Beer Review 0279: Dogfish Head Sah’tea
Sahti is a traditional Finnish beer made with either malted or unmalted grain, juniper berries in the place of hops, and then filtered through juniper twigs in a trough-shaped tun called a kuurna. Sahti has a distinct banana flavor due the production of isoamyl acetate by the yeast. Although mostly homebrewed in the past, many commercial brewers are today producing their own versions of this style of beer.
Dogfish Head (Milton, Delaware) have a Sahti beer, called Sah’tea, which they release once per year as part of their ‘Ancient Ale’ series; all these beers come in 750 ml bottles and are based on recipes that are thousands of years old. Dogfish’s take on the style sees the wort caramelized over white-hot river rocks, and the yeast used is a German weizen. The brew uses natural Finnish juniper berries, and Dogfish put their (as always) unique twist on things by dosing in black tea.
Sah’tea comes in at 9% ABV (alcohol by volume), which is about average for the style, and registers 6 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).
The pour made an average size, quickly diminishing head that was soapy and frothy. The color of the beer was a nice and bright golden-orange, and there was heavy, chunky yeast throughout the body of the drink, which made it quite cloudy. Lacing was fair, offering up a couple of thin pieces here and there.
The aromatics reminded me very much of a Belgian Tripel — straight banana bread up front, enhanced by a doughy, earthen yeast, along with notes of bubblegum and clove. There’s some candied orange here, too; and this drink is sweet to the nose, with an exotic tea note that throws the sniffer for a bit of a loop, but it enhances the overall aromatic picture. Nice.
Dogfish’s Sah’tea is tart up front, sort of a sour grape/lemon thing going on, and it quickly changes to bready and banana notes. In my research on the Sahti style, I found that sour notes are an indication that the beer has been stored too long — I had been sitting on this bottle for about nine months. While it did have a decent amount of tartness to it, I didn’t think it impacted the beer negatively.
The brew starts off a bit light but ramps up to full-flavored quickly, delivering a blast of very sweet candied burnt orange, black tea, and juniper. The tartness came back on with more of that underlying sour grape and lemon, then a final hit of sweetness came on the finish, which reminded me of really sugary classic pink bubblegum. Full body here, with a medium mouthfeel that was quite foamy thanks to a lively carbonation.
This is a nice beer very similar to a Belgian Tripel, but with an oddball sourness (thanks to what I now know was my extended aging) and tea note. I thought those two differences added to the flavor profile and this is a highly drinkable beer; however, I don’t think I could finish a bottle of this because it is a little too sweet. Best to have a couple of friends to share this one with — and you better hope they don’t mind large chunky particles of yeast floating in their beer.
Dogfish Head Sah’tea, 89 points. Price: $12.99 US for one 750 ml bottle.