My senior year of college was the time that I truly dove head first into beer. I started a brewing club on campus and also joined one led by professors on campus, both were a lot of fun for much different reasons. One of my best friends from college and I started making a lot of weird beers. In the fall, we made a 13% ABV red ale that we pretended was a barleywine that was awful (until it sat for about seven months, then it was suddenly delicious). In the dead of winter, we made a grapefruit IPA with way too many grapefruits squeezed into it, which turned out truly mediocre.
Our most experimental beer, which also happened to be our best, was brewed in the beginning of spring to be ready for graduation. During my time at St. Lawrence, I drank a lot of this incredible Argentinian tea called Mate. It has a caffeine kick similar to coffee. All of my friends and I loved it! I decided it would be something fun to try to throw into a beer, so I took a base IPA and went for it. I put five pounds of tea into the mash with the grain unsure how it would turn out. My main goal was trying to brew something with the caffeine kick I wanted, but tasted like a juicy IPA. With absolutely no surprise the first batch was a malty mess. I still cannot capture that juicy New England IPA, but as I brewed on with another few batches it only got better. The shame is that the great batch wasn’t ready for graduation. I really wanted to be drinking one of my own beers in my cap and gown, but istead I settled for a Heady Topper.
After graduation I continued to brew this Mate IPA. I found the bitter Mate added with the secondary fermentation dry hop, balanced the beer and added a funky taste to a standard IPA. Unfortunately, I have not been brewing much recently, but I would encourage anyone who finds something they enjoy drinking, whether it’s an obscure tea or a specific coffee, to throw it in a beer and see what happens. Worst case scenario, you can always give it to the friend.
Ben Richards has been brewing beer since 2012 and was very active in the campus beer scene during his time at St. Lawrence University, being both the founder of the beer and brewing club and running a beer column for the University newspaper entitled “Brewers Buzz.” Currently, he can be found making trips to breweries all over the northeast and brewing with our Brand Development and Education Manager, Nathan Reynolds.