Friday, May 13, 2011

Dogfish Head - Sah'Tea

I do not thing I need to explain to anyone that Dogfish Head Brewery (hereafter referred to as DFH) makes some crazy, experimental, mindbending beer.  Almost any time that I open one of their bottles I expect a flavor and experience way past anything I could have conceived.  I am usually correct and never disappointed.  That said, today's review is for their Sah-Tea an "ale brewed with black chai tea and juniper berries."  See what I mean about "way past anything I could have conceived?"  Let's pour!

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.
Aroma 12/12
This is unlike anything you will ever smell in a beer.  There are any number of ways to describe it and here they are:
1.  Sweet, minty tea
2.  Raw sugar & chaw
3.  Spicy sweet tea, but more rounded and mellow
4.  Cinnamon-y black licorice

All of the ingredients listed in the above combinations are present (well, not the chaw) as are a healthy amount of cloves.  No hops are detectable.  Had I not already known that rye was used, I would have guessed a pale malt since the rye flavors are so complimentary to the cornucopia of other ingredients.  A very nice theme.

Appearance 2/3
Proof that appearances can be deceiving, this beer has more aroma than ANY similarly colored beer that this reviewer has sampled.  It pours a bright yellow and emits an more-than-ample head of white, tiny, loose bubbles.  There is rye in this?  I think most would be fooled by the final color.  Low head retention and no lacing.  (Note: As I got to the bottom of this bomber bottle, the clarity changed dramitcally.  An abundance of sediment not only made this beer all but opaque, but changed the color to appear as if it were a lightly whipped hefe!)

Picture is my own.
Flavor 18/20
Where to start on this big, complex beer?  First taste is crisp, yet sweet and citrusy (I assume coriander) and waits a moment or two before fading into some rather aggressive spicing.  Oddly, most of the spices remind one of pumpin pie, though the beer tastes nothing of pumpkin.  Most of the spice profile is likely the chai, though it seems built on a much larger list of spices: cinnamon, coriander, clove, ginger, and juniper berries (hence the chaw aroma from earlier).  The finish is reminiscent of a spiced-up witbier!  The spices from earlier are all present, but a distinct banana ester now joins the mix and ties everything together along with a faint glimmer of bitter.  The aftertaste is honed down to the sweet tea and juniper flavors.  The juniper is supposed to taste like pine (a lá gin), but when combined with the chai ends up tasting almost like a faint spearmint tingle on the tongue.  It is a very neat sensation.  If any warmth is to be detected it is during the aftertaste, but it blends so subtly with the juniper and chai tingles that one has to pay close attention to what they are experiencing in order to fully pick up on it.

Mouthfeel 4/5
The 9.0% ABV is almost nowhere to be found on the palate of this beer. The medium-full body is accompanied by a med-light level of creaminess that goes nicely with the banana esters and keeps the spices from becoming too abrasive.  Its sweetness does leave a bit of stickyness on the sides of the tongue.

Overall Impression 8/10
A big bodied, robust flavored, complex beer.  Complex in the way of spice profile, but ultimately not in balance.  While the flavor is certainly unique and nothing short of an experience, it seems to lean on the sweet and spicy flavors rather heavily.  A bit more balance would be needed to give this beer top ratings it comes so close to already.

Total 44/50 (Excellent)
At the tip top of the "Excellent" category, this beer is a treat for anyone that enjoys a spiced beer (Winter seasonal fans, look no further).  Its sweet flavor, mellow tones, light color, and comforting spices are all a disguise that allows this brew's alcohol to go down almost too easily.  Only the body and creamy nature betray its true inner workings.  The complex spice flavors come and go with each subsequent sip, allowing each one to be showcased in its entirety.  In hindsight, the rye is there, but has such a similar taste (almost sour, almost sweet) to the chai that the blend is perfect.  Just like Italian seasonings add to and build off of each one (oregano, thyme, basil, etc) this beer is a perfect bouquet of similar yet distinct flavors and aromas whose sum is greater than its parts.

If you love craft beer, it is an experience you need to try.  Even at $12.99 for a 1pt 9oz bottle.

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