Q&A with Alementary Brewing on their tea-beer successes
Our series on hard-tea beverages has covered tips on selecting and working with tea, and choosing teas that create layered flavor profiles.
The next installment looks at the hard-tea issue from the perspective of a brewery that successfully creates popular craft beers with tea.
Alementary Brewing began in 2016, and in that time they have garnered awards from the New York International Beer Competition, the Best of Craft Beer Awards, and others. Founders Mike Roosevelt (a former molecular biologist) and Blake Crawford (a former chemical engineer) approach brewing with a combined emphasis on the technical and the culinary, putting them in outstanding position to unlock the "how" and "why" of exceptional beer.
Firsd Tea sat down with Blake to talk about how Alementary has used tea to create great beers.
A: Two of our biggest successes are our Gourdless and Before Sunset. Gourdless is a session barleywine that incorporates vanilla and rooibos to create a comforting, winter season drink without the oft-overused pumpkin spice ingredients. Before Sunset is an herbed beer infused with chamomile, citrus, cherry, and hibiscus. Before Sunset is known for its nuanced tartness and wine-like color.
A: There were a few things that really helped us find our way with tea-beer. One was having access to tea expertise. We had someone in the tea industry (Firsd Tea's Chris Cason) who worked with us to provide guidance. A Randall device, originally created by Dogfish Head, also made the process lower-risk and faster. Our tea expert was able to provide samples to run through the Randall. We tasted the results together, and then began to work out the process of repeating the results on a larger scale.
A: There are 3 principles that are the most important:
1. Quality. Quality. Quality.
The first time Alementary tried to develop an Arnold Palmer-inspired IPA, we essentially threw a bunch of supermarket tea bags into the tank. But after working with a tea professional who helped us select the right tea leaf, the difference was night and day. Combined with better fruit ingredients (e.g. Les vergers Boiron), subsequent batches hit the flavor profile I had in my head for what that beer should taste like. The convenience of buying ingredients from the usual craft brewer catalogs is also tempting, but won't necessarily produce the desired results. Quality tea ingredient in the right format and incorporated effectively makes the difference.
Quality tea ingredient in the right format and incorporated effectively makes the difference.
2. Use sound brewery practices.
Follow industry standards for safety, sanitation, and product consistency. If you aren't sure about the best practices for the ingredients you are incorporating, work with an experienced vendor who can advise you.
3. Use imagination to create and innovate.
The burden is on the approximately 8,000 craft brewers in the US to grow the market of beer drinkers. Tea is one of the ways Alementary has been doing that. We used tea to create a beer that appeals to wine drinkers (Before Sunset). Teas and other ingredients evoke memories- the tastes and aroma spark sentiments of great experiences that open new opportunities for beer enjoyment. The diversity of tea ingredients allows for the welcoming of diverse new fans to find their favorite beers.
Blake also noted the staying power of many tea flavors in his beers. Maybe it's the antioxidants, or maybe some other element that allows tea-beers to retain their flavors without having them drop out after canning or bottling. Future experiments are sure to yield further clues.