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Beer of the Week: Dogfish Head Sah'tea

Unrepentant beer drinkers, rejoice! Each week, Clean Plate Charlie will select one craft or import beer and give you the lowdown on it: How does it taste? What should you drink it with? Where can you find it? But mostly, it's all about the love of the brew. If you have a beer you'd like featured in Beer of the Week, let us know via a comment.

You've gotta give it up for Dogfish Head, a beer producer so whacked out that even its name sounds like it's straight out of a Terry Gilliam flick. Dogfish and its off-kilter founder, Sam Calagione, have made some truly interesting brews, stuff other beer makers don't even think about doing. It ages beers on Palo Santo wood and fortifies its Belgians with real raspberries. And its ancient ales series -- made from recipes dating back thousands of years -- is like a history lesson in a bottle. In short, if you want to be surprised, excited, terrified, and heartened by beer all at once, just pick up a bottle of Dogfish and crack it open. 

I found as much to be true with a Dogfish release from 2008 I'd yet to try called Sah'tea. The brew is based off a Ninth-century Finnish beer infused with juniper berries and a host of spices. Instead of steeping over an open flame, the beer is heated with white-hot rocks that have been plunged into the wort. The process, while exhibiting that wacky character I mentioned, actually further caramelizes the wort, creating a sweet, syrupy flavor. What the result tastes like is a spicy German-style rye with the yeasty qualities of a hefeweizen and the savory aromas of a Belgian wit. And instead of a boatload of hops, the bittering comes from a dose of black and chai teas poured in at the end along with a bunch of spices. How cool is that?

Sah'tea pours a shade of citrine with a light and lacy head. The first sip is unreal -- a malty rush of sweet, cool brew that relinquishes a slap of clove, coriander, and cumin. Then, hiding behind that, is a sort of yeasty tea flavor that lingers on the palate. It's a simply stunning beer that, at $15 a bottle, isn't exactly cheap. But it's well worth splitting with a friend, lingering over the aromas and subtle character. It may be the best of Dogfish's crazy ancient ales and rare brews that I've tried.

Pick up Sah'tea at Crown Fine Wine & Spirits and Total Wine & More. And check out this video from Dogfish's site on Sah'tea.

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John Linn

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