“Surrender to the waiting worlds that lap against our side…”

by Katie Pizzuto on July 14, 2010

in beer,extreme beer

In the end, the goal is to step outside the tame, tepid waters of conservative brewing that serves as little more than background noise.

Being asked to bring the beer or wine that will be paired with a meal is usually a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you’re confident you can find a beverage that will either complement, accent or contrast with the food, but pleasing several palates with one wine or beer is about as easy as pissing into the wind. Add to that the fact that as a total geek you’re usually taken in by the…well, let’s just call it different…and your knowledge of alcoholic beverages becomes simultaneously a blessing and a curse. Dogfish Head Brewery’s tagline is “Off-centered beers for off-centered people.” I’m pretty damned sure they had me in mind when they came up with that, but I’m not bothering with royalties.

My mom’s birthday was last week, and for the most part we tend to venture out and hit a new restaurant every year for our birthdays, so she chose a Lebanese restaurant in nearby Clifton. It was a BYO so I told her I’d get some beer, not because I fancy myself a suds snob but because I was pretty sure that if I left it to my dad, we’d wind up drinking Miller Lite. Looking back on it now, I should’ve gotten a mixed 12-pack so I’d be more likely to please everyone, but hindsight’s always 20/20, and I have a tendency to misplace my glasses when they’re most needed. So instead, I picked up a bottle of Corsendonk Agnus (Abbey Pale Ale) and, as I was about to reach for another, relatively “safe” brew, my un-spectacled eyes caught a glimpse of Dogfish’s Sah’tea, a limited-production beer brewed with juniper berries and chai tea—sounded like an interesting pair with Lebanese food, right?!

The Sah’tea wasn’t cracked open until the main courses arrived, which was a mix of lamb chops, chicken, steak, ground lamb patties and veggies, all grilled. The brew is a play off of Sahti, a 9th century Finnish beer recipe made with rye and juniper berries. Because the beer was originally made in wood tanks (as opposed to steel tanks) starting a fire to brew it was out of the question, so instead they heated rocks outside in a wood fire and shoveled the white-hot babies into the beer, giving it a smoky quality. Dogfish replicated this process (maybe now you begin to understand why true craft brews cost more than mass-produced piss water) and then added a combination of black tea, cardamom, coriander, ginger, allspice, ramp leaves, lemongrass, curry powder, cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper, custom blended for the brewery in India. The result is a beautiful, full-bodied beer with more than a little taste of chai—something some of us loved and some of us didn’t. The hilarity of it all was that my husband found the spices overwhelming and didn’t go back for seconds, while my mother barely noticed the spices and handed me her glass for “just a few fingers more”…a constant reminder that you simply can’t rely on other people’s opinions.

If ever there were a brew for off-centered people, this one would certainly wear the pants. Sah’tea is not at all about subtlety. In the end, the goal is to step outside the tame, tepid waters of conservative brewing that serves as little more than background noise, and dip your toes elsewhere. But there are usually big-ass signs near that off-centered water so toe-dippers beware—if the label says “brewed with chai tea” don’t be surprised when the fucking thing tastes like a combination of beer and chai tea.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Don July 16, 2010

Man…no comments, and this thing has been sitting out here for days. Shame really the beer guys don’t know what to say, and the wine people are lost. Just so you know I thought it was a good post and a nice read, but I really don’t have much to say about it either. Just didn’t want you to think that no one was listening.


2 Katie Pizzuto July 19, 2010

Aww thanks, Don….truth is, you never know what will get a gazillion comments and what will die a sad, lonely, uncommented death 🙂 But I tried the beer and wanted to let others know what I thought….and what the rest of the family thought, LOL.


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