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1930s SIMA with Sourdough Starter

by Saara

Sima welcomes spring! Historically sima is old of a festive beverage known & enjoyed already during prehistoric times. Originally sima, ie. mead in English, was a simple fermentation with honey and water. Nowadays there’s a whole lot of creativity around it. We Finns prepare homemade sima a week or so before May Day. It is and it has been a rather popular and persistent tradition throughout generations over the years.

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Today’s sima is a milder version of the old mead served next to beer and wine. The general homemade sima is low on alcohol thanks to limited fermentation. In fact, sima in Finland is a shared family sparkling enjoyed with sugary donuts on the 1st of May which is called Vappu. Where mead used to be enjoyed year-round, we Finns raise a glass of sima to welcome spring only in May.

This year I revised a 1930s sima recipe & fermented it with my sourdough starter. Interestingly, the original recipe* advised to use four times more yeast than I normally do so I took it down to the minimum but other than that the ingredient specs are as is. Using less fermentation starter means finer taste & longer waiting time for the beverage to be consumed.

Below you can find details for both sourdough and yeast fermentation. I’ve scaled down the recipe so that you can prepare it in the 5-litre kettle. The recipe yields 4 liters of deliciousness.

home fermented drinks

Fermented lemon drink

1930s SIMA

Sima welcomes spring! Historically sima is old of a festive beverage known & enjoyed already during prehistoric times. Originally sima, ie. mead in English, was a simple fermentation with honey and… Drinks My Vintage Cooking European Print This
Makes/Serves: 4l Prep Time: Cooking/Prepping:
Nutrition facts: 200 calories 20 grams fat


4,2l water
200g brown sugar
200g caster sugar
1,5 lemons
0,4 dl boiled hops (humulus lupulus, cone hops not pellets)

1/4 tsp of active bubbly sourdough starter

ALTERNATIVELY a small snip of fresh yeast (size of a a dried pea!)

raisins & extra sugar for bottles


  1. Make sure your starter is active & ready to go. I was baking bread the same day & these two tasks in mind I fed the starter twice towards a milder taste profile. With yeast, you’re all good now.
  2. Wash organic lemons & carefully peel the yellow zest avoiding to include any white pith. Once you have a white ball, cut the lemon into 2mm slices. Then further remove the white part around the lemon slices (pith & seeds add bitterness, hence avoided).
  3. Choose a small kettle & boil extra water. Once bubbly, pour over the hops. Wait for a few minutes and drain.
  4. Start boiling half of the water (2,1L) in a big kettle. Measure both brown sugar & caster sugar into the hot water & carefully mix until dissolved. Move the kettle aside and then add the rest of the water (2,1L) cold. Add lemon peels, lemon slices as well as the drained hops into the mix.
  5. Let sima cool before adding the fermentation agent. This might take a few hours depending on the temperature of the space where you place the kettle. The liquid should be max 28 Celcius for sourdough starter OR 35-37 Celcius for fresh yeast. Take a small portion of sima & dissolve the agent, then add the mix back to sima. The temperature needs to be enough in order to activate the fermentation but keeping the temperature rather mild gives sima better flavor.
  6. Once fermentation is added, either move sima into a container, which you can seal airtight or cover kettle with cling film with utmost detail leaving zero air holes. Leave sima in room temperature for 12-24 hours (mine was 24h with sourdough at 23 Celcius room). Do not peak! You know that sima is ready to be bottled when the hops/lemon slices rise to the surface.

