What’s in a Sahti? Before seeing a Dogfish Head Label featuring a cute girl riding a reindeer and bringing it home, I would never have been able to tell you. But their continual quest to find weird styles to emulate never ends, and thus I find myself writing a side by side post about a style I’ve never encountered. The Dogfish Head Sah’Tea is a “modern twist” on this traditional Finnish style, and the Sahtia (Lammin) is one of the few remaining traditional examples of this style.
So what is it? Apparently developed in the 1500s in Finland, this style of beer is mashed in wooden barrels and then filtered through juniper leaves making a kind of juniper-steeped beer. Typically un-hopped and cloudy, this one also has (traditionally) wild yeasts and/or bacteria. So it’s a funky, juniper infused cloudy mystery of flavors. Sounds like an adventure.
Though I don’t like to quote Beer Advocate, they do have a very good post on this beer style, and put forth this warning – “Approach Sahti with an open mind and an open palate, or you’ll risk immediate disappointment and total misunderstanding.” Though said with a slightly condescending slant, I’ll take that as a warning that this might be a crazy tasting.
I’ll start traditionally – with the Lammin “Sahtia.”
It pours slightly cloudy and orange, with a lot of sediment in the bottle to boot. Smelling it immediately off the pour, I really was immediately struck by the smell of… dirt? There was something plant-like about it. Not juniper, or “christmas tree” but more earthy, rocky or some little layer of musk and funk that played with me. After letting it sit and getting another whiff, though, I pulled out some of the banana-like smells that you get in some hefeweizens. What a weird aroma. I can’t wait to taste it…
[long pause while I make faces and keep saying, "How the $#@% am I going to describe THIS one!"]
Okay. So, I was expecting a dirty/spicy beer, and was totally fooled. Tart, sour, bright and punchy, this one comes right at you. If you are looking for funk, this one has everything. A little pucker, a little vinegar here and there, a little bit of earthiness, but there’s really not a lot of body. It tastes a little like sour apple cider. A nice fall treat, but as weird and as funky as it gets. I admit I’m at a loss for words on this one, but at least I didn’t say it tasted like “cooked lentils,” “white wine and bubblegum” or “menthol and wintergreen.”
Onto the Dogfish Head “Sah’tea.” Now, in the tasting notes on the side of the bottle, Dogfish mentions that they follow the tradition – to a point. Then, they add chai tea (black tea & spices). When you smell the Sah’tea, it is very obvious that there is chai in there. Hell, it smells like the iced chai that I had yesterday at the Portland Public Market. But I digress. It is a very tea-like scent, unlike the funkiness and raw weirdness coming from the Finnish version. It is sweeter and a sipping beer, I couldn’t see this quenching my thirst or going with dinner – but maybe something I would drink while listening to Simon & Garfunkel on a cool fall evening.
There is a little bit of residual funkiness underneath the tea, but it’s hard to pick out. By itself, the Sah’tea is a good beer. But despite its traditional methods, it gets eclipsed by the modernization.
Well, that was an interesting journey into things completely unknown. Any other strange styles I should try? Suggest them in comments.