Home Brew Hard Iced Tea
This homemade hard iced tea post is less about a hard recipe, and more about the information and guidelines you’ll need to make whatever kind of hard iced tea you’d like.
There are so many variables involved, that the possibilities are almost endless - so you can take this post as a foundation, and really just run wild with it.
Lots of information to address, so let’s just get to it!
Home Brew Hard Iced Tea Ingredients
The main ingredients for home brew hard iced tea are pretty simple: tea, sugar, and yeast.
There are considerations for each of those, though... as well as variations to consider - more on that in a bit!
First, you’ll want to start with some tea. You can buy it or make it.. Just be sure to start out with something tasty, and ideally strong brewed.
Purchased Iced Tea
The first time we home brewed some hard iced tea - and this was about a decade ago, so things may have changed! - we used a gallon and a half of Arizona Green Iced Tea with Honey and Ginseng.
It worked well - though the flavour could have definitely been stronger (and would have, had we brewed it ourselves!)
At the time (and this is what could have changed, I haven’t seen it around lately!), that bottled iced tea didn’t have any preservatives in it.
This is something to keep in mind if purchasing pre-made iced tea - perservatives will prevent your tea from fermenting.
Citric acid and related preservatives are fine, but if your iced tea has anything like sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, etc, it won’t work.
Also of note: This recipe was written with the assumption that you’re brewing the iced tea yourself - and that’s important when it comes to the sugar amount.
If you’re purchasing your iced tea and it’s sweetened, you’ll want to decrease the amount of sugar you use by a little.
That, or just accept that more sugar = higher final ABV, as the sugar is what the yeast feed on - alcohol is the byproduct. For more information on that, check out my Hard Apple Cider post.
Homemade Iced Tea
Because there are a few different ways to get to iced tea - individual tea bags, those BIG iced tea bags, loose leaf tea, etc - I’m not including information on how to get to the point of having iced tea. Go with what you have, brew it a bit on the strong side.
A couple tips:
1. I like to use bottled spring water, as it doesn’t impart any off flavours like some tap water can. If you have good clean tap water, it should be fine.
2. If you are using an instant tea, be sure it doesn’t have any of the preservatives mentioned under the “Purchased Iced Tea” section, for the same reason.
We tend to use granulated sugar for this - rather than brown sugar, etc - as the flavour is neutral enough to not cover up or weigh down flavours coming from the tea or anything we add.
Sometimes, we’ll use honey in place of the sugar - like when doing the green tea with ginger variation, below - but definitely recommend starting with basic sugar.
You’ll want to use brewing yeast for this - wine or mead yeast - not baking yeast.
The type of yeast you buy will have an impact on the final ABV - hardier yeasts can survive in higher alcohol environments, and will be able to ferment down to a higher ABV finished hard iced tea, than yeasts that die off in lower alcohol environments.
What yeasts you have available will vary based on where you are, and what brands your favourite homebrew supply store carries, so - if you’re new to this - I recommend asking an employee about what they have. Tell them what you’re making, and what your goals are in terms of ABV.
Generally speaking, though, we’ll usually default to Red Star’s Champagne Yeast when making home brew hard iced tea.
Home Brew Hard Iced Tea Variations
If you like drinking it as iced tea, you'll probably like it as hard iced tea!
Personally, I usually put a bit more effort into the flavour of a hard iced tea. I'm making a batch of it - rather than just a glass of iced tea - and WAITING... so may as well!
If you're looking to add stuff to your iced tea, I recommend considering the flavour of the tea you're using, and be sure to use flavours that work well with that.
Of course, you could go either way: Pick your tea, then the flavours based on that... or decide what flavours you want, and choose your tea based on that.
Hard Green Tea with Ginger
Start with a green tea, add 1-3 oz fresh ginger (peeled and sliced) during the boil. Leave it it for the initial fermentation.
When we’re doing this variation, we usually sweeten with honey instead of sugar.
Citrus Hard Iced Tea
If you'd like to add some citrus to the tea, peels work best. (That is, use a vegetable peeler to take off only the outer rind, leaving all the white (pith) behind.
Use as much as you like - we'll usually add 2-3 lemons or oranges worth of peels for a citrus hard iced tea. Add the citrus peels into the pot at the beginning, allow it to simmer for 10 minutes or so, and leave the peels in during the primary fermentation.
Hard Iced Tea with Fruit
You can add almost any fruit you'd like to your hard iced tea. Whole or sliced berries, sliced stone fruit, etc. Just add as much as you'd like to the pot in the beginning, and allow to simmer - NOT boil - for 15 minutes. You can also add ½ teaspoon Pectic Enzyme / Pectinase at the end of the boil, if you like, to prevent haziness from the fruits.
Note: If you add a LOT of fruit, you *may* want to decrease your sugar a little, as the fruit will contribute its own sugars to the mix. That, or accept that your finished Hard Iced Tea will end up with a higher ABV than if you don't adjust the sugar down.
Hard Iced Tea with Botanicals
Dried Hibiscus is one of my favourite additions to tea in general, and also works well in hard iced tea! I'll usually add ¼ - ½ cup or so in the beginning, and leave it in for the initial fermentation.
