Tag Archives: adjuncts

Pseudomalainen Firhti (recipe)

Finally, my firhti! I’ve been planning this fir beer for ages and it’s fermenting right now. A bit of background on the name: “suomalainen” is Finn for “Finnish”, pronounced “soo-muh-lye-nen”. I’m messing with sahti, one of the mighty god-kings of low-tech, low-equipment, freestyle shackbrew here, and it behooves me to be a little humble about that.

This is probably the most simple recipe I have ever used. No hops at all. Barely a boil. No chiller. Here it is.

Pseudomalainen Firhti (3-4 gal batch)

6 lbs pilsner DME

1 lb rye malt

About a pound of fir tips and twigs (to filter grain, and also to go in the brewpot)

Yeast (various recipes call for anything from bread yeast to champagne yeast. I went with Red Star Champagne)

Steep the rye in a gallon of water for one hour at 170 (the lowest my oven will go). Layer a bed of fir pieces into your strainer, and strain the mash through that. Squish. Sparge with another hot gallon. Squish again. DO NOT CLEAN YOUR STRAINER. LEAVE THAT JUNK IN THERE.

Go get more fir if you need to. Drop the rest of the fir into your brewpot, top off a bit so most of the fir is in the water–within reason, given the size of your pot and the amount of fir you have. Heat it up to 150-170, a nice steamy sub-boil. The wort will turn a pea-soup yellow and smell like Christmas. Keep it about that warm for 10 or 15 minutes.

Get out your strainer with the rye and the fir needles and decant the wort from your brewpot through that grainbed into your fermenter. You’re basically doing an extra sparge with your wort. Squish. Done!

I didn’t chill my wort at all, I just left the carboy on the counter with a plate over the mouth until the next morning, when I pitched the yeast. I see bubbles as of an hour ago: success!

Thoughts: I wanted my first firhti to be pure fir so I could find out how the flavor worked in isolation. It’s nice, but pretty resinous and a bit acrid–future batches of this will contain a few things to round out the flavor. Since this is an experiment in seeing what sahti would taste like if it had grown up in the Pacific Northwest instead of Finland, I’m thinking mint and hops. I have Saaz and Cascade vines in the backyard; I think Saaz would be a better match.

Since this recipe also has no preservatives (such as hops) other than the alcohol, and since it’s not going to be a high-hooch brew, it’s got to be drunk young. I anticipate that a fair bit of it will go sour before I finish drinking it, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that works out.

Look at this junk. LOOK. I’m so proud of it.

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Beer is friendly, dammit

I recently saw a very new brewer ask a question on a forum I spend some time on: is it okay if I put herbs or fruit in my beer, to add some flavor? Is that a thing I can do? What’s good to use?

It was honestly pretty depressing to see how unanimous the response was: NO. Or, more accurately: HELL NO, NO WEIRD STUFF UNTIL YOU CAN MAKE A GOOD NORMAL BEER.

Believe me, I do understand  where they’re coming from. I love the idea of a standard, old-reliable recipe that can comfortably accommodate a lot of adjuncts. The idea that you should learn the basics before improvising is a very old idea, and definitely a practical one; everybody’s probably got at least one wildly ambitious first project that went terribly wrong, wasted materials, and came out nothing like what they wanted. I know I do. Brewing is a very friendly hobby to people focused on details and procedure and measurements…and people who focus on those things tend to focus on perfecting a foolproof, reliable process they can control all the variables of, or duplicating something they already like. I GET IT.

But you know what? It still pissed me off. An experienced brewer had the gall to give this newbie a homework assignment: make 20 batches the normal way, then you can start messing around. I saw the sad little reply: “okay, you guys give good advice. I guess I’ll just focus on making good beer”.

I wanted to throw things.

I wanted to reach through the internet with a witbier in one hand and a juniper branch in the other and start bludgeoning everyone involved in the exchange.

This person wanted to do something that was good, normal beer–the kind a beginner or anyone else would make. It’s the definition of good, normal beer for most of history and most of the world, in fact. It was unbelievably frustrating to see an idea as unremarkable as socks treated like something dangerous. Our beginner may not make it to twenty brews before trying out some adjuncts, but when s/he does, it will probably be anxiously, tentatively, and with a nagging conviction that they’re going to ruin everything by doing it. IT DOESN’T NEED TO BE THIS WAY.

Beer is forgiving. Beer is tolerant. Beer is not scary, and it’s not waiting for you to mess up so it can laugh at you. Please, please, brewers–remember, and help others to remember. You can get away with more than you think.

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