With tea sales in the U.S. on the rise—and craft brewers always on the prowl for unique ways to satisfy their ever-curious consumers—it’s really no surprise that tea-influenced beers—true beers infused with tea, rather than malt-based hard teas—are making their way to the market. “Craft brewers have a deep sense of creativity and pushing the boundaries,” says Nathan Berrong, brand cultivator at Three Taverns Brewery in Decatur, Georgia, though he acknowledges that adding tea to beer may sound like a strange idea to some. “But when you think about coffee and the history it’s had with beer, it only seems natural that tea would follow,” he says.
Three Taverns’ Lord Grey sour ale ($11-$12 a 6-pack of 12-ounce cans) was launched four years ago. “It’s easily one of our most sought-after and talked-about sour ales, and we’ve become known for our sour beer program,” Berrong says. The brew, which features Earl Grey tea, was initially available only at the brewery’s taproom. But after demand for Lord Grey spiked, distribution was soon expanded throughout the state, positioning the beer as a long-term seasonal offering from March to November. Indeed, the Georgia brewer has seen so much success with its tea-influenced beer that earlier this year it rolled out Ukiyo Japanese rice lager ($10 a 6-pack of 12-ounce cans), which is brewed with jasmine green tea and available year-round. “The addition of the jasmine green tea creates an entirely new drinking experience, and it’s turning people on to a style they may have otherwise overlooked,” says Berrong. Another popular jasmine tea-infused beer is Jasmine Green Tea-Bird ($10 a 6-pack of 12-ounce cans), a 5.2% abv lager featuring jasmine and green tea flavors with added local honey, from Temecula, California-based Garage Brewing Co.
Arizona’s Four Peaks Brewing, part of Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Brewers Collective, has also seen strong demand for its tea-infused beer, Senchado green tea lager, which initially was available only on draft. Four Peaks launched Senchado in packages ($12 a 6-pack of 12-ounce bottles) throughout its home state earlier this year. “Feedback has been extremely positive,” says communications manager Zach Fowle, adding that the brew will likely be expanded into Nevada and New Mexico. Grand Rapids, Michigan-based City Built Brewing Co. also has a green tea beer on offer—Flower Power pale ale, launched in 2017. The brew, which also includes chamomile, has both floral and bitter flavors. City Built also offers Floral saison, which incorporates lavender and chamomile.
Charlotte, North Carolina-based Unknown Brewing Co.’s Hospitali-Tea Southern Amber ale, meanwhile, relies on black tea rather than green. The beer ($11 a 6-pack of 12-ounce cans) is made with black tea leaves and orange blossom honey. And Grand Rapids-based Creston Brewery takes another approach with its draft-only offering Panda Bear light beer, which combines both rooibos tea and whole chai spices, including clove, allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger. Local raw honey is added in to tie the beer together and give it some sweetness.
A few brewers have partnered directly with tea purveyors on tea-infused offerings. Maine’s Shipyard Brewing, for one, collaborated with Tiesta Tea Co. three years ago on its TeaBrew wheat ales, which are infused with the Chicago-based company’s yerba mate and herbal tea blends. Available in two flavors, Fireberry and Maui Mango, TeaBrew ($10 a 6-pack of 12-ounce cans) is distributed in New England, Florida, Chicago, and Long Island, New York, according to Shipyard president Bruce Forsley. Broken Goblet Brewing, meanwhile, partners with Brutaliteas on Bubba’s Tea Bag—available only at the Bensalem, Pennsylvania brewer’s taproom ($6 a 16-ounce pour)—a beer that co-owner and CMO Mike LaCouture says, “put Broken Goblet on the map.” In addition to Bubba’s Tea Bag, Broken Goblet produces numerous limited-edition tea-infused beers, all available only at the brewery. And in Wisconsin, Milwaukee Brewing Co. partners with nearby Rishi Tea on the O-Gii ($9 a 4-pack of 16-ounce cans), an imperial wit that brewer Kurt Mayes created by infusing Asian tea flavorings into the beer. The brew’s popularity led to the company adding a spin-off called Gin O-Gii to its Destination Local series. Gin O-Gii is aged in Rehorst Reserve gin barrels from Great Lakes Distillery.
Beer retailers note that, while still emerging, tea-influenced beers have been well received by consumers. Lawson Autrey, manager of Growler’s Taphouse in Tucson, Arizona, says Senchado has become a go-to beer for many. “People like that it’s light and crisp and brewed with green tea leaves,” he says. The brew is priced at $6 a 16-ounce pint and $20 a 64-ounce growler. Kraig Torres, owner of the Hop City Craft Beer & Wine chain—which has two locations in Atlanta and one in Birmingham, Alabama—says that Three Taverns’ Lord Grey is a runaway success. “The current crop of tea-influenced beers seem to have caught on with adventurous drinkers,” he adds.
Consumers of tea-infused beers run the gamut, marketers and retailers say. But Fowler and Forsley note that the beers tend to be more popular with women than men. “We’re seeing those aged 21-40, affluent, fitness-minded, and health-conscious drinking TeaBrew,” Forsley says. “And that stands to reason as tea drinkers in general are concerned with their health.” Indeed, Shipyard sometimes samples the beer at post-athletic events and, according to Forsley, “the response is overwhelmingly positive.” The retail space, however, has proven to be more of a challenge, with increasing competition from products like hard seltzers. “Some consumers wonder, ‘Is it a tea? Is it a beer? Does it contain alcohol?’” Forsley notes.
Others say that tea-infused beers like Bubba’s Tea Bag appeal to beer aficionados and neophytes alike. “Bubba’s Tea Bag’s complexity has caught the beer nerd off guard, and novices like its accessibility,” says LaCouture. And at Three Taverns, Berrong says that Lord Grey has served as a good introduction to the brewery’s line of sour beers. “We often hear customers say, ‘I don’t like sour beers that much, but I love this one,’” he notes.
Autrey from Growler’s Taphouse agrees that a number of Senchado consumers may not be beer drinkers, but they’re willing to gamble on a beer containing tea. “Beers like these open the door for non-beer drinkers,” he says.