Bottles of beer are illuminated to check volume levels on the bottling line. (Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg)

What’s Hot Now? Craft Beer Brewed With Tea

(Bloomberg) -- Once a fairly niche phenomenon, coffee-infused craft beer is now relatively mainstream. The popularity of, say, coffee stout is perhaps due to a broad crossover between beer nerds and coffee drinkers, or it could be attributed to the similar roasting processes of coffee and malt. Whatever the case, some envelope-pushing brewers are looking beyond coffee to everybody’s other favorite source of caffeine and/or palate-warming: tea, the most widely consumed drink in the world after water.

Tim Lange, lead brewer at Chicago’s Marz Community Brewing, and his team are one such group. When the organization started in 2014, it was a group of home-brewing friends spitballing recipes they’d conceived. One of them, Eli Espinoza, shared a wheat ale he had made with a blend of teas, which was particularly well-received by the founding team, so they set out to scale it up for commercial production.

Financially, it wasn’t easy. “We discovered that sometimes the exotic ingredients and recipes that can make incredible home-brews to share with friends at the cost of the home-brewer don’t parlay into a great business model,” Lange says. South African rooibos tea was selected for its heat tolerance; it needs to survive temperatures of up to 200F during the brewing process. “We worked on the recipe together as a team to make something expressive [of] rooibos tea and supported those flavors,” he says. However, sourcing isn’t always a piece of cake. “The limited supply chain has proven a challenge when there’s a drought. We’ve struggled to get enough when the fields dry out.”

Despite the challenges, the final recipe, dubbed Jungle Boogie, remains one of their most acclaimed and popular beers. Candylike tropical flavors from the herbal tea sit perfectly atop the beer’s juiciness, which comes courtesy of Mosaic hops. “The rooibos and Mosaic aromas complement each other and are a special signature of this beer,” says Lange.

Jungle Boogie isn’t the only tea-steeped beer in their portfolio, as Marz has also used yerba maté and guayusa teas, plus papaya, for a tart Berliner weisse called Lifestyle. They’re also about to release a white stout with lactose, vanilla, and “a ton of matcha” for a beer called Marz Matcha Mochi. It will feature a label that reacts to black lights.

Five More Tea Treats

Magic Ghost by Brasserie Fantôme, with green tea

Belgian brewery Brasserie Fantôme has quite a cult following. While owner/brewer Dany Prignon has admitted to not drinking alcohol himself, his use of special ingredients in his saisons results in beer nerd obsession. Magic Ghost is a farmhouse ale brewed with green tea that, when poured, has an Ecto Cooler-like green appearance. Tart apple juice, musty basement funk, and matcha notes.

Holloway by Pipeworks, with a blend of teas

Pipeworks Brewing Co. is a Chicago favorite, and for Holloway it teamed up with neighbor Rare Tea Cellar, one of the country’s best sources for superlative teas. With a Berliner weisse base recipe, the infusion of Rare Tea Cellar’s proprietary “balsam” tea blend (comprised mostly of herbal teas) lends a miscellany of fruity and bitter flavors to complement the beer’s lightly refreshing tartness.

Lambrucha by Vanberg & DeWulf, with kombucha

This is a marriage of two different yet related wild fermented drinks, kombucha (fermented tea soda) and lambic (naturally fermented sour Belgian beer). Chicago importers Vanberg & DeWulf thought to blend the two beverages, which both feature Brettanomyces wild yeast, into a 3.5 percent ABV spritzy and tart crusher of a brew. You’ll find flavors of lemon, pickles, and fresh hay.

Earl Grey Mead by Kuhnhenn

OK, this entry is technically mead, not beer, but honey wine has been far more embraced by the beer community than the wine world. Michigan’s Kuhnhenn churns out some of the best and most interesting meads around, and this one’s no exception. Barrel-aged with an infusion of Earl Grey tea, this off-dry still mead is tannic yet clean, with flavors both floral and bergamot-citric.

Xfumé by Le Baladin, with lapsang souchong tea

Xyauyù by Italy’s Le Baladin is an intentionally oxidized, generously aged high-alcohol barleywine that’s bottled still, with zero carbonation. Needless to say, it’s unique. This 13.5 percent ABV variant features an 18-day infusion of smoked lapsang souchong tea. The result has an oxidative dark fruit character, backed by a smoky and tannic underpinning from the tea.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.