Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Owl's Brew: Tea For Cocktails

Nearly every day, year round, I drink fresh-brewed, unsweetened iced tea. I commonly drink black tea or green tea, and occasionally a flavored iced tea. I love the taste of tea and have also encountered a few delicious cocktails that used tea as an ingredient. Though you could brew your own tea at home to use in cocktails, there is an easy alternative, the tea mixers from Owl's Brew.

Back in 2011, in New York City, Jennie Ripps and Maria Littlefield established The Teaologist, later rebranded as Brew Lab Tea, a company that created artisanal custom tea blends. Two years later they expanded the scope of their business and founded Owl's Brew, to create tea-based cocktail mixers. Their desire was to make Owl's Brew as naturally as possible, without using the fake flavors that numerous other mixers and alcohols use.

The product is brewed in Vermont, in large kettles, and using fresh, natural ingredients, including an organic tea base and organic agave. The Owl's Brew is also gluten free and non-GMO. They make a variety of different blends, generally priced at 8oz for $9.99 and 32oz for $16.99. I first bought a bottle of The Classic at Total Wine, which is made with English Breakfast tea, lemon peel, lemon juice and lime juice. I experimented with this in several cocktails and later found their Smoky Earl at the Boston Wine Expo. Most recently, I got to taste several of their other flavors at the New England Food Show.

These tea mixers can be used with any type of alcohol, from rum to vodka, tequila to gin, beer to wine, sparkling wine to Port. The labels suggest that you mix two parts of the mixer with one part of alcohol but I would recommend experimenting with the ratios, finding something which meets your preferences. For my own preferences, I found an equal ratio was better, and sometimes even more alcohol was beneficial. Your ratio preferences will likely also depend on the specific flavor of the mixer and the type of alcohol you use. In addition, these tea mixers can be used as an additional ingredient in more complex and layered cocktails. It is a versatile product, limited only by your imagination.

The Classic has a bright lemony taste with black tea notes and more subtle lime accents. With The Classic, I initially mixed it with a Kimoto Junmai Sake, using three parts Sake to two parts mixer. The tea and citrus flavors worked well with the savory, umami-rich Sake. I think other Junmai Sakes would also pair well with the mixer. Ginjo and Daiginjo Sakes might not be able to stand up as well with the mixer. I also used The Classic with Speyburn Arranta Single Malt Scotch. The bold Scotch stood up well to the mixer at an equal ratio, and the tea and citrus flavors enhanced the taste of the Scotch. The Classic would definitely work well with a variety of different alcoholic beverages.

At the Boston Wine Expo, Jonathan Potashthe Cocktail Guru, and Kirsten "Kitty" Amann (pictured above) presented two different wine cocktails, The Wiseguy and the Santa Vino, which used Owl's Brew.  Both were intriguing cocktails, well balanced and tasty, though my favorite was The Wiseguy, which used the Smoky Earl. Made specifically for The Black Grouse Scotch Whiskey, the Smoky Earl is made from robust Lapsang Souchong tea, Earl Grey tea, lemon peel, honey, cane sugar and lemon juice. I very much enjoyed the smoky edge to the mixer, and in the cocktail, it was a pleasing combination with the yuzu and banana flavors. I very much want to experiment with the Smoky Earl at home.

Some of their other flavors, which I tasted at the New England Food Show, include:

White & Vine: White tea blended with pomegranate, lemon peel, agave, watermelon juice, lime juice, lemon juice, and raspberry juice. A nice fruity blend with a touch of tartness amidst the sweetness.

The Famous Mint Tea: Peppermint tea blended with lemon peel, agave, lemon juice concentrate, and lime juice concentrate. Lots of minty flavor.

Pink & Black: Darjeeling tea blended with hibiscus, lemon peel, strawberry juice, lemon juice, and agave. The pleasant strawberry flavor stands out with underlying citrus and black tea notes.

Coco-Lada: Black tea blended with coconut, chai spices, agave, pineapple juice concentrate, and coconut water. Tropical and spicy, this is an intriguing mixer which might be interesting in a frozen cocktail.

Overall, I was impressed with these tea-based cocktail mixers and will continue trying new combinations at home. I recommend you check them out too, and find some of your own favorite combinations. For more ideas, check out Jennie Ripps and Maria Littlefield new book due out this October, Wise Cocktails: the Owl's Brew Guide to Crafting & Brewing Tea-Based Beverages

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