The bright green new growth on the limbs of evergreen trees is a sign of spring in Maine and it’s also a sign that Banded Horn Brewing Company is gearing up to brew Greeenwarden. This pale ale is designed to showcase the flavor and aroma of the Maine foraged white spruce tips which have similar characteristics to some varieties of hops including floral, citrus, fruity, resinous and piney flavors.
On Saturday, May 23, 2015, Banded Horn Brewing Company and the Maine Brewers Guild hosted a beer school event at Brewmaster, Ian McConnell’s family land where beer school students learned how to forage for spruce tips that will be used in this years brewing of Greenwarden.
The event started around 1:30 pm when beer school attendees began arriving and were met with coffee, donuts and beer, Veridian IPA and Pepperell Pilsener were both on tap. Those who were staying overnight were directed where to set up tents.
Attendees gathered for an introduction with the Maine Brewers Guild and Banded Horn representatives where a brief history of spruce tips in beer was given, not a new idea by any means, in North America the Native Americans passed on the knowledge of boiling spruce tips which are high in vitamin C to make tea to sailors suffering from Scurvy, these sailors then began adding spruce to the beer on their ships.
We also learned the history of Greenwarden a beer brewed by Ian when he worked at Sixpoint Brewery in Brooklyn, New York. The beer was popular and Ian knew he wanted to continue brewing a spruce beer after he moved home to Maine and started Banded Horn.
Once the into/history lesson was complete, Ian cut down a large white spruce, a tree that was coming down anyway to make room for smaller trees around it. As the tree landed on the ground a cheer went up from the beer school attendees and before the dust could settle they descended upon the tree, buckets in tow and began harvesting the spruce tips while Ian limbed up the tree to make picking and cleanup easier.
The spruce tips are bright green and very tender compared to the old growth leaves. Harvesting is simple, just grip the new growth and pull it free from the branch, drop it in the bucket and continue. The work is simple but tedious, turning over branches and searching for every tip before moving on to a new branch. It takes a lot of spruce tips to fill a 5 gallon pail and a lot of 5 gallon pails to meet the Banded Horn Goal of 150 Pounds.
Once the cut tree was stripped clean we took a break for a beer and to weigh, bag and tag the harvest spruce tips. The large tree yielded about 30 pounds, buckets in hand we headed for the woods to forage for more. White Spruce had conveniently beer flagged out prior to the event to make it easier to identify from the fir trees that grew alongside them – the tips from a fir tree have a harsh, bitter flavor that doesn’t fit the flavor profile Banded Horn was looking for – another hour or so of picking yielded 20 pounds.
We didn’t meet the 150 pound goal but it was getting late and food was almost ready so we headed back to the house for refills of beer and lawn games – washers and cornhole – and social time. The attendees of this beer school had been to prior beer school events and already knew each other, instead of being with a group who didn’t know each other it was more like old friends showing up to a reunion.
Dinner was served, smoked pork that had been cooking all day with an assortment of salads and a special treat, battered and deep fried spruce tips which were incredible. Earlier in the day we were encouraged to taste the spruce tips, which initially are flavorless but once chewed release a burst of piney, slightly citrusy flavor with a tender, vegetal texture. After they were deep fried they became extra tender with a crispy flavorful batter, I would not hesitate order deep fried spruce tips at a restaurant if they were on the appetizer menu.
Beer School was a lot of fun, learning to forage for spruce tips and knowing as an attendee of this class we played a part in the brewing of Greenwarden, that’s the sort of thing a true beer geek loves to brag about. I would recommend checking out future beer school classes offered by the Maine Brewers Guild, it’s a great opportunity to interact with Maine brewers, expand your beer knowledge and make friends with other beer geeks.