Spruce Beer and Lagering

I’ve been pulled in a many different directions lately. Between crunches at the newspaper, web projects pilling up, a 7-month old baby girl and a farm covered in an ever-increasing blanket of snow, it really should come as no surprise.

That being said, this weekend things finally slowed down a little and I got to address a pet project: beer. While I sat down to lager, what I ended up with was a five-gallon carboy of Canadian lager and a one-gallon carboy of spruce beer. Spruce beer? It was used by Captain Cook in New Zeland to provide his crew with scurvy-defeating vitamin C.

Scouring the internet for ideas, I finally just gave up looking for a specific recipe and settled on boiling about 2 cups of molasses and a quarter pound of small branches from a black spruce tree. At least I think it was a black spruce. It certainly wasn’t a balsam fir, which was the first tree I tried to prune and managed to positively identify it as not a spruce.

The one source I could find online said that the straight molasses beer was very much an aquired taste. Be that as it may, I tasted some of the wort before pitching the yeast and it was delicious, if a little bitter. I did a light hopping at the end of a 45 minute boil and then added cold water to get it down to a good pitching temperature and added a basic Safbrew ale yeast. Now we wait and see.

On the upside, I only made a gallon and it only takes a handful of days to ferment before bottle conditioning for another four or five days. Then we’ll see how undrinkable or delightful it is. Really, I’m just stoked to have found a beer recipe that can be made with all local ingredients. I know I could source barley locally and then roast it myself, but did you see my list of things to do above?

My next project will be to try all kinds of evergreen steeped beers. You can use the new growth buds on a spruce to make a fresher, more wintergreen beer, supposedly. Then there’s that balsam I cut accidentaly. Supposedly it works as a flavor, but you have to drink it fairly early in the conditioning process.

And finally, I’ve decided to try tapping some our white birches. While making syrup from the sap would take about a million gallons of propane (we’re talking a 100:1 ratio of syrup to sap…one gallon of syrup from 100 gallons(!) of sap), you can use the sap, with some dextrose added, to make a very traditional New England birch beer. Again, it supposedly has a very wintergreen flavor to it. I can’t wait till the sap runs!

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