The new summer accessory for cool beers is a good old-fashioned cuppa. But will this new warm-weather trend catch on? Maybe brew tea really is in the eye of the beer-holder.
Tea beers always seem to pop up in time for summer: Mill Street infuses its Lemon Tea Beer with Earl Grey and Orange Pekoe, Great Lakes produces its own Green Tea Ale, and last year, Molson introduced the tea-in-a-lager trend to the masses when its Coors Light Iced T hit shelves. The subtle floral and zingy fruit flavours of cozy tea renders it the perfect compliment to more raucous warm-weather ales.
Brewmasters typically employ a blend of green or black teas, adding lemon or lime for an iced tea–like effect in the brewhouse, but there are methods for spiking your own lagers at home, too. Capital Teas, from Washington, D.C., sells a “Tea Lager” kit—basically, a set of tea bags they recommend steeping in a glass of commercial lager for five minutes. The goal? Creating a “sweeter, creamier” beer, “loaded with antioxidants, less filling, and with a touch of caffeine.” Pairing suggestions include an “Invigorating Mint Maté” steeped in Red Stripe, or “Provence Rooibos Organic” in Heineken.
Interesting? Yes. Disgusting? Possibly. Clearly, this called for an experiment: I chose four Toronto-made, summertime beers and asked Dan Johanis, owner of Herbal Infusions Tea Co. on Adelaide Street West, to help me select custom blends to pair with them.
“This needs a cocktail umbrella,” Johanis joked, after taking a sip of Waterloo Dark lager infused with Red Velvet, a raspberry rooibos mix. After a five-minute steep, the beer transformed into an entirely new tipple: Flavours of fresh raspberry took over, and the finish was tannic and herbal. “If all beer tasted like this, I’d drink a lot more of it,” said Johanis. (He usually sticks to stouts.)
A few rules of thumb: Pair delicate beers with delicate teas; in most cases, cap infusion times at three minutes for lighter beers like pilsners and wheats; and maintain a ratio of about four grams of tea—or two tea bags—to one bottle.
The overall champ was Denison’s Weissbier with Midnight Jasmine, a steamed Chinese green tea. Its banana and spicy clove notes shone from start to finish, with a soft, floral jasmine flavour in the centre.
Most brewers aren’t fans of doctoring up their carefully-crafted ales, but Denison’s Michael Hancock had a different attitude. Sort of. “I think wheat beer is good just on its own,” he said, “but the customer buys your product, and they can do anything they like with it.” Make that tea-beer for one, then.
DIY tea-beer infusions (with steeping times)
Steam Whistle + Genmaicha = Nutty pilsner (3 min.)
Spearhead Hawaiian Style Pale Ale + Sweet Mango = Fruity India Pale Ale (4.5 min)
Waterloo Dark + Roasted Maté = Savoury goodness (3 min.)
Do you know any other good beer/tea combos? Share them in the comments section below.