Tea and Beer


Tea and Beer header

I’m a big fan of beer. In fact, I used to write a beer column for a local newspaper a few years back. I’ll often have a beer when I start dinner, and switch to tea at the end. I even took a seminar at World Tea Expo about pairing tea and beer, looking for common flavor characteristics in different styles of the two beverages. A conversation with fellow tea blogger Robert Godden (Lord Devotea’s Tea Spouts), however, got me thinking about the possibility of actually combining the two. You know, putting beer and tea in the same glass. Yeah, Robert’s a strange one.

But why not?

There are beer styles exemplified by certain flavors, which you might get from additives like fruit or other grains, or you might get from doing strange things to the barley, like smoking it. Why not get those flavors from tea? Especially that smoky one…

A buddy of mine, Doug “Beerbarian” Bailey, works at our local brewery, Red Lodge Ales. Doug is a sales guy, but he still understands beer pretty well. He and I both go for smoky flavors. We drink lapsang souchong and Russian caravan tea. We drink smoky rauschbier. We drink Islay Scotches like Laphroaig, which just ooze peat and smoke. We even enjoy the same pipe tobaccos.

So Doug and I had a long discussion about flavoring beer with tea — especially about making our own variety of rauschbier by adding smoked tea to a nice robust beer. It was a wonderful discussion, but we didn’t follow through on it. And then, months later, I get a private message from him on Facebook:

Beer Facebook chat

In case you can’t see the image, it says, “I need an experimental beer ASAP and I want to try something wacky. Brewing some really strong smoked tea and adding it directly to the already brewed beer in the keg.”

Initially, we’d been talking about actually adding the tea leaves to the kettle while brewing the beer, but Doug was in a hurry. He proposed adding the tea to beer that was already brewed and sitting in the keg. This brings up a few complications, like how to avoid watering down the beer and how to pour tea into a full keg of carbonated beer.

The solution to the first problem was simple: just make the tea really strong so we don’t have to use much of it. In fact, to avoid diluting the flavor of the beer, we went right past “really strong” to “stupid strong.” And as for the second problem, Doug came up with a set of fittings that allowed us to put the tea into an empty keg, pressurize it, and then add the contents of a full keg of beer to it.

The more we talked about the solutions to the problems, the more we realized making just one beer wasn’t going to cut it, so when experiment day arrived, Doug grabbed the kegs of beer and I brewed three stupid strong batches of tea from Red Lodge Books & Tea to match them.

We started by adding carefully measured amounts of the übertea to glasses of beer. Instead of wrecking our palates with the smoked tea, we started with a lighter one. The beer is Helio Hefeweizen, a light and citrusy unfiltered wheat beer. I paired that with a cinnamon orange spice rooibos tea. I had brewed the tea with 1 ounce of leaf to 8 ounces of boiling water and steeped it for six minutes. It didn’t take a whole lot of tea to give the beer a wondrous spicy flavor with an orangy nose. We settled on 940 ml of strong tea in the 5-gallon keg of beer. It was a rousing triumph. We made a bit extra so I could take a growler home with me.

Helio hefeweizen with orange spice tea.

Wait. Was I supposed to take a picture before we drank it? This is the wheat beer we spiced up.

Our second experiment was completely off the wall. Doug did say he wanted something “wacky,” so I paired their Beartooth Pale Ale with an infusion of one of my own special tea blends, which I call “Coyotes of the Purple Sage.” It’s an Earl Grey made with black tea, sage, and a hint of mint. I didn’t brew it quite as strong (same amount of leaf as the first one, but with a 5 minute infusion). Our first experiment was rather overwhelming, so we backed down the ratio, using 750 ml of tea in the 5-gallon keg.

I’m not going to call this one an overwhelming success. The sage and bergamot was just a little strange in the pale ale.

kegs

Here are the four finished kegs. The apparatus for transferring carbonated beer from one pressurized keg to another is in the sanitizer bucket in the lower left of the picture.

The final beer was the one that started all this. We used a Russian Caravan tea, 1 ounce of leaf per 8 ounces of water, brewed for 4 minutes. The base beer is Jack’s Scottish Ale. We played around with the proportions for a bit, and ended up using 900 ml of tea per five gallon keg. We made two kegs: one for Doug’s special event, and one to put on tap in the tasting room that night. Doug named it “Smokin’ Jack.” It was exactly what we were trying to accomplish!

This will not be the last time I bring together my loves of beer and tea. Maybe it’s getting to be time to dust off all of my old homebrewing equipment and get to work.

About Gary D. Robson

Gary Robson: Author, tea guy, and general manager of the Billings Bookstore Cooperative. I've written books and articles on a zillion different subjects, but everyone knows me for my "Who Pooped in the Park?" books.

Posted on 25 November 2014, in Food & Tea and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Thanks a lot Gary for your help. The event was a huge success! People were nuts for all 3 beers. Cutting back the Sage Tea on the Beartooth Pale Ale made all the difference. It was sage flavored, without the overwhelming palate wrecking flavors from the sample glass version. A lot of people really liked it and drank it all night. The Gleuhweiss was a hit, everyone said they wanted to sit with it by a fire and let it warm up a bit, EXACTLY what we were going for! The Smokin’ Jack…well, you know how well that came out. It was my favorite (I did some real damage on the event keg that night) and everyone had a great time. We will definitely do that again!

  2. We have brewed beer using four of our teas. It was a real hit; sadly not currently available.We use the tea within the brewing process.

  3. Of all the times I’m NOT in Montana.

  4. Hi Gary, I cam across this post and this experiment sounded very interesting. Have you done any other experiments like this one recently? How did they turn out?

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