly a porter, just bad tasting dark beer.

Estonian Beer Review: A. Le Coq Premium

IMG_6396A. Le Coq brewery in Tartu was started in the 1800s as beer distribution business designed to import imperial stout from London to Russia.  In 1913 the Justus Schramm Brewery in Tartu Estonia (founded 1826) was purchased with the intent of producing beers for the Russia market domestically.    It has since undergone a number of different owners and iterations, including being run as the Tartu Õlletehas or Tartu Brewery under Soviet occupation.  In its current form, (owned by the finnish company Olvi)  it produces a number of beers and ciders as well as non-alcoholic offerings like juice and sports drinks.  Its most popular offering and indeed the most popular beer in Estonia is A. Le Coq Premium.

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Tartu Town Hall

I had the pleasure of sampling this beer at a patio bar not far from the historic town square of Tartu.  While I’m not a huge fan of the Euro lager style (think beer in the green bottles)  this one was quite pleasing.  I found it balanced and easy to drink, with no real off flavors and would recommend it as a fine beer to order if you ever find yourself in Estonia (4/5).  For those of you familiar with Grainbelt Premium from the August Schells Brewery in New Ulm, MN, I found this beer to be almost a dead ringer.  Went quite well with a meal of hearty sausages and potatoes.

Full Review

Appearance-Pale gold with a frothy white head and relatively high carbonation  (4.5/5)

Smell-Reminiscent of many American style lagers, light hay and noble hops with earthy barley (4/5)

Taste -Pretty standard. An all around well balanced lager, perhaps a bit hoppier than some in this category, but quite tasty overall (3.5/5)

Mouth feel -highly carbonated, yet with a full mouth feel for so light a beer almost creamy.  (4/5)
Overall – If you like pale euro lagers this is about as good as they get. If you love IPAs or RIS this style probably doesn’t appeal as much. Still a worthwhile offering. Unlike a lot of Euro lagers this one is still brewed in the same town that if was originally brewed in. (4/5)