For Book 1 of The Teabeer Trilogy, go HERE.
For Book 2, go HERE.
It began with a photograph.
Back in August, J-TEA International posted a photo of spent leaves from three different types of tea. I chimed in on Google+ with my guesses: Silver Needle, Yunnan Golden Tips, and Long Jing (Dragonwell). Josh Chamberlain, J-TEA’s purveyor, informed me that my choices were spot-on. Apparently, I had a talent for spotting spent leaves.
I’ll add that to my resume.
What I didn’t realize was that this was a contest J-TEA was putting on, and that there’d be swag coming my way. About a week later, I received a J-TEA “tea”-shirt, some ‘09 Li Shan black tea, and a tea tin with the company logo. Awesome. But it was the last thing that really grabbed my attention.
Josh had included a handwritten note informing me of an event in late-October happening at 16 Tons called “Tea Beer Fest“. And if I wanted to come down to participate, he’d put my drunk arse up for the night. I arranged for back-to-back days off from work the next day.
Two months went by without much incident, besides the usual teaing, working and writing. The week of the event, though, I was almost-literally swimming in teabeer. First was a birthday party at The Green Dragon, second was the Rogue release of a barrel-aged Lapsang Souchong porter. I’d gone almost a year without any teabeer, but then my pint ranneth over.
Finally, the day of the event came, and I made the drive down to Eugene, OR. My first stop was - naturally and obligatorily - J-TEA. I spent the better part of two hours talking shop with the owner, Josh. In the interim, I consumed a 1982 Gui Hua aged oolong, an ‘08 Chen Yi Hao sheng pu-erh (which tasted like grapes!!!), and a Taiwanese Rou Gui variant. By the end of it all, I was sufficiently tea drunk…before getting actual drunk.
Afterwards, Josh gave me an impromptu tour of his operation. The highlight of which was the burgeoning garden of Sochi cultivar tea plants he had growing in the shop’s backyard. Never before had I been so excited about baby plants. What am I, 90-years-old? Yeah, probably.
We also had a brief conversation about Tie Guan Yin. I confessed that it wasn’t one of my favorite oolongs. Josh insisted that I simply hadn’t had the right one, and mentioned something about a Taiwanese/Chinese Tie Guan Yin blend that I needed to try sometime. The thought scared me a little.
Following an impromptu meal at a taqueria, Josh and I moseyed over to 16 Tons. A mere fifteen minutes after Tea Beer Fest’s start time, and it was already hoppin’.
I beelined for a menu, and examined the wares. Of the fourteen teabeers on display, I was surprised that I’d already notched off four of them. One just within the last week - Buckman’s Rooibos Red.
That said, there were plenty to still choose from, including two made with J-TEA’s teas - Viking Braggot Company’s Chai Dunkelweiss and Oakshire Brewing’s 2013 Frederic’s Lost Arm. I’d already tried the Lost Arm from prior years, but this was my first time trying it as a straight, un-barreled saison. While those were definitely on my beerdar, I was transfixed by one particular beer as my first taster.
Walking Man’s Lap Sang - a Scotch-style ale.
Ho-ly shite. It was amazing. Smoke on the front, kilt party in the back. It was like a zombie Highlander lit on fire in my mouth. One of my favorite styles of ales combined with one of my favorite kinds of tea. It wasn’t quite the mangasm that Rogue’s Lapsang Souchong porter was, but it was definitely nudging on that territory.
My next favorite was the Viking Chai. Apparently, Viking wasn’t a typical brewery. Their specialty was braggots. Why I’d never heard of a braggot up until that night is beyond me. When I talked with the brewers, they said it was their first attempt at a dunkel. Well, good on ya, boys. It was superb. Dark and spicy.
The bronze medal went to a brewery that I only discovered last month completely by accident - Base Camp Brewing’s Meridiwitea. A tea-infused version of their Meridiwit, brewed with an emerald oolong from…somewhere. It tasted like lemons, hops, herbs, and wilderness. Y’know, like an actual base camp, I would guess.
The new batch of Oakshire’s Frederic was a close fourth for me. It would’ve been tops had it been like the barrel-aged version. As it stands, it was an extremely solid oolong saison, much stronger on the tea flavor than batches of yesterbrew. I had a chance to yack with the brewer - Matt Van Wyk - and he duly informed me that a new Pinot barrel-aged version was on the way by next summer. I’m counting the days.
Josh, of course, was pinting the Frederic like a proud papa.
You would’ve, too, had you provided one of the main ingredients.
Five hours went by in a blur. I’d expected to merely yack with Josh the entire time, but I ended up doing my fair share of drunken networking. Brewers, tea aficionados, and Eugenite regulars were all in attendance. I was also elated to finally meet 16 Tons’ owner, Mike Coplin, for the first time.
Sometime within the teabeer-fueled haze, Josh and I got to discussing the bourbon barrel he’d acquired. Thus far, it was resting in his teashop…but with no tea in it. He still wasn’t sure what tea he wanted to age in the damn thing. Somehow, in the reverie, we both came to a consensus that a cooked pu-erh would be the likely candidate for the experiment.
10PM arrived far too fast. The event had ended, and Josh and I retired back to his place. The “party” wasn’t over yet, though. We polished off half a growler of more Viking Chai, and at least two bowls of potato chips. Okay, nevermind, I polished two bowls of potato chips.
Not sure how this happened, but Josh got it into his head to brew some tea. Remember that Taiwanese/Chinese Tie Guan Yin I mentioned earlier? Well, he remembered, and brewed it up on the spot. We went through I don’t know how many cups. It managed to sober me up before I turned in for the night.
The following morning, I felt like I’d wrestled a very small bear. I honestly thought I was going to fare far worse. Oolong and aspirin worked double-time to prevent me from feeling nauseous. Other than a mild headache and a slight case of vertigo, I was ready to face the day.
Before parting ways, Josh hosted one last tea session. This time, it was a greener-style Ali Shan oolong. My favorite mountain. I could think of no better tea to have before heading out on the road.
When I got home, I crashed. Hard. For three hours. I rousted around 6PM and hopped online to see if there was any commotion. Then I saw that J-TEA had posted this picture on their Facebook.
Oh, dear lord, what had I done?
A bourbon barrel-aged pu-erh was in the making, and I’d been a part of the initial beer-drenched brainstorm for it. I’m not used to being a part of tea history in the making. Even by proxy. Just…WOW! I hoped it would turn out majestic.
And with that, my teabeer week came to a close. I felt like I’d been put through the ringer, but it seemed…well…epic. No other word for it. Another saga for the archives.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot.
J-TEA Josh also passed on some Russian-grown tea for me to play with.
But that’s another story.
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- Geoffrey F. Norman on Two Trips, Bootleg Botanicals, and Shorty Cigars
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- Geoffrey F. Norman on Two Trips, Bootleg Botanicals, and Shorty Cigars
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