Drink like it’s morning: tea-infused beer gaining popularity

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Summit Brewing’s new Unchained Series #19 Make It So is one example of a growing trend of tea-infused beers // Photo courtesy of Summit Brewing

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Summit brewer Nick Hempfer, who created Unchained Series #19 Make It So, poses in a replica Star Trek captain’s chair with a Picard-like look of  // Photo courtesy of Summit Brewing

Move over, coffee stout, there’s a new kind of breakfast brew in town: tea-infused beer.

While beer made with tea may not currently line store shelves, Summit Brewing Company’s latest Unchained Series release, Make It So, is another strong example of a growing national trend.

An extra special bitter infused with Earl Grey tea, Make It So is the brainchild of Summit brewer Nick Hempfer. He’s not a hardcore Trekkie, but says the beer is partly inspired by “Star Trek: The Next Generation” character Jean-Luc Picard, an avid drinker of Earl Grey and utterer of the beer’s iconic namesake.

Hempfer credits Milwaukee Brewing’s O-Gii, a tea-infused witbier that’s part of the brewery’s Herb-In Legend series, which also includes Hop Freak, a brew combining centennial and cascade hops with organic Jasmine tea, for his Unchained Series choice. “That’s the only other tea beer I’ve ever had, so I figured why not give it a try?”

His first attempt at homebrewing with tea turned out just fine. But the infusion caused some problems with Summit’s equipment when he added the tea in place of dry hops during fermentation. “We added somewhere around 100 pounds of tea in one of our fermenters, and it kind of locked up the bottom of the tank,” he says. “That was a pain in the butt to dislodge and get it all out of the tank.”

Hempfer made four brews in two different tanks. For the second batch, he adapted his method, borrowing a food processor to blend the tea as best as he could. “Hand-blending close to 100 pounds of tea is a little bit tedious,” he says. “We learned a few things here.”

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Summit brewer Nick Hempfer tried a couple different methods of infusing Make It So with Early Grey tea, including hand-blending more than 100 pounds of it to add to the fermenters // Photo courtesy of Summit Brewing

Brewmaster Grant Aldrich of Lupine Brewing also makes a tea-infused beer, but does things differently than the Summit crew. Instead of treating the tea like dry hops, Aldrich adds brewed tea—one barrel per nine barrels of beer—straight into the brewing kettle, negating any issues with clogging or difficult measurements.

The idea for his tea-infused American amber ale, Convocation, came to him while drinking a beer with packaging depicting America’s forefathers. The image, he says, made him think of the Boston Tea Party. As a former U.S. Marine, Aldrich says he’s patriotic and wanted to incorporate American history into a beer in a meaningful way. So, he chose to use Blend 1776—a tea named for the year America was founded— for Convocation, trying it first as a homebrew. Naturally, it also features American hops.

“I didn’t really have any idea [what I was doing],” Aldrich admits. “I was a pretty young brewer and hadn’t done anything like that,” but mixing the tea and beer together “turned out really well.” The beer found its way to the taproom when Lupine needed a beer to tap at a Fourth of July event in Delano, Minn., where the brewery is located.

Response to both tea-infused beers has been great. “People give it a try and they’re blown away,” Hempfer says, adding that Make It So is quickly selling out in stores and will likely be sold out completely within a month (it’s currently on draft at the Summit Beer Hall). Aldrich says the success of Convocation and Make It So success has led him to dream up three more tea-infused beers, which he’d like to release seasonally.

More importantly, both brewers believe tea-infused beer is a legitimate style that’s here to stay, pointing to beers like the Japanese Green Tea IPA from San Diego’s Stone Brewing and Mistah Tea from Madison, Wisconsin’s, MobCraft Beer (a red ale brewed with black tea).

“I have a feeling that in the next few years there are going to be quite a few tea beers out there, kind of following what coffee has done,” Aldrich says. “People will try it and realize how good it is, and a bunch of people will start brewing them.”

As Captain Picard would say: Make it so.

For more about Make It So, see the below video from Summit Brewing.

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