Fresh mint is another great flavour for hard iced tea - a few handfuls of clean, fresh mint leaves in the beginning usually do the trick. I like to crush the mint with my hands before tossing it in, then leave it in for the 15 minute simmer and the initial fermentation.
Spiced Hard Iced Tea
Personally, I'm not into adding spices to hard iced tea - or just normal iced tea, really! - I like to leave that flavour profile for hot tea.
I'm not everyone, though! If you'd like to add a bit of spice to your initial simmer, you can toss a cinnamon stick, a few whole cloves, some nutmeg, etc, and leave it in for the initial fermentation.
Just don't go really overboard - you can add more flavour later, but you can't really take any away!
First Things First!
If you haven't attempted home brewing before, don't be intimidated, it’s not as complicated as you might think.
Basically, you get something - fruit and water, juice, or - in this case - tea, some sugar, toss some yeast in it, and let it go!
Ok, it’s a bit more involved than that, but not by much! Be sure to check out our primer to home brewing:
Just a small handful of entries, and you'll be good to go!
This recipe will make about a gallon and a half of finished hard iced tea - but it's easy to scale the recipe up for bigger batches, as we normally do. Just multiply everything by the number of batches you'd like to make - aside from the yeast.
We'll use a single packet of yeast for anything up to 5 gallons, then add a second one for anything up to 10 gallons, and so on.
Back Sweetening Your Hard Iced Tea
Sometimes, you’ll find that the yeast went a bit too far with their munchies, and you end up with ahard iced tea that is not as sweet as you’d like it to be.
... and that’s when you back sweeten it! You can read my How to Stabilize and Back Sweeten Wine post for information on how to back sweeten it.
More Home Brewing Recipes!
While you've got your current homebrew fermenting away, why not consider putting a batch of something else on, to occupy your wait time? Here are a few of my other wine, cider, and mead recipes:
Banana Wine Recipe
Blackberry Wine Recipe
Blackcurrant Wine Recipe
Blueberry Wine Recipe
Cherry Wine Recipe
Cranberry Clementine Christmas Wine Recipe
Cranberry Wine Recipe
Faux Lingonberry Wine
Lychee Wine Recipe
Mango Strawberry Wine Recipe
Mango Wine Recipe
Mint Wine Recipe
Lychee Wine Recipe
Partridgeberry Wine Recipe
Passionfruit Wine Recipe
Peach Wine Recipe
Stone Fruit Wine Recipe
Strawberry Wine Recipe
Ube Wine Recipe
Watermelon Wine Recipe
Cider & Miscellaneous Homebrew Recipes
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Anyway, on to that Home Brew Hard Iced Tea recipe!
Home Brew Hard Iced Tea
- 1.5 gallons Brewed tea
- 9 cups Granulated sugar
- 1 packet wine yeast We like Red Star Champagne yeast for this recipe
- Optional additional flavours See blog post for details.
- In large stock pot, combine tea with the sugar, along with any optional flavouring ingredients you may be using.
- Heat to almost boiling, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Continue to heat for 15-20 minutes – never allowing it to come to a boil.
- Remove from heat, cover with sanitized pot lid.
- Once mixture has cooled to room temperature, use a sanitized funnel to transfer cooled mixture to a sanitized 2 gallon fermenter.
- Using sanitized equipment, take a gravity reading. Keep track of the number! (This is an optional step, but will allow you to calculate your final ABV %)
- Sprinkle yeast into fermenter, cover with sanitized air lock. Let sit, undisturbed, overnight.
- Within 48 hours, you should notice fermentation activity – bubbles in the airlock, carbonation and /or swirling in the hard iced tea must. This means you’re good to go!
- Put the bucket somewhere cool (not cold!), and leave it alone for a month or so.
- Using sanitized equipment, rack the clarified hard tea off the sediment, into 2 clean, freshly sanitized 1 gallon carboys. Cap with sanitized airlocks, leave it alone for another 2-3 months.
- When you’ve let it clarify as much as you have patience for – with no more sediment being produced – you can move on to bottling:
- For uncarbonated hard iced tea:
- Using sanitized equipment, take a final gravity reading, then rack the hard iced tea into clean, sanitized beer bottles, and cap them. Allow to age for a month or so before drinking. (Like wine, the flavor improves with age!)
- For naturally carbonated hard iced tea:
- In a small pot, mix together 1 cup of water with 1 cup of sugar. Use a sanitized funnel to pour this into a sanitized large carboy.
- Rack the hard iced teaover into this carboy, swirling it as you go. Bottle hard iced tea as described in the previous step. Allow to age at least a month or two – residual yeast will ferment the added sugar, carbonating the hard iced tea.
- Alternatively, you can rack the hard iced tea (without the added sugar syrup!) into a keg and force carbonate it, if you have the set up for that. That’s what we did with our last batch, and blew through it pretty quick during the tornado clean up! Chilled hard iced tea is just what’s needed for that sort of thing, LOL!
- Enjoy.. and start planning for next year’s batch(es)!