We are excited to introduce our new limited-edition whiskey barrel-aged Assam tea blend, No. 90 Ode to Whiskey, now available in commemorative loose-leaf tins. This intoxicating blend was born from a very special collaboration with our neighbors and close chums at Westward Whiskey - located just across the street from us here in SE Portland’s industrial district.
An Uncommon Collaboration
Last April, the distillers at Westward Whiskey and our teamaker Ravi rolled two of their freshly used American oak whiskey barrels across the street to our doorstep here at Smith Teamaker headquarters. Ravi immediately cracked open the most recently used barrel (which still contained some leftover whiskey) and poured in 60 lbs of our choicest full-leaf Assam tea. He topped the barrel and then wrapped it to hold as much of the moisture in as possible for optimum aging in our temperature-controlled basement, encouraging the tea to absorb flavors of sweet malt, vanilla and roasted apple.
Although you might think that comparing tea to whiskey is like comparing apples to oranges, our craft beverages have more in common than one would suspect. Just as American supermarkets were overburdened by low quality teas before purveyors like Smith Teamaker came onto the scene, it was notoriously difficult to find a good American single malt whiskey until small-batch distillers like Westward Whiskey stepped into the game. As award-winning pioneers in the American single malt whiskey movement, Westward Whiskey shares Smith Teamaker’s commitment to craft.
Like Smith, Westward sources the best ingredients from trusted sources. And like our Teamakers, their distillers are experts in their field. We often start with a base tea (in this case, full-leaf Assam), then pull from our extensive of herbs, teas and botanicals to reach a desired flavor profile. Westward ages their spirits individually, then carefully blends them after aging to achieve a whiskey with a well-balanced character.
Aged to Perfection
The American oak barrels Westward Whiskey gifted to us had a light char and were used to age whiskey for half a decade, leaving them steeped in smooth flavors of caramel and vanilla. Head Teamaker Ravi Kroesen chose to add 60lbs of premium full-leaf Assam tea to the barrel, predicting that the whiskey’s fruity nose would complement the robust, biscuity notes of the Assam tea without overshadowing it. Kroesen “turned” the barrel several times over the course of the year to guarantee even distribution of the whiskey’s flavor, and “cupped” (steeped) the tea at various intervals to test its character.
Eventually, we shared a sample of the final batch with the distillers at Westward. “We were all really impressed by how well the Assam worked with the whiskey,” recounts Kroesen. “We wouldn't have known this was a perfect combination––like chocolate and caramel––if we hadn’t tried it.”
Kroesen wanted the herbal ingredients in our No. 90 Ode to Whiskey blend to reflect the finishing notes of Westward’s flagship world-class single malt whiskey. “We’ve incorporated malted barley––one of the primary drivers of their whiskey’s flavor––into the tea blend itself,” says Kroesen. “Then we added botanicals which are often used to describe the whiskey’s finishing notes: rich roasted cacao nibs, savory coconut flakes, and delicate pink rose petals. These ingredients produce this wonderful feedback loop, but the distinctive flavor of the whiskey shines. Plus, it’s a fantastic way to enjoy the qualities of a fine whiskey without any of the repercussions.”