Warning: This installment is not going to be anywhere near as sophisticated or educational as the last two…which is why it’s on the Beasts of Brewdom page.
The Changing Face of Lapsang Souchong, Part 3: “Lapdance Souchong”
Amidst the wet and blizzard-like conditions nationwide, let’s flashback to last summer. Specifically, July. I just got done with one of the best experiences EVAR! picking tea for the very first time in Burlington, WA. The next day, I still had time to kill before I made the mad-trek back to Portland proper. Instead of exploring the insanity that is Seattle, I chose to hang out in one of its burbs – Burien.
I warned Cinnabar Gongfu of my intent to loiter at the Phoenix Teashop for the better part of the day, and she put up with me like a trooper – metaphoric helmet donned. Before I left, Cinnabar mentioned in passing that Phoenix carried both smoked and unsmoked Lapsang Souchong offerings from Fujian province, China. I asked for a price, deemed it worthy, and picked up an ounce of each. Somewhere in the transaction, I had uttered the phrase, “Lapdance Souchong”. And a thought emerged…I love it when that happens.
Why not do a side-by-side comparison of the two Lapsang styles and compare it to a Saturday stint at a strip joint? Jeenyus!
So, while most single men with money were at an actual strip joint on a Saturday night, I was home comparing teas to being at a strip joint. On a Saturday night. Hey, I said it was a thought, not a good thought.
The leaves for the Unsmoked Lapsang Souchong were medium-sized to whole, rolled and reed-like in appearance with some gold-tipped and red-tipped pieces in the fray. The aroma was quite dry, reminding me of a forest on a hot summer day. Astringent-seeming and slightly harsh, yet at the same time, welcoming. This dancer worked the weekend day shifts. She wore a dazzling red-and-gold one-piece that hugged her figure wholesomely, if not sexily. A looker but not a go-getter. Shy-seeming. Cute face, though.
The leaves were similar in appearance – if more curled and crooked. They were also more soot black than the unsmoked, which was to be expected. The aroma was straight campfire and steak with a back-whiff of peat. This gal came out in a two-piece pleather thong bikini-something-er-other with devil horns adorned – tail lashing and trident at the ready.
Saturday night shift, all the way.
I brewed both at three minutes a pop (enough for one song in the champagne room) in 6oz. steeper cups. Boiling hot water and a teaspoon each. All’s fair in lust and Lapsang.
The Unsmoked liquor came out darker by a head, belying a shade darker copper than the Smoked. She also gave off an aroma of wood and bitterness – as if she had just gotten done with a twelve-hour stint, and her clear heels were killing her. The taste was straight malt with a hint of astringency on the finish. Like a Keemun only less refined. She wasn’t relegated to day shift; she was a newbie, still learning the ropes. But talented at that. And the things she did with her tongue – yikes!
The Smoked was a veteran of the stage. Sure, she didn’t have as bold outward appearance as the Unsmoked ingénue, but she glided across the palatial runway with all the swagger of a seasoned seductress. Her liquor color was dazzling yet left an air of mystery intact behind the copper sheen. The aroma wafting from her vessel was smoky but not pungently so. Hickory and backwoods campfire, yes, but it was downplayed once water hit her form. On taste, she shined like a phoenix-flamed goddess reaching her zenith. Raw talent can go a long way, but in the end, a little smoldering discipline edges ahead.
Smoked Lapsang for the WIN.
That isn’t to say I wouldn’t visit the Unsmoked often. There’s something about her that says, “Stay with me.” A come-hither stare and a bright-eyed innocence behind the malt and wood. I would visit her in the afternoons, but it’s the Smoked I’d wake up to in the mornings.
A quick aside: After I was done brewing both Lapsangs back-to-back, I forgot to photograph the finished steeps. I didn’t realize this until after I drank them. I had to re-brew them just for the photo finish. But then I couldn’t let those infusions go to waste…so I drank them. Four cups of tea. For one photo.
Yeah, I was up for a while.
For BOOK 1 of The Teabeer Trilogy, go HERE.
Not too long ago in a public house relatively nearby…
It began with an e-mail.
I’m not even sure how I got on their list, but The Green Dragon sent me an e-mail at the beginning of the month about some of their Fall events. Part of the image was about their upcoming Pumpkin Ale Fest.
F**k pumpkin, I thought.
Then my eyes scrolled down to the bottom half of the poster.
Barrel. Aged. Lapsang. Souchong. Porter.
No five words in the English (or Chinese) dictionary could’ve been strung together so poetically. For those not in the know – or don’t read this blog much – Lapsang Souchong is a pinewood-smoked black tea from China. It tastes like hickory and campfire. Many legends exist about how it came to be. I even wrote one. No, it’s not true.
For years, I’d wondered what a Lapsang beer would taste like. I even tried to convince brewer friends of mine to take up the challenge. Most were frightened by the prospect of including a heavily-smoked tea into a beer of any kind. Especially without having an established recipe to go on.
I had experimented with Lapsang Souchong concentrate and a smoked porter once…with less than amiable results. But now Rogue – arguably one of Oregon’s brewery titans – had taken up the challenge. Or more specifically, the Man Behind the Beard – John Maier, their brewmaster.
Rogue’s Big Ass Barrel series (as far as I know) were beers aged in 1,500-gallon, custom-made Oregon white oak barrels for 60 days. I remember reading somewhere they had two of them – named Chuck and Kate – but I can’t seem to find anything online to corroborate this. Maybe I dreamt it; I dunno.
Point being, some awesome beers were coming out of these – aptly named – big ass barrels. I had the pleasure of trying a strong ale in that series during my impromptu teabeer jaunt to The Green Dragon. It was on said jaunt that I inquired about when the Lapsang porter would be ready. Green Dragon’s bartenders weren’t exactly sure, but told me to give a call to Rogue’s NW Flanders location for further info. I gave ‘em a call the moment I got off work.
The conversation went like this…
Me: “When will you have the Lapsang Souchong porter available in bottles?
Bartender: “I’m not sure when they’ll start bottling it.”
Me: [le sigh] “Any idea when it will be on tap?”
Bartender: “It’s already on tap.”
I was on the road minutes later.
The moment I got in, slightly panting, I went up to the bar and said, “Lapsang Souchong porter, please?”
The bartender looked at me and replied with, “Were you the one I just talked to?”
I nodded, still wheezing.
They poured the black monstrosity into a fitting chalice.
I cradled it for a moment as if it were the Holy Grail itself, then I gave it a sniff. Wood, malt, chocolate and smoke met my nostrils. The first sip was akin to being transported to another place in time. Campfires, Norse mead halls, and Mongolian caravans danced and warred on my tongue. Flavors as strong and gentle as any warrior attacked my palate with grace and a grimace.
It was the greatest beer I’d ever had…and I’ve tried a lot of beers.
While I was sipping it, I informed my friend NinjaSpecs about its awesomeness. We planned an outing for the following day. Yes, I went back. It was that good. As I was waiting for him to arrive, I ordered it. There was a new bartender manning the taps.
I asked for it.
He looked at me, “Are you sure? Have you had it before?”
“Positive,” I said flatly. “I love Lapsang.”
“Those who know what it is, love it,” the ‘tender explained. “Those who don’t…really don’t.”
A couple of out-of town-businessmen confirmed this by expressing their disapproval.
Pussies, I thought.
NinjaSpecs arrived a half-hour later, ordered one, and stated in a matter-of-fact tone, “I wish I’d brought another pair of pants.”
My work here was done.
Concluded in Book 3.