From breakfast stouts to coffee porters, there are plenty of beers brewed with morning’s buzzy beverage. But what about its counterpart, tea? Although it’s not yet a full-blown trend, some breweries are experimenting with different flavors of the other steeped drink, and remark on its versatility.
Stone Brewing Co.’s Japanese Green Tea IPA is a collaboration among the San Diego brewery, Baird Beer in Japan and Ishii Brewing Co.in Guam. Toshi Ishii approached Stone—where he had previously interned—about brewing a beer as a fundraiser after the 2011 tsunami in Japan. Stone brewmaster Mitch Steele says they decided to brew the beer with whole-leaf green tea imported from Japan.
“It was an IPA, so it had a lot of hop character in it,” notes Steele. “The interplay between the tea and the hops it bought was really neat and kind of fun.” Stone liked the beer so much they decided to continue making it.
Stone’s creation inspired Maine’s Baxter Brewing Co. to create its own tea beer, Ceremony, after Ben Low, director of brewing operations at Baxter, tasted the IPA at a previous Craft Brewers Conference. “That just got me interested in working with that ingredient,” he recalls. “The beer that we ended up doing was quite a bit different.”
Ceremony is brewed with gunpowder green tea leaves and matcha green tea powder, with a higher concentration of the powder. “The reason that worked well for us is that when we had higher concentration of leaves, we felt the astringency from the tea was too high.”
Both Steele and Low stress the importance of hop choice when using teas.
“I wouldn’t use Simcoe with tea. It would be too resiny … as much as I love Simcoe hops. We opted for hops that are more on the herbal side,” Steele notes. Herbal or citrusy hops, like Crystal or Sorachi Ace, work well, he says.
Low agrees. “Tea could work nicely in hoppy beers in particular,” he says. “It certainly gives a really bracing and refreshing bitterness and some astringency, which is usually not a flavor you normally want to show up in beer, but when it’s tea it kind of works.”
Garett Lockhart, head brewer at Red Brick Brewing Co. in Georgia, was inspired to brew a beer with tea because he loves the flavor and smell of chai. Initially he and his brewing team decided to do a chai spiced porter. “It dawned on me that a traditional way to serve a chai tea is to put a little bit of cream in it,” he recalls, noting that a milk stout made more sense.
Red Brick developed a partnership with organic tea purveyor Rishi Tea and created Sacred Cow, since renaming it Divine Bovine, a milk stout brewed with organic chai spices. “You get a lot of the chai tea flavors, a combination of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, black pepper. All of that stuff comes together,” Lockhart says.
While brewers like Lockhart, Low and Steele are beginning to experiment with tea, many others have yet to do so. “I’m actually kind of surprised that more breweries aren’t brewing with teas,” he continues. “I think maybe there’s the thought that tea is such a subtle flavor that it could get lost in beer. With the right beer, the right tea could give you some cool flavors.”
While Low agrees that tea is an adaptable ingredient to use in beer, he doesn’t think it will catch on in the way that coffee has. “Coffee has more in common with beer to begin with,” he notes, referring to the roasted character found in both beverages. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if we see people use tea more. It does have some things in common with beer, and it’s an interesting contrast.”
For his part, Steele sees a lot of opportunity in tea. “It’s untapped. I think there’s a lot of versatility with it. Since we tried that beer, we have experimented with a lot of casks.” He’s added tea to casks of Stone Levitation and Stone Pale Ale. And the brewery recently released Stone CHAI-SPICED Imperial Russian Stout, brewed with a blend of cinnamon, cardamom, clove, ginger, black pepper and black tea.
Through Red Brick’s partnership with Rishi, Lockhart has also been experimenting further with tea types and flavors, using matcha, green tea and yuzu, a citrus fruit, in different brews, and plans. “We’re definitely always playing on our pilot system with teas. There’s nothing set, but I’d assume in 2016 we’ll definitely have another tea release,” he says.
For brewers using different forms of tea in their beers, Low had a few words of caution. “If you’re using matcha powder, you have to be really careful when you pour large quantities of it in a fermenter that has gas coming out of it. You could have several people walking away from that fermenter coated in green powder,” he laughs. “Matcha powder is really fine and very lightweight. It blows around very easily. Luckily, when it does, it smells really good.”
Sarah Annese is an author of Beer Lover’s New York: The Empire State’s Best Breweries, Brewpubs & Beer Bars and a founder of BeerUnion.com, a New York City-based beer blog.