Many people are quick to assume that tea drinkers and beer drinkers are two crowds that seldom mix. Tea evokes high-society images of afternoon sips at Britain’s Buckingham Palace, accompanied by scones or crumpets. Beer, on the other hand, has always been associated with the masses, from Germany’s rowdy beer halls to the Colonial taverns of early America. Even today, stepping into a brewery usually leads to a vastly different experience than a trip to the local coffee or tea shop.
But tea and alcohol don’t have to stay in their respective universes. Tea has long been used as an ingredient in cocktails and family punch recipes, and that trend has started to spread to beer — oftentimes to delicious effect. There’s no better example of this than Ardent Craft Ales’ seasonal Earl Grey Brown Ale, a collaboration brew produced in conjunction with Charlotteville’s Champion Brewing Co. and Potter’s Craft Cider.
One of Ardent’s more prominent seasonal releases, the Earl Grey Brown Ale is, appropriately, an English-style ale made with malt and yeast from the United Kingdom. But the Earl Grey tea in the beer comes from a more local source: Richmond’s Rostov Coffee & Tea. The tea flavor in the brew is delightfully subtle, giving the beer a smooth and accessible mouthfeel. Notes of bergamot, a type of bitter citrus fruit that helps give Earl Grey tea its distinctive flavor, provide a refreshing balance.
Earl Grey Brown Ale was released in January and is available on tap and in bottles, providing beer drinkers with a nice cold-weather alternative to the coffee-infused porters and stouts that seem to dominate beer lineups this time of year.
“It’s become kind of a cult classic here,” says Chris Rommel, Ardent’s brewery production manager. “It’s a staple for us that we brew once a year.”
Like so many of Ardent’s brews, the Earl Grey has a neat origin story, involving an early homebrew co-op that operated out of a garage in Richmond’s Church Hill neighborhood. In fact, it was Ardent’s co-founders who started the co-op back in 2010 as a way for local homebrewers to come together once a week to share recipes and learn from one another. Ultimately, Ardent grew out of the co-op, becoming a full-time production brewery in 2014, and Earl Grey Brown Ale was one of the recipes carried over from those early get-togethers.
Another recent Ardent release is Resilience IPA, a beer that was originally launched by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. to help raise funds for those affected by last year’s California wildfires. Numerous breweries across the country have joined the campaign, producing Sierra Nevada’s recipe and selling it through their taprooms, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the Camp Fire Relief Fund.
For Ardent, the decision to support its fellow brewer’s relief efforts was an easy one.
“When someone is in trouble, we try to do what we can to support those people who are our brothers-in-arms in the brewing industry,” Rommel says. “If we were in the same situation, we would hope that someone would consider helping us.”
For those who enjoy the flavor of a crisply hopped West Coast-style IPA, the Resilience is an easy choice, as it both tastes good and supports a great cause.
In February, to showcase Rommel’s experience in German-style beers — he spent two years in Germany studying under a brewmeister — Ardent released a malty, clean-finishing Dunkel.
So, in the weeks ahead, cast aside your preconceived notions about beer and tea and head over to Ardent for a glass of Earl Grey Brown Ale. And while you’re there, be sure to try their other great brews.