Hark! I Herald Booze Blends

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I’ve noticed a particular trend lately – one that I fully encourage and support. Nay, I salute it! Tea and alcohol, while completely opposite beverages on the Sin-o-Meter, pair exceptionally well. Whether it be tea-infused alcohol or alcohol-scented tea, the combination of both bring an added dimension of badass that I fully back. The high-points for me in this new blend-trend have been recorded for posterity on this here site…and waxed non-poetically over the Twitterverse.

Of all the combinations, I ran into a yerba maté variant only once – that being an India Pale Ale brewed with yerba maté leaves. Well, someone finally went the opposite route and used yerba maté as a base for scenting. I had associated with Caleb Brown – purveyor of Handmade Tea – over Twitter for a few months but had never tried any of his wares. His tea business model was a unique one – offering subscriptions to his one-blend-a-month formula. It was a similar approach employed by 52Teas but with more of a personal touch.

Caleb does all the blending himself, and includes the blending ingredients in separate tins for perusal. In addition to that, he sends a personally-stamped letter (for authenticity, I guess?), and films an accompanying video about the tea. That’s a lot of effort for one blend, which is probably why he only does one a month.

December’s offering – dubbed “Hark!” for the impending holiday season – was a yerba maté medley comprised of Vietnamese cinnamon and whole leaf peppermint. The real grab, though (and the reason he contacted me), was what he did with the maté base. He hand-smoked it over whiskey oak chips.

So. Much. Awesome.

Upon opening the tin, the first thing I noted was how strong the peppermint aroma was. That didn’t come as a surprise, but I was worried about it dominating the other elements. There was a smoky presence to the scent as well, which showed in the introduction and after-whiff. Cinnamon was…well…it was understated, and that was fine by me.

The logo-stamped letter came with brewing instructions for the blend, something I greatly appreciated. The recommended approach was the use of up-to-212F water and an infusion time of five minutes. That was about right, given the strong herbals at play here. I measured out a teaspoon and used one 8oz. cup at the time recommended.

The liquor brewed a foggy gold with a boldly minty cloud wafting from the cup. So much for the peppermint being understated. On taste, the first thing to hit me was the feeling of peat smoke – an excellent start. That was followed up by a middle entirely monopolized by the mint. Nothing else had a chance to shine through. However, once that faded a bit, the smokiness returned with a fervor lined with a spicy-sweetness imparted by the cinnamon. Said sweetness had remained as an undercurrent until the right reveal. A very Keemun-like aftertaste; no complaint here.

For s**ts and giggles, I brewed up the whiskey-smoked yerba maté sample by itself. I would’ve been just as happy drinking that as with the fully-blended Hark!. The best part was that it didn’t taste like yerba maté, which – in my opinion – has the flavor of splinters. All that said, this was a festively naughty blend with just the right amount cool cleanliness (thanks to the mint). Like a gentleman’s club lined with holiday décor.

But it does beg the question I want to pose to the “teanut” gallery. What is the consensus regarding the marriage of tea and alcohol? What tea-totalers out there would drink something that’s flavored or scented with beer, wine or liquor? Would an alcohol connoisseur drink something with tea as the added ingredient? And, by proxy, would they drink tea with that same profile?

I straddle the fence of both sides like a village idiot – elixir in hand.

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8 Comments

  1. Caleb Brown says:

    I loved this review, Geoffrey! It made me so happy to read you picked up on that lovely peat smoke.

    My opinion on is pretty clear on the marriage of alcohol and tea, but I’ll elaborate a bit. I think the similarities between beer and tea are very strong. Not only when it comes to taste, but in the industry in general. As beer and tea both grow in the US I think we’ll be seeing tea follow in beer’s recent footsteps. I wouldn’t be shocked to start seeing hot and iced tea flights and pairings in more restaurants. Perhaps even tea on tap (already happening with kombucha.)

    When I started building Handmade Tea, and had to decide its philosophy and mission, I took far more inspiration from craft beer companies than any existing tea company.

    1. That’s a good model to go by. Being a microbrew drinker, I – too – see the similarities between both beverages. (The emphasis on the bitter and top notes, especially.) I think when they’re married…it’s magic. Pure magic.

      Keep doing what you’re doing, sir.

  2. Avatar of thedevotea thedevotea says:

    I think alcohol flavours, like other flavours, can most certainly add dimensions to tea.
    As I don’t drink, I’m not sure about actual alcohol and tea,

  3. Alcy-scented tea, then, might be a good surrogate. Like lemon myrtle.

  4. Avatar of xavier xavier says:

    I don’t like alcohol so I won’t comment on the mix between tea and alcohol but I think there are some similarities between the wine and the tea industry.

  5. Oh, the oenophile and teaphile talk is eerily similar.

  6. Avatar of maykingtea maykingtea says:

    There was a tweet noting that only gentlemen have commented so far. As a girl who grew up as a tomboy, I thought I’d put in my two pennie’s worth ;o)

    thedevotea introduced me to Saldechin – a restaurant in Adelaide that not only serves tea but some wonderful tea cocktails. My husband and I spent a wonderful evening sipping a few, starting with a Dragonwell Martini (perhaps they should’ve gone for the aged old pun, Mar-tea-ni? guffaw). Not a great start as I had to really slurp and swish the liquor around my palate to get past the martini and onto the signature astringency of the dragonwell. But I did have the opportunity to smell the tea infused vodkas lining their shelves and was amazed at how aromatic the Jasmine Rose smelled in the bottle. I think the Jasmine and Rose would’ve made a great mar-tea-ni. I ended on a Hong Kong Mar-tea-ni wihch was vodka infused lychee black tea. I think this was a better choice than the Dragonwell.

    I’ve tried the green tea liqueurs – not my cup of tea.

    As Xavier said, there is a lot of similarities between tea and wine, and, I would say whisky and beer too. In fact a tea friend of mine in San Francisco (http://www.T-WeTea.com) ran a class last year which was a tea and whisky tasting. I was sorry to have missed it.

    Alcohol and tea? Yes I think so. But they are equally as good together as they are separate.

    1. I know of a place in my neck of the woods that also does tea cocktails. In my opinion, they were a little light on the tea, and TOO strong on the ‘tail. (Two shots of whiskey to a splash of matcha…just not right.)

      As for green tea liqueurs…you haven’t lived ’til you’ve had jasmine green tea mead. It’s life-changing.

      A tea and whiskey pairing would be awesome, and I do agree that wine tasting and tea tasting have quite a bit in common. I’ve been able to transition some of my steeped vernacular into judging a good wine. Not like an expert, though.

      Thanks for chiming in!

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