You are out in the wilds, camping and settling down for the evening in front of your ‘Bushcraft TV’ (colloquial term for the campfire), with friends or out on your own. Whilst wonderful as it comes, there is little better than enjoying a nice, cold beer (if it is rather warm out then you can chill your beers in a nearby river!). Even further to that, if you are the sort of person who likes to craft and create, there is nothing better than that beer being something you have brewed yourself, from natural ingredients. Introducing Spruce Beer!
Spruce beer is an ancient type of beer, unsurprisingly made with spruce needles. Whilst generally out of popularity now, it was enjoyed by the Vikings to ‘give them strength before battle’, and kept 18th century Royal Navy sailors scurvy-free thanks to spruce’s high vitamin C content. A healthy beer!
Unlike 99.99% of beers available today, spruce beer can be made without any hops, which are there to flavour and preserve the beer. Spruce will do a similar job to the hops but produce a beer of a completely different character. Some also believe that hopped beers are not good for male testosterone levels, due to phytoestrogen compounds, although no one really knows for sure. Either way, by drinking this you’ll be avoiding the hops.
Home-brewing can be a complicated affair, but it doesn’t have to be. We took a very low-tech approach. If there is one thing to remember though, it is to be clean and make sure things are sterilised with boiling water. We wanted to make beer that you could quite feasibly make out in the woods with no fancy equipment, a quick and easy recipe where the longest part will be collecting the spruce tips!
To make 15 litres of a quite strong beer (5.5-6%) you will need:
-A plastic brewing bucket of at least 15 litres, with lid
-About 3kg of liquid barley malt extract (we used Suma 3.18kg barley malt)
-About 500g of fresh spruce needles; use the new, light green growth only (we used Sitka Spruce)
-A small sachet of ale yeast, we used Muntons Premium Gold Active Brewing Yeast
-A plastic or metal sieve
-A plastic or metal big spoon (don’t use wood as this can contaminate beer with microbes)
-A piece of plastic tubing to use as a siphon
Before you start, sterilise and clean all equipment with boiling water.
1. Start by putting the spruce tips into a pan with enough boiling water to cover them, and leave this to simmer on a very low heat.
2. Whilst the spruce tips are simmering, use a few cups of hot water to mix into the barley malt extract to make sure it is flowing and dump it all into the brewing bucket.
3. Once the spruce tips have had about 15 minutes of simmering, dump this pan into the bucket, needles ‘n’ all, add some lukewarm water and stir well with the spoon.
4. Fill up the rest of the volume of the bucket to 15 litres using lukewarm water.
5. Making sure the brew is only just lukewarm and not hot, sprinkle in the ale yeast and stir.
6. Put the lid on the brewing bucket with one slightly raised edge so gas can escape, and leave it somewhere warm, preferably 20-22 degrees celsius.
7. After 2 days, open the container and using a sterilised sieve, remove the floating mass of needles and discard. This is plenty of time for the spruce flavours to have infused, and left any longer it could produce off flavours.
8. Once the brew has stopped producing fine bubbles after about a week you can then siphon it into individual bottles and store the beer somewhere cooler. We simply used 2 litre pop bottles and will definitely be sharing the bottles! Avoid the bottom of the bucket with the siphon, where sediment will have built up. Adding a teaspoon of brown sugar to each bottle at this stage will make for a nicely carbonated beer and add a little more flavour.
After about 3-4 weeks of maturing in the bottles, it will start to be drinkable, and will be much more drinkable from 5 weeks on.
This recipe uses a fair amount of spruce needles to produce a zingy refreshing beer, strong too at ‘roughly’ 6 %; the higher alcohol helps preserve the un-hopped beer.