In the 1940s packaged cake mix was a new concept. Up against a tradition of baking from scratch, cake mix companies needed to allow the home baker a step or two of hands-on participation so they would feel comfortable using a mix and still label the result “homemade” with a clean conscience. Instead of using powdered eggs in the dry mix and having the consumer simply add water, they intentionally had consumers add fresh eggs. With the addition of this step, consumers felt using the mix was acceptable during a time when a homemade family dinner was as nightly staple. Times have changed, and convenience foods don’t hold as much of a stigma. However, there still remains a group of people that enjoy the process of cooking a meal from scratch, and many more are returning to the basics as the shortcomings of processed food become common knowledge. Cocktail culture has undergone a similar shift in the past couple decades after deteriorating into a rut of vibrant colors and syrupy concoctions. Enthusiasts are returning to the roots and seeking a pure experience. When I came across Owl’s Brew artisanal tea cocktail mixers I was willing to give them a shot. You won’t find any processed or artificial ingredients, but how do they measure up to the standards of the home enthusiast that wouldn’t mind making their own tea concentrate or infusion?
Products like Owl’s Brew are a dime a dozen since the rebirth of cocktail culture has gone mainstream. As a home enthusiast, making bitters, tinctures, infusions, simple syrups, etc. often comes down to a question of return on investment. Making these items not only requires time, but it’s difficult to consume them in a reasonable amount of time or before they spoil. I wanted to know if Owl’s Brew products brought value to the home cocktail enthusiast. I’ve spent a fair amount of time attempting to get the flavor of a premium loose leaf tea in a cocktail, and Owl’s Brew seemed like just the product to save me time and frustration.
Owl’s Brew offers several varieties of the their tea-based product. For this review I selected the Pink & Black, although I’ve previously tried their Classic mixer.
The Classic – a blend of English Breakfast and lemon peel, with lemon and lime juices
Pink & Black – a blend of black tea, hibiscus, and lemon peel, with strawberry and lemon juices
The Coco-Lada – black tea, chai spices, coconut pieces and pineapple juice
White and Vine – a blend of white tea, pomegranate, lemon peel, and watermelon juice
The first thing to note is the price. The 8 ounce bottle I purchased was $7 and only contains enough tea to make 4 cocktails. If your base spirit is a $30 bottle, the Owl’s Brew is barely cheaper per ounce. After reading the ingredient list and the suggested recipes, it is clear that this product is created for simplicity. In loose terms, it contains tea, sugar, acid, and often an additional fruit juice, so there isn’t a need to add much else when using it in a recipe. Most of the recipes are the same ratio of two parts Owl’s Brew to one part alcohol. The bottle of Pink & Black describes it as “Darjeeling with a hint of hibiscus”, but I’d describe it as strawberry puree with a hint hibiscus. This product has more in common with a bottle of Snapple (not necessarily an insult) than with an artisanal loose leaf tea it aspires to be. I made a few of the cocktails from their recipe book and was underwhelmed. The product tastes great, but my issue is that it just doesn’t taste like tea. Don’t get me wrong. It’s sweet and it tastes good, but it’s not tea and it’s far overpriced.
Overall, my take on Owl’s Brew products is that they are suitable for the casual and uninformed cocktail drinker, rather than a home cocktail enthusiast. If you don’t have any desire for knowledge and just want to opt for no-brainer simplicity (at a premium) then have at it. As for me, I’ll infuse some gin with loose leaf Earl Grey and make a bee’s knees.
Owl’s Brew – Pink & Black
Nose: strawberry puree
Palate: sweet, strawberry, citrus, hint of tea, reminiscent of Snapple
Price: $6.99 per 8 ounce bottle