Reading the Leaves: Do Tea Beers Have a Bright Future?

News by | March 5, 2018
photo courtesy of The Bruery

Tea and beer are having a moment. Since the beginning of 2018, a wave of new beers incorporating the ingredient have been released across the US. In January, Oregon’s Breakside Brewery released Tea Time Pale Ale, a Golden Pale Ale brewed with lemon peel and conditioned on Earl Grey leaves. Left Hand Brewing Co.’s Chai Milk Stout Nitro, a canned variant of the Colorado company’s flagship Milk Stout infused with chai spices, hit shelves in February. And Eazy Teazy Green Tea Ale, a low-calorie beer from Lakefront Brewery in Wisconsin, was released on March 1.

Clocking in at 3.4 percent ABV and 99 calories, Eazy Teazy was Lakefront co-founder Russ Klisch’s attempt to capitalize on the market’s demand for low-cal, session-strength options. According to brand manager Michael Stodola, the team made several test batches to determine the best varieties of tea to incorporate into the final recipe. “We tried using matcha and other tea flavors, but landed on a green tea with a dose of oolong as well,” says Stodola. “Green tea works well in concert with the Lemondrop hops. They’re both bittering elements and lend themselves beautifully to aroma and flavor.”

While use of tea in beer isn’t particularly new—Chicago’s Marz Community Brewing Company has been making its popular Jungle Boogie wheat ale with rooibos tea since 2014, Stone released its Japanese Green Tea IPA with Baird and Ishii in 2015, and, in the UK, Manchester’s Marble Brewery collaborated with the Dutch Brouwerij Emelisse to release Earl Grey IPA in 2012—some credit increased exposure and like-minded fans for the relatively recent jump in the ingredient’s popularity.

“It definitely seems to be a thing right now,” says Nathan Berrong, brand cultivator at Georgia’s Three Taverns Brewery, which first released Lord Grey, a tea-infused sour ale, in late 2016. “Although [tea beer is] mostly in the infancy stages, I think it has legs and is going to be around for a while.” He likens the burgeoning trend to the success of another beverage industry mash-up. “When you think about coffee in beers and how well that works, it’s logical to look at other beverages and see what’s possible, and tea naturally follows.”

Originally conceived as a one-off release for Three Taverns’ Sour Asylum series, the Lactobacillus-fermented sour ale with notes of lavender and bergamot has been such a hit with drinkers in the taproom that it was canned and released for full market launch in February. “The beer is incredibly popular and we’re trying to keep up with the demand,” says Berrong.

Beer has also made its way into tea culture. At New York City teahouse 29B, the menu includes a beverage made by incorporating matcha sourced from Uji, Japan, into a rice lager from Echigo Beer Company. “I do see an overlap in the increased popularity of craft beer and tea,” says 29B owner Stefen Ramirez, a self-professed beer lover who developed 29B’s matcha beer recipe after living in Kyoto. Ramirez also says he sees many correlations in the taste profiles of tea and beer. “In fact, I choose the beers we carry because they taste like some of the tea that [we] carry, even without having any tea in them.”

Like Three Taverns, The Bruery in Southern California incorporated Earl Grey tea into Girl Grey, a Belgian-style ale made in collaboration with Top Chef winner Brooke Williamson and released in February. “We piloted a number of different styles of beers, infusing them with all sorts of ingredients,” says marketing manager Joel Kennedy. “Our favorite combination featured the piquant qualities of Earl Grey tea with the cool, refreshing, creamy balance of almonds and lactose.”

An instant hit in the company’s two tasting rooms, experimenting with new ingredients like tea helps The Bruery reach diverse audiences. “The tea and collaboration component have opened a door to a whole new generation of beer drinkers,” says Kennedy. “I’m sure we’ll have more tea-infused beers in the future.”