Long time readers may recall me waxing poetic about the Reinheitsgebot, also known as the Bavarian Beer Purity Law of 1516, which decreed water, barley, and hops as the only permissible ingredients in beer.
Those regulations have fallen away over the centuries, with modern brewers limited only by their imaginations when designing new brew recipes.
Coffee has long been a popular ingredient with craft brews, usually in the dark roasted stouts and porters whose malt bills already impart similar flavours.
However, tea has been making inroads as a beer adjunct, with the much more diverse flavours available making it possible to use in many beer styles.
I have often made my own shandy on hot summer days by mixing a light lager or blonde ale with locally produced Wild Tea Kombucha, for an extra bit of effervescence with just hints of tea flavour.
Perhaps the first tea-infused beer I ever tried was the Mill Street Lemon Tea Beer, probably a decade or more ago during a Pearson Airport layover, where Toronto-based Mill Street Brewing conveniently located a brew pub. Faithful readers may recall that Mill Street has since opened up another brewery on Calgary’s hip 17th Avenue corridor near the Stampede Grounds, so I can now enjoy it locally without a trip to Onterrible.
The Mill Street Lemon Tea Beer starts out as a refreshing wheat beer, which is then infused with Orange Pekoe and Earl Grey teas, followed by a subtle twist of lemon. This is very much a summer patio beer, which I have enjoyed many times over the years.
For a very different spin on a tea-infused beer, Calgary-based High Line Brewing has a Pale Ale beer made with Yerba maté tea and BC cherries. I have enjoyed that brew a few times on their taproom patio way back in the pre-pandemic era, and hope to again soon. The cherries give the brew a sort of Radler or Shandy vibe, with the caffeine kick from the brewed leaves of Yerba maté plant providing a little pick me up.
For Pale Ale fans, Calgary’s own Annex Ales makes the King’s English Pale Ale. In a nod to its English roots, the brew has very mild hop bitterness, but cranks up the aromatic hops for floral notes on the nose, complementing the bergamot flowers in the tea.
Located just a few steps away from Annex Ales is The Establishment Brewing Company, in Calgary’s popular Barley Belt district. The Establishment have perhaps the most interesting style, a Brut IPA made with hibiscus flowers, for a caffeine-free example of a tea-infused beer. Hibiscus flowers are a very popular herbal tea ingredient, and their bright red colour give the beer a slightly pink hue. The bittering hops that make this brew true to the IPA style provide the backbone to the brew, with the floral notes from the hibiscus giving it a crisp and slightly berry-like finish.
Looking north to Red Deer, Troubled Monk Brewing makes a brew called Troubled Tea, which is technically a malt liquor steeped with tea leaves rather than a beer. On the plus side for the celiacs in the audience, it does claim to be gluten free. I tried it once when the liquor rep was pouring samples at my friendly neighbourhood liquor retailer, and the flavour profile is like an iced tea with a twist of lemon and a shot of neutral grain spirit.
Fortunately, there is no cloying sweetness that you might remember from iced tea served at a restaurant, as Troubled Monk brews everything from scratch, using small amounts of Alberta beet sugars for just a touch of sweetness, balanced by lemon-lime, and then steeped with close to 1000 teabags for a truly craft iced tea with a kick.
Looking even further north to Edmonton, Situation Brewing’s Afternoon Tea Saison might just be my favourite tea-infused beer, made in the French Saison style with lots of fruity yeast notes, the beer is steeped in an Earl Grey Blackberry tea blend for an intricate bouquet on the nose and a complex finish on the palate.
Unlike the dark and stout coffee-infused beers that are best enjoyed on cold winter nights, tea-infused beers are quintessentially a summer brew, made to be enjoyed during our too-short Alberta summers. Look for some at your friendly neighbourhood liquor retailer, or check the offerings from your grocery delivery service while you remain hunkered down at home.