In­gre­di­ent Fo­cus: Spruce Tips

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Contents -

Spruce tips add an im­me­di­ately rec­og­niz­able aroma and fla­vor to beer, yet peo­ple still have a hard time ac­cu­rately defin­ing the specifics. Jack Har­ris, the owner and brewer at Fort Ge­orge Brew­ery + Public House in As­to­ria, Ore­gon, says that when they are col­lected, han­dled, and brewed with prop­erly, this his­toric in­gre­di­ent will liven up just about any beer.

There are no two ways around it. If you’re us­ing spruce tips in a beer, “they have to be fresh,” says Jack Har­ris of Ore­gon’s Fort Ge­orge Brew­ery. “You need to pick them just as they are com­ing out and be­fore they get too long and toughen up and then turn more bit­ter than fla­vor­ful.”

Spruce tips add a de­light­ful com­bi­na­tion of pine, cit­rus, woodsy, green, and even wine grape or red berry that has long been used in beer, some­times re­plac­ing hops. Based in the Pa­cific North­west, Har­ris has al­ways had an affin­ity for the in­gre­di­ent and first started us­ing spruce tips when he worked in a brew­pub twenty years ago. He says that the best spruce tips come from trees that are ten to fif­teen years old. This is im­por­tant be­cause you’re able to pick them di­rectly from the tree with­out the use of a lad­der and be­cause they are less tough than what you might get on older trees.

Each spring, spruce trees be­gin to sprout new nee­dles. These are the tips, and they are soft and pli­able and a brighter shade of green

than the ex­ist­ing nee­dles. If left on the tree, they will even­tu­ally har­den into the nee­dles we’re more ac­cus­tomed to with the tree.

When cre­at­ing a recipe for a beer with spruce tips, Har­ris says it’s best to go light to help the in­gre­di­ent re­ally shine. He makes a 5 per­cent golden ale and adds the spruce at just about ev­ery step of the process from the boil to the whirlpool to fer­men­ta­tion. He’s also added them like hops ad­di­tions dur­ing the boil. At his brew­ery, they’ve in­stalled a hop back–like de­vice specif­i­cally for spruce tips for beers such as Spruce Budd and Mag­nan­i­mous IPA.

“With some in­gre­di­ents, sub­tle is king and what you add shouldn’t be the dom­i­nant char­ac­ter, but with spruce, I’ve never been able to use too much. The more I add the bet­ter and bet­ter it gets,” he says.

Since spruce tips have a lim­ited har­vest sea­son, Har­ris has been pick­ing them in the spring, vac­uum pack­ing them, and freez­ing them for use through­out the rest of the year. He’s found no de­tectable loss of fla­vor as a re­sult. —John Holl

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