Spruce tips were once a very popular ingredient for drinks. A sort of tea being the most popular, pine needles and spruce tips would be left to infuse in boiling water. These “teas” are especially rich in Vitamin C and Captain Cook used spruce tea to help his crew stave off scurvy. More importantly, though, spruce tips can also be drunk as a refreshing (if unusual), beer.
Spruce beer started to obtain real popularity from the 17th century, especially amongst the Newfoundland settlers and by 1766, Joseph Banks had described it as the “common liquor of the country”.
It stayed a popular drink up to the end of the 19th Century when it fell out of favour and never really returned, except as a curiosity ale made by smaller craft breweries in the US. If you have a living Christmas tree then you can harvest the fresh new growth from your tree to make the following drink; a drink which has been adapted from an 18th-century recipe. It is also possible to use the needles from a dead Christmas tree, as long as they haven’t dried completely out and are still pretty green.
Freshly grown needles have more essence inside them so you should at least double the number of leaves in the recipe if using old spruce. If picking from the wild, use just the freshest looking growing tips of any spruce. But please be sure you correctly identify your tree and don’t end up using yew as this will have deadly consequences.
Spruce Tip Beer
5 litres of water
100g spruce Tips
20g Piney hops (Chinook or Simcoe for eg)
One thumb-sized piece of bruised root ginger
600g Pale liquid malt extract
1 x sachet Nottingham ale yeast
Bring the water to the boil and add the spruce, hops and ginger. Boil for 30 minutes. Stir in the malt extract and boil for a further 10 minutes. Strain into a fermentation bin or food grade bucket and, when cooled to room temperature, add the yeast.
Leave in a warm place for one week. Syphon into bottles. Will be ready to drink immediately.