Spruce Beer Part 1: Spruce Picking

When we first approached JD about coming to speak at a RAB meeting early this year we originally discussed him coming in to talk about specialty malts and designing malt bills.

JD had mentioned his passion for spruce beer, something that has since become very apparent to us, but as it was out of season we thought it was a topic we could come back to later in the year. Fate, however, had other plans.

As calendars inevitably became full and JD was kept busy by things like getting promoted to Head Brewer (sorry Tim), it wasn’t until mid May before we were able to lock something in. The timing of this was particularly pertinent given that spruce tips can only be harvested between early May and mid June.

Given that this was JD’s “quirky area of expertise” (his words not mine) developed by home-brewing experimental spruce beers while at University, and a style of beer most of us didn’t know much about, we thought this was a very unique opportunity for the club. This fact was only compounded when JD invited us to join him harvesting spruce tips in the forest behind Wild Weather’s brewery in Silchester.

“Spruce picking is pretty labour intensive” he warned us. In the past it had taken three of them half a day to forage the 11 kg required to brew Spruce Forsight – a spruce tip pale ale launched in 2017. With ambitions to harvest enough spruce tips to brew two beers this year, six RAB members set off on a sunny Sunday morning ready to get our hands dirty (and make the most of JD’s promise to feed us beer as we worked).

We arrived at the brewery in high spirits (that might have been the breakfast stout at BrewDog) and grabbed a couple of cans from the fridge before heading out into the forest, following JD and his keen nose for spruce tips. After walking for 15 minutes or so JD dived off the track through some bushes. He had disappeared long enough for us to start to wonder if we were stranded alone but not long enough to do anything about it. Then suddenly, he reappeared. He’d found the small pocket in the forest of pine trees that the spruce trees had made home.

After explaining to us in more detail how to identify spruce trees, how they differ from pine trees and explaining why we are only interested in the new growth (this is a lot brighter and softer than the older, wooden branches), we got to work filling our malt sacks with citrusy spruce tips (Sitka spruce to be specific). Stopping only to weigh our spruce hauls and keep hydrated of course.

We worked away at a steady pace for about 4 hours before we surpassed our target of 25 kg, reaching a massive 27 kg of fresh spruce tips. With the satisfaction of a job well done, and some rather sticky/resinous hands, we made our way back to civilization and enjoyed a libation or two at the brewery.

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