A Spot of (Yeas)Tea

The New Zealand brewery¹, Yeastie Boys, is known for its innovative approach to beer.  Yeastie Boys’ first ever release was Pot Kettle Black – a hoppy porter/black IPA. It was a style of beer that hadn’t been brewed in New Zealand before, and honestly, I thought a hoppy black beer sounded rather unappetising. But boy, was I wrong. Pot Kettle Black is now available all year round, has inspired other New Zealand brewers to release Black IPAs (Croucher, Funk Estate), and has been recreated by home brewers countless times.

Since then, Yeastie Boys has released a whole host of weird, wonderful or just plain different beers, including Return to Magenta – a hoppy, Belgian, amber ale that was not really any style in particular; Digital IPA – an open source² beer with QR codes galore on the label; and Rex Attitude – made from 100% heavy peated distilling malt.

The latest release from Stu and Sam, Gunnamatta³, is another New Zealand first – it’s been made with tea.  Brewed for the inaugural Great Australian Beer Spectapular in Melbourne earlier this month, Gunnamatta made a huge impact at the festival, beating out 57⁴  other specially-brewed beers to win the people’s choice award.

I have had a horrible habit of late of forgetting my camera when heading to beer-y events. So this is a picture of the revised Gunnamatta label, courtesy of Stu.

For Gunnamatta, the guys brewed an IPA, then added 10kg of tleafT’s Earl Grey Blue Flower tea to the 2500 litres of beer while it was in the fermenter – essentially “dry-leafing” the beer. The Earl Grey Blue Flower tea also has blue mallow blossoms and cornflower petals. Stu says he trialled six different teas at home for the beer, and as a result, is pretty addicted to tea right now.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend GABS, but the beer was made available just a few days later at Wellington’s LBQ, so I made sure I was there to try it. While I was sceptical that a “tea-leafed” IPA could actually taste any good (just like I had my doubts about the PKB), I decided it was worth a try considering Yeastie Boys good track record and the buzz it generated in Australia.

The Gunnamatta tap badge used at GABS

I was thrown off at first because the Gunnamatta was clear golden in colour – I was expecting something darker considering earl grey tea was used to make it. The beer smells a bit like that lemon dish-washing liquid, with big floral notes, some earthy hop coming through and a bit of a sweaty character. I understand that sounds rather gross, but the aroma wasn’t unpleasant, just a bit on the strong side. The beer tastes very tea-like, with strong lemon and orange citrus flavours, a touch of bitterness and big caramel characters coming through – particularly as the beer warms.

It’s a little on the sweet side (I like my tea and coffee without sugar!), but it’s packed full of flavour and really shows off the tea characters. It’s a beer that can fit in almost anywhere during an evening (or afternoon) of beer drinking because it’s just so darn interesting – there really is nothing you can compare it to (like most Yeastie Boys creations), and I’ll be very interested to try it on hand pump (hint hint) when it’s re-brewed.

And while I haven’t been able to successfully find the Gunnamatta on tap in Wellington since then (I seem to have horrid timing when it comes to amazing new beers being on tap), I have it on good authority it is going to be re-brewed, considering its popularity with the punters and the Yeastie Boys themselves. Stu says he’s been so impressed with what tea can do to a beer that a tea series may even be on the cards. I’ll keep my fingers crossed! And I’m sure many home brewers around the country will be inspired to play around with tea beers themselves – I’ll be happy to taste test those!


¹ Yeastie Boys is a contract brewery created by Stu McKinlay, who’s based in Wellington, and Sam Possenniskie, who’s based in Auckland. The beer itself is brewed at Invercargill Brewery. So it really is a New Zealand brewery, as opposed to a Wellington, Auckland or Invercargill brewery.

² The recipe is available online where anyone can view it and use it to make their own version.

³ Named after a song by the Australian musician Paul Kelly, as opposed to anything to do with tea. Gunnamatta is a place in Victoria, Australia.

There were 60 beers listed in the programme, but for whatever reason, two didn’t actually make to the festival on time.

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