Brew Day: Red Spruce Ales (Beers #42 & 43)

October 23, 2012 by Jack

I have wanted to brew a spruce beer since I first tasted the 2011 Spring Spruce Steinbier at ECB. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it flavor that I happen to love, and I figured it would work great as a Christmas/Winter beer.

The first step in developing the recipe was to choose a type of spruce. In my back yard I had two spruce trees – a blue one and a Norway. I have read that Norway gives better results as the blue variety is too piney and resinous. But I wanted to try for myself, so I brewed a batch of each. I can say that the tips, themselves, were quite different from each other. The blue ones smelled very “sprucey” and somewhat musty, whereas the Norway ones had a bright, lemony, citrus, pine smell to them. I chewed up one of the norway ones and found it to taste the same as it smelled, but with the lemon more pronounced. It was not at all unpleasant.

Spruce tips are available in May where I live, but I wanted these beers for the holidays, so I vacuum-sealed and froze them immediately after harvesting. They sat in the freezer until this week.


First wort addition of blue spruce tips

The next step was to determine the base recipe. That steinbier at ECB was great, and I pegged it as being akin to a Vienna Lager. I want this beer to be ready in about six weeks, so I chose to go with an ale. And since it’s a holiday beer, I figured a bright red color would be approrpriate. So here’s the grist bill I came up with:

– 10 lb Muntons Maris Otter
– 6 oz Crystal 40L
– 4 oz Belgian Special B (180L)
– 2 oz English Roasted Barley (500L)

Infusion mash at 152, then batch sparge. Target OG: 1.054


Blue spruce ale, chilled

The color in the picture above is exactly what I was looking for. It does sound like an odd selection of specialty grains, but my reasoning was thus: (1) The C40 because it’s an amber ale – it has to have crystal malt. (2) The Special B provides a ruby color that you can’t get from typical crystal malts. Also, it provides a figgy, raisiny flavor that’s often present in holiday beers. I believe those bigger winter warmers get it through kettle caramelization and extended aging, but the end result is similar. (3) A wee bit of black patent makes Irish Red ales red and gives them a slightly bitter, drying finish which I think will work well in this beer. It should also give some color to the head, making it sort-of khaki instead of off-white-to-bone.


Norway spruce ale approaching boil

The “hop” schedule for this beer follows:

– 6 oz fresh (frozen) spruce tips @ FWH
– 8 g Polaris hops, 21.8% AA @ 60 min
– 3 oz fresh (frozen) spruce tips @ 20 min
– 3 oz fresh (frozen) spruce tips @ 10 min
– 10 g Polaris hops, 21.8% AA @ 10 min

Polaris is a new hop variety that a friend bought an 11 lb sack of. I bought a pound from him. They are supposedly Germany’s answer to Cascade. They have an extremely high alpha acid content, are very oily, and provide a minty “ice glacier candy” character. When selecting hops for this recipe, I dissolved a few pellets in hot water and felt they would compliment the pine flavors from the spruce well.

The two batches are currently fermenting at 67°F. I pulled a slurry of 1056 from the fridge that I harvested a month ago. I rejuvenated it in a 1.5L starter, then split the resulting yeast between the batches. yeastcalc.com said this should be enough yeast. Lag time was a little longer than I’m used to – longer than 10 hours but less than 20 hours (I was at work when it started) – so maybe it was a bit of an underpitch.

This was a fun experiment, and I can’t wait to try the results and tweak the recipe for future batches. I moved this summer, so I no longer have a blue spruce tree in my yard but I do have about 12 Norway spruces, so I’m really hoping that turns out to be the better batch!

Edit: Actually I do have a blue spruce tree in my yard. My yard is the woods, so I don’t have a good inventory of all the trees just yet. I also have several sassafras trees. Anyone have a good root beer recipe?

2 Responses to “Brew Day: Red Spruce Ales (Beers #42 & 43)”

  1. I want to try this now! Great pictures.

  2. Thanks, Chip. Have a go in May when the spruce tips are ready. I’ll be doing a spruced vienna lager this year with tips straight off the tree.

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