Tuesday, March 1, 2011

New Belgium, Lips of Faith Series, Sahti

Well, San Francisco Beer Week has come and gone.  There were actually quite a number events happening in the Southern California area as well.  I hope you all managed to get a glass of Pliny the Younger this year.  I was able to grab one about 5 minutes before it kicked.  Although the real highlight for me was having a few glasses of Russian River's Consecration.

This week's beer, is another creation from New Belgium's highly ambitious and extremely experimental Lips of Faith series.  They certainly keep that reputation with this beer, Sahti, which is both the style of beer and the name.  

The Sahti is an unhopped Finnish beer from the 1500's made through a Juniper infusion process.  I'll spare you the traditional brewing details, but suffice to say it features an unboiled wort, wild yeast, and juniper twigs for filtering and hopping.  They're usually loaded with proteins making a heavy bodied, fairly cloudy beer.  I don't have a tremendous amount of experience with the style, but I can never resist trying something new.
A little confused by New Belgium's take on this as their description has it as a rye ale with juniper and spices.  I'm not sure if that's an interpretation on their part or if there is a branch of this beer's family tree that is also considered a rye ale.  Also, the inclusion of cascade and amarillo hops is somewhat breaking from the tradition, although those are mighty fine hops and I'm interested to see how they effect the flavor.  
It pours a clear copper color with very little head.  Not much aroma here, which is a little surprising.  I'd expect those wild yeasts to leave some sort of pungent mark.  The only real trace of scent here is a slight raisin-y sweetness.
Moving to the taste, it's definitely got a big body, and a surprisingly heavy alcoholic backbone for 7.2%.  I definitely taste the rye and orange peel, but it's hard to find much separation from the big body.  At the finish there's a slight hint of the amarillo hops, but it does neither of the hop strains any justice as it's pretty hard to distinguish from the juniper.  If it had just been this juniper finish, I probably wouldn't have complained because that's more along the lines of what you expect from the style.  However, you can't tell me there's cascade and amarillo in here and the make it hard to single them out; it's just disappointing.
In all, the resonating flavors aren't much to get very excited about.  The juniper doesn't do anything to really distinguish itself from the overwhelming rye body, there's no heavy sour effects from the yeast like I was hoping, and the inventive hop additions just get lost in a big body and juniper bite.  The Sahti is an ambitioius attempt, but this one just falls flat.

Sahti: *1/2

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