When Trophy Brewing opened its second location outside of downtown Raleigh late last year, the large new production brewery promised big things to come. While the first location had perfected creative pizza, the output of the three-barrel nanobrewery had always been serviceable, rarely stunning.
After three years of being confined to the small space, Trophy can now produce five thousand barrels of beer a year, enough to distribute locally. The big facility also gives Trophy the room it needed to grow creatively. Trophy can pump out the old favorites in the new location and use the old, small space to run experiments. The first such successful trial, a horchata stout, is an exceptional proof of concept—and perhaps Trophy's top prize to date.
Essentially, a stout is a very strong porter, a beer with a "stout" alcohol content beyond 7 percent. Roasted malts or barley give the drink a smoky or bitter taste. Horchata, on the other hand, is a traditional Latin American beverage made from ground almonds mixed with cinnamon, vanilla, and sugar. Dubbed "El Hombre" for the Spanish jazz standard by guitarist Pat Martino, the hybrid has a rich, semisweet finish, a silky consistency, and a sturdy 7.7 percent ABV. The beer embodies horchata's fun, complex spirit.
Trophy imparts that horchata taste through a roasted almond tea, which contains planed and crushed nuts, cinnamon, and pieces of apple and beetroot. Head brewer Les Stewart and pub brewer Josh Wing first experimented with the method while using a ginseng blend for their Wit-Tea-Est witbier. They determined the correct dosing rates for adding tea to the fermenter, not the boil.
"That process contributes the sweeter notes to the beer," explains Stewart. "It's one of those outside-the-box things."
For El Hombre, Wing added the almond tea and extra spices to an existing stout recipe. The resulting sip begins with the espresso-like roast of a solid stout and finishes with a flourish of warm cinnamon and the subtle sweetness of vanilla.
El Hombre is the first time a Trophy beer has made the jump from a small-batch idea to Trophy's larger system. Twenty barrels are now fermenting on Maywood Avenue, tea and all. Nurtured in the nanobrewery, El Hombre will soon be let loose with wider distribution, like a teenager who's passed a driving test. Let's hope it has siblings.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Tea Ball"