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  1. While sima is working on its magic, wash glass bottles well & further sterilize them in 125 Celcius oven for 30-45minutes. Remember to dip bottle tops, caps and seals in boiling water, too. Choose normal wine, juice or milk bottles over the ones with flip opener if making a fermented drink for the first time.
  2. When hops and lemon slices rise to the surface, sima is ready to be bottled. Before draining sima, add one 0.5-1 tsp of sugar and 3-6 raisins into each bottle depending on the size of the bottle. Don’t stir or mix sima. Relax your hand & use a big soup ladle or a small jug in the draining process.
  3. Don’t fill the bottles all the way! Leave 3 centimeters of air space to the top of the bottle. Leave even more space if using brew bottles with flip opener.
  4. Once the batch is ready, transfer the bottles to the fridge for a few days. Keep the bottles in a vertical position. In the beginning, do not screw the bottle tops ‘super tight’ but ‘not too loose’ either. Re-check the stoppers after a day in the fridge and then close them all the way. You want your sima to be bubbly and FIZZZZ when you open it. Ensuring a relaxed screw, in the beginning, will minimize the risk of too much carbonation.
  5. It’s time, pop the bottle open! Sima is ready to be consumed when the raisins are swollen and resurfaced on the top. So even if you’re not a friend of raisins, they hold an important communicative task in the final stage of fermentation. When the beverage is ready, it’s in good shape for a week or so in the fridge. I opened the first bottle of sima after three days in the fridge. Last year our sima was on point even two weeks after the bottling.

Fermented lemon drink called sima


As you can see, making sima is a rather straightforward process and includes more waiting than active doing. Fermentation requires attention to hygiene and with the below-described sterilization, I’ve NEVER had mold issues. This not only holds true with sima but also all juices, jams, marmalades, and kimchi, etc I’ve prepared over the years.

Any drink or food is as good as the ingredients. Choose organic, use quality ingredients. Combining both brown sugar & caster sugar not only build the flavors but give sima dark yet transparent color seen here in the photos. If you want lighter colored sima, substitute brown sugar with honey or special syrup.


How much alcohol does homemade sima have? Sima does not foam like fermented alcohol drinks but has nice fizzy bubbles. All fermented drinks, also kombucha & kefir, include small amounts of alcohol. In this vein, I do not recommend sima to be given babies or very small children, pregnant women or any person who may have a sensitivity to it. Fermentation is a process where yeasts break down sugar in the absence of oxygen & alcohol, as well as acids, are products of this.

Homemade sima with this kind of recipe contains a small amount of alcohol (generally less than 0,5%) due to a limited amount of fermentation in room temperature, sugar consistency & the minuscule amount of fermentation agent used. For these reasons, homemade sima is considered a safe family festive drink. My first memories of having a glass of sima with donuts are already before I started school.


I always use glass bottles and do not recommend re-using plastic bottles. If using plastic bottles at all really. First-timers with no experience with bottles with swing or flip-top*, bottling sima with screw caps can be more approachable. For example, these 16oz clear glass water bottles are quite handy*.

Personally I like 0,5l bottles with a swing-top best because of the experience of opening the bottle. They have more attitude! Having smaller 0,5l bottles is also handy, it’s a nice amount of fresh drink available for two people without the beverage getting flat.

That 1l jug below had for a party of five. Sima can be opened and re-opened couple times like any sparkling beverage but it will lose some of the fizz. Sima is always served cold, forget ice cubes!

Sourdough fermented lemon drink

Using hops in sima

What are these hops? Where can I find Humulus lupulus? Humulus hops are the flowers of the hop plant & more commonly known in beer brewing. You can buy hops from homebrew stores and microbreweries. They are not very expensive and there’s a multitude of flavors to choose from. I recommend buying dried full cones that are vacuum-packed in the freezer. If this is not available for your chosen hop, go for leafy hops. Whatever the case, don’t buy pellets because they are a real pain when you drain mead into the bottles.

Hops smell strong and amazing in the kitchen! The essential oils and aromas of the flowers are quite an experience! Don’t be afraid – sima does not taste like beer at all. This year I chose a US hop called CITRA which has tones of grapefruit, gooseberry, melon, lime, and passionfruit. Sounds quite amazing right? If you don’t have hops available asap, you can prepare sima without it. In this case, add zest and slices of one extra lemon to bring more flavor. If hops are a new thing for you, read more useful information here.

Sima is once more an amazing way to use lemon peels but that’s not all. Do take this recipe and method as a starting point to get creative with other flavorings. Grapefruit, lime, orange or ginger. I would love to hear if you make sima. Cheers, cin cin & kippis!



*The original recipe is from a vintage Finnish cookbook “Keittotaito” Koskimies, H. & Somersalo E. (1934) 4th Edition. WSOY

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