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Spruce Beer

A golden, opaque beer fills a 250-milliliter stoppered bottle resting on a black marbled surface. The background is hazy and out of focus, with light coming through spruce trees.
Image: / Tim Nusog

Home brewