gin

Soba Up, Buckwheat! You’ve Had too Much Oolong Beer!

Obviously, I’m still playing catch-up. This is a flashback to late-January. I assure you, though, it’s totally worth it. Well, if you like tea in your beer. Moving along…

Tea and beer are my two favorite beverages in the world. Yes, the entire world. Both are also extremely habitual and have a lot of history to them. As a result, becoming geekily obsessed with the minutiae surrounding either drink is an obvious conclusion. So, what happens when I learn that both have been – somehow/someway – combined?

Answer: Geek overload.

I have tried several examples where tea and alcohol have been combined. In some cases, it was merely scented teas – either smoked or aged in a barrel – but on the other end of the spectrum are the alcoholic drinks that use tea leaves as an ingredient. My favorites of those, to date, have been an Earl Grey/tangerine zest ale and a jasmine green tea mead. I had yet to run into a brewery that found a creative use for oolong, though.

In the Fall, a friend brought to my attention that Oakshire Brewing out of Eugene, OR. had done just that. Alas, I was a whole week behind the times. The stuff had long since been drunk dry. Fast-forward to January: The purveyor of J-Tea – the pivotal “J” himself – brought to my attention that it wasn’t all done yet. In fact, the beer in question had a second go-around left. Better still? It was a gin-barrel-aged, Belgian-style saison that was brewed with Taiwanese greener-style oolong as an ingredient. An oolong provided by “J”.

Josh Chamberlain brewing oolong in a keg!

Josh Chamberlain brewing oolong in a keg!

My brain exploded.

The tasting itself was being held at a cheese bar in Southeast Portland, and – as luck would have it – it was also one of my days off. Only one small snag, though. I was still sick from the second round of “Le Plague”. I didn’t care; this was worth leaving quarantine.

I was able to form a mini-posse with two other friends to make the trip. Matt Van Wyk – Oakshire’s brewmaster himself – was also on-hand to answer any questions about the brew itself. (And pick his brain, I did.) The name of it was completely awesome: Frederic’s Lost Arm. I couldn’t tell ya what it meant, though.

The brew itself? Needless to say, it was superb. The Oakshire folks know how to brew a damn good beer, and this was no exception. It was strong on the juniper note toward the front, followed by the sour Belgian-ish-ness in the middle. The aftertaste was both sweet and bitey. The only disadvantage was, there was no sign of oolong to be found. I guess all the cask-conditioning willowed away any punch the green Formosa could deliver. No surprise there. Taiwanese oolongs can be on the gentle side. However, if I tried – even through my clogged state – I could remember a bit of a honey-like texture to it.

Short answer: “Dayamn”.

*****

On a completely unrelated night that same week, I finally tore into a sample that was sent my way by fellow writer/blogger, Jo Johnson. She had seen mention of soba-cha on my “Tea WANT!” list and decided to impart some to me. I knew it wasn’t a rare tea to come by, but I was extremely grateful that she beat me to the punch.

For those who don’t know, “soba” simply means “buckwheat” in Japanese. I don’t know much about the grain other than the name being applied to idiots. That said, when I took a whiff of the stuff, I was greeted by a pungently nut-sweet aroma that could rival rooibos in its delivery.

Alas, the taste didn’t quite reflect the aroma’s sweetness, imparting a nutty brew that reminded me of rice, barley, and sweetened peanuts. While surprised with the change in profile, I still rather enjoyed it. The little granules held up to a boiled-water/five-minute brew-up with surprising sturdiness, and it was a far cry better than some rice-laden teas I’ve tried. (Yes, I’m talking to you genmaicha.)

Speaking of genmaicha…recently, I had an epiphany to one day try this blended with a kabusecha-style tamaryokucha (heavily-shaded, curly green tea from Kumomoto) and maybe a dash of Nishio-grown matcha. Maybe I’ll give it a try soon and record the results…but that’s a subject for another schizoid rambling.

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Monday, March 26th, 2012 Beverage Blog, Steep Stories 2 Comments

Mao Feng Gin

Smith Teamaker is slowly becoming my Cheers. It’s the place I go where my name is known, where I’m greeted with a smile, and share a witticism or two about/over tea. It’s a bit of a jaunt from my little ‘burb but worthwhile every time. On one such stop through, I made it a point to try out their Bai Hao Oolong and see if they could answer a pressing question. (“Was Bai Hao Oolong from Taiwan or Fujian Province, China? Seriously, the question’d been bugging me for months.)

