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Beer may not grow on trees (a girl can dream…), but it can be brewed with them. Breweries are taking the locavore movement to new heights by incorporating ingredients sourced from local flora, like sap, needles, and cedar branches.
“I think the local aspect is super important,” says Neil Campbell, sales and distribution manager at Vancouver Island, British Columbia’s Tofino Brewing Co., which makes an easy-sipping Spruce Tree Ale. “Getting the ingredients from our backyard definitely provides an authenticity. It boils down to using unique, local ingredients that really speak to the West Coast lifestyle.”
Staff and friends walk by the lake, along the beach, and just across the road from the brewery to forage the approximately 55 pounds of spruce tips they need to brew the spring seasonal. The six-year-old brewery also makes a kelp stout using hand-ground local seaweed.
credits:"[Kyler Vos / Tofino Brewing](https://www.instagram.com/kylervos/)" width:850 align:center
A similar tradition has taken root more than 1,500 miles away in Skagway, Alaska, at Skagway Brewing Co. For their Spruce Tip Ale, the brewery team has a two-week window to harvest native Sitka Spruce tip buds -- a sustainable practice in which they essentially prune the tree. Using a blonde ale as a base allows the tips’ slightly sweet citrus flavor to come through in the beer. “If you don’t know that it’s a Spruce Tip Ale, you would never guess that there are parts of a tree in this beer,” says general manager Mike Healy. The crew also has plans to experiment with red spruce trees in the near future.
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On the other side of the continent in New Brunswick, birch trees are prevalent. Their sap takes the place of water in Big Axe Brewery's recipe for White Birch Porter. The four-year-old brewery sits on a 53-acre property that’s also flush with maple trees -- the sap from which (along with extra product from a nearby sugary) is a primary ingredient in their Maple Wheat Amber Ale.
With the sugar content of the sap fluctuating from year to year, each batch of these beers tastes slightly different. “People like the idea of us adding locally grown natural ingredients to our beer,” says Peter Cole, brewmaster and co-owner. “If it turns out well and gets a great reaction from our customers, then we keep doing it. We like experimenting.”
If experimenting with new beers is something you enjoy, too, give the following four tree-centric beers a try and let us know what you think. Just remember: the season for these brews is typically short, and most are only available at or near the breweries. But we promise they’re worth the effort.
A crisp and bright golden ale, this beer is cold-conditioned with fresh-picked Sitka spruce tips (around 17.5 pounds per batch) to add a subtle sweetness. It’s one of the beach town brewery’s most popular brews -- one that's released in the spring, typically runs out by late summer, and can only be found in British Columbia.
Nackawic, New Brunswick
The birch trees on Big Axe’s property provide the sap for this dark brown porter. “The sugar content from the sap gives it a little more full body and hints of vanilla as well,” says brewmaster Peter Cole. The Canadian brewery begins to make the White Birch Porter in February and March, and it’s usually gone by the end of April.
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Skagway Brewing Co. was founded in 1898, but after shuttering its doors for over 100 years, its current iteration has only been open since 2007. The brewery's Spruce Tip Ale was inspired by olden day tales of Captain James Cook brewing low-alcohol beer with spruce tips to prevent scurvy among his crew. Skagway’s version is a citrusy blonde ale in which spruce tips are substituted for one of the hop additions. The beer is only available in southeastern Alaska, so plan a trip to visit next winter when the brewery debuts a new location four times the size of its current space.
Visit Scratch Brewing Company on its 75-acre farm in southern Illinois, and you’ll immediately notice that this place isn’t just about beer: it’s about celebrating the local environment. In 2014, Outside named the brewery one of the top four breweries using foraged ingredients. Its Cedar Stout employs a combination of cedar and herbs grown in its on-site garden, while the Filé Saison is mashed through cedar branches.