Spruce has been a plant I have long wanted to explore in herbal brewing. It has a rich history of being a flavoring and preservative in beer for hundreds if not thousands of years throughout the northern temperate regions of the world. In Europe, the young shoots and cones of the Norway spruce (Picea abies) were boiled down into a thick paste, resembling malt syrup. This extract, also known as spruce essence, could be stored throughout the year and used to make beer. In North America, the shoots of black spruce (P. mariana) were favored, even though the apparently foul-tasting white spruce (P. glauca) is relatively more common and widely distributed.
The fresh spring shoots were favored for brewing, and to a lesser degree the young cones that mature throughout the summer. These tender parts of the plant contain the highest concentration of vitamin C, resins and turpentines, which are responsible for the characteristic, pungent scent of spruce and other closely related conifers. Spruce beer was usually brewed for the sole purpose of being a winter tonic. Due to spruce’s high vitamin C content, it was very much needed during the winter months to prevent scurvy from a lack of fresh fruit or vegetables. Although this is not usually much of a problem facing current society, it was a real reality in centuries past. Additionally, spruce beer was also consumed as an astringent, stimulant and restorative that helped keep the body clean and pure during the sometimes monotonous diet of late fall and winter.
I collected the young shoots of a Colorado blue spruce (P. pungens) which is a particularly strong scented species. It is also one of the most common if you live in a city; it’s hard to find a yard on residential block that does not have one of these vividly blue spruces planted. Figured I might as well use the spruciest of the spruces. I also included some chamomile to this recipe; later on in the boil to preserve the delicate aromatics and to mellow out the harsher aroma and bitterness of the spruce and hops with a lighter, calmer astringency. Plus I had quite a bit of chamomile, and wanted this recipe to be loaded with depth and interest.
- 4 gallons water
- 3 liters liquid amber malt extract
- 6 ounces fresh spruce tips
- 1 ounce dried chamomile blossoms
- 30 grams Perle hops
- 7 grams brewers yeast
Bring a half gallon or water or so water to a boil, then pour and stir in liquid amber malt extract until dissolved. Once boiling again, stir in the 30 grams of Perle hops and half (3 ounces) of the spruce tips. Set timer to 30 minutes. After steadily boiling and with the occasional stir for 25 minutes, add a 1/2 ounce of chamomile blossoms and the rest of the spruce tips. After 30 minutes as passed, remove from heat and add the rest of the chamomile, stirring to incorporate. Place in a cool/cold location to cool down, with the lid on, to at least 100 degrees F. Once cooled, strain and pour into sterilized fermenter. Add water until a total of 4 gallons is reached and then mix. Once settled, pitch yeast and insert airlock.