Liquid Souvenirs From Finland

I've never really been one to buy souvenirs on trips abroad. Usually I'm traveling light, on a budget, or (more frequently) both, and don't often feel the need to spring for trinkets and keepsakes. There are, of course, a few exceptions to this self-imposed rule. Local craft beer is one of them, and since I started regularly writing about it, I've been fortunate enough to receive the occasional bottle or two of gifted brew.

Returning from Finland in mid-March, I managed to fit several beers into my suitcase, two of which were given to me by Pekka Kääriäinen, founder and managing director of Lammin Sahti Oy, a small brewery in the town of Lammi in the southern part of the country. Pekka is best known for his sahti, but he's also made ales and ciders for over a decade. Thanks to his generosity, I tried Juhlaolut as well as another called Pöllö, which translates simply to "owl."

To my eyes, Juhlaolut (7% ABV) has the color of polished rosewood: brownish with red highlights. Transparent but possessing slightly more body than I expected, it produced virtually no head when poured from the bottle. The nose was subtle with a musty vegetal aroma and a somewhat dull suggestion of hops. As far as taste, this "celebration beer" struck me as fairly subdued, with a soft caramel sweetness through the center and a gentle bitterness around the edges. Overall, Juhlaolut is a pleasant beer and more quaffable than the alcohol content implies. There's something likable about its malty, woody character, but I'm not necessarily anxious for a second sampling.

Interestingly, Pöllö's label lists the same five ingredients (vesi, ohramallas, humala/vatten, humle) and yet I found this ale more enjoyable to drink. In terms of a style, I would probably compare Pöllö to a Classic English Bitter. The color of bright copper—medium to deep amber—it too created very little head when served, much like the celebration beer. After I emptied the bottle, only a minuscule ring of tight bubbles clung to the walls of my Nonic pint glass. I did pick up some hop aroma though, along with a walnut-like sweetness and a good whiff of bready malt.

Lightly carbonated and relatively low in gravity, Pöllö (4.5% ABV) has a toasty malt profile that balances against a modest level of hoppiness. It finishes a bit dry and struck me as very sessionable. And while similar in some ways to the Juhlaolut's flavor, I could see myself seeking out this beer again. On the other hand, I might be just as likely to go looking for one of Pekka's two varieties of cider on my next visit to the land of lakes and saunas.

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