I asked the taster room hostess if she knew the answer to my Bai Hao dilemma. She didn’t, but she retreated to the back to talk to one of their master blenders – Tony Tellin. I’d had conversations with Tony before. Great guy. I owe my oolong graduation – from mug to gaiwan – to him. Changed my brewing life, that little lidded cup did. But anyway…

He came out and immediately sidetracked my train of thought with an announcement. A new gin-infused prototype tea was ready. A couple of months back, he allowed me to sample a test-run of some Ti Kwan “Gin” – an oolong soaked in Tanqueray gin for an extended period of time, then re-dried. (My impression of that can be found HERE.) I loved the stuff and found that the natural floral/mineral foretaste complimented the newly-juniper’d body. Tony still felt that the winy top note wasn’t strong enough. Further experimenting was needed.

This time around, he played around with some Mao Feng green tea dipped in Sapphire gin. I assumed he was referring to Bombay Sapphire, but I’m not a gin connoisseur by any stretch. He brewed me a pot, while I smelled the bag. Oh boy, was it stronger on the nostrils than the oolong test! The taste was also stronger. The usual nutty/vegetal front was almost immediately pushed aside by a jolting juniper berry note that lasted to a tapered finish.

While I sampled that, my aforementioned Bai Hao, and later a pot of 1st Flush Darjeeling, he answered my initial query about Taiwanese/Chinese confusion. Bai Hao was Taiwanese, and the Chinese version used Taiwanese techniques. Relieved, enlightened and in dire need of…a different kind of relieving, I made my exit soon after.

Word came over the Twitter pipeline a week later that the final Mao Feng Gin was ready. I had just ended a rather trying day of errand-running, and a hot pot o’ tea sounded like the perfect decompressor. The drive was relatively painless, and I was there in no time for a pre-funk pot o’ Darjeeling. Tony came out a moment later with a 1oz. bag – a warm bag at that. This stuff was literally “hot off the press”. He told me to wait about four hours before sampling it.

I tore into it the next day.

The dry leaves were long, curly and dark green like a standard Mao Feng. The differences on sight were subtle. A part of me thought the leaves were a darker palette than their usual un-“ginned” counterparts; like those included in Smith’s own Mao Feng Shui. The true difference came in the smell. Gin has a very pungent aroma that screams juniper berries and gasoline, and some of that was present in the aroma. First whiff revealed a prologue of buttered/salted veggies but – like the prototype – was immediately pushed aside by a straight juniper-ish tang. It was also a surprisingly damp scent.

I wasn’t quite sure of the best way to brew this. I referred to Smith’s instructions for the Mao Feng Shui as a springboard. They recommended a three-minute steep in 190F water. That seemed a bit high of a temperature, but other Mao Feng brew tips echoed their notes. Even I dared steeps at 180F with Mao Fengs of yesterbrew. I stuck to their approach to the letter – 1 tsp worth in 8oz.

The liquor infused to a pale green with a leafy and berry-ish nose. Unlike with the prototype, it didn’t have the immediate vegetal kick on first sip. The juniper note also didn’t bust the door down, berry guns blazing. Instead, it was smooth yet grassy before transitioning into a citrus-berry-sweet body. The finish possessed an unusual texture – equal parts creamy and swift. In comparison to the Mao Feng Shui, I would have to say I enjoyed this more. The addition of a juniper berry/lemony note gave it a character I found similar to an early spring Long Jing with a hint of lemongrass and almonds. A second infusion brewed up quite well in color, but didn’t have as strong of a gin presence except in the aftertaste; still quite enjoyable, though.

This marks the third of Tony’s gin-infused experiments I’ve tried in a two-month period. While the Ti Kwan “Gin” idea was discarded – and I lament it – I can see how Mao Feng was the stronger candidate. It was a lighter green tea that could easily be improved upon. Mao Feng-style greens were never my favorite; too vegetal for my tastes. But the additional gin-basting gave it that extra oomph to push it into Long Jing/tamaryokucha favorability. I look forward to whatever Tony concocts next.

I’m holding out hope for a Bai Hao Oolong/Gew├╝rztraminer pairing, but that’s just me.

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Wednesday, May 4th, 2011 Steep Stories No Comments

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