Townshend's Tea Unveils a New Line of Spirits Distilled from Tea

After tackling bubble tea, chai, and kombucha, a local outfit unveils the world’s first tea-based spirits.

By Allison Jones February 2, 2015 Published in the February 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

The beautiful botanicals that make up Townshend's vodka, gin, and fernet.

Image: Michael Novak

Townshend’s Tea might not be 21 yet, but it’s already getting boozy. After earning a devoted local following with signature blends, herbalist-crafted infusions, and customizable bubble teas, the company got into the fermentation game with Brew Dr. Kombucha, a bold, effervescent cousin to its tea for the Portland palate. Now, founder Matt Thomas annexes a new herbal frontier: hard spirits distilled from his fermented teas. 

Image: Michael Novak

“We have a mission of doing everything we can possibly do with tea,” explains Thomas. “I realized that I was fermenting so much tea to make kombucha that it must be possible to continue the process to get more alcohol out of it.”

Fear no gluten! Because organic tea, herbs, honey, and cane juice are the only ingredients used in the distilling process, the entire line is naturally gluten-free.

The new collection, distilled in Townshend’s custom still in Southeast Portland and available this month, is anchored by three amber-hued spirits—Sweet Tea, Spice Tea, and Smoke Tea—made by steeping double-distilled versions of Townshend’s signature tea blends with Northwest honey and spices. Rounding out the collection are vibrant vodkas distilled from green tea and herbal botanicals, a dry gin crafted from Silver Tip Jasmine tea and Rose Peony white tea with lavender and juniper, a Portland-style fernet made with Douglas fir tips, a bitter Alpine liqueur, and a caraway-forward aquavit.

“We started with the botanicals that we’ve been working with for a long time,” says head distiller Seth O’Malley, “and it was fascinating to see which of those flavor combinations was captured by the still.” It’s official: tea time just got way more fun.

"The Hard Carl is a John Daly (aka Arnold Palmer with vodka) reimagined as a short, shaken cocktail with no watery ingredients: rich tea liqueur instead of iced tea, lemon juice and simple syrup instead of lemonade, and no need for vodka." —Head distiller Seth O’Malley

Hard Carl

  • 1 1/2 oz Tea Spirit No. 2 - Sweet Tea
  • 3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup (made with equal parts sugar and water)

Combine all ingredients. Shake well and strain into a chilled Champagne coupe. No garnish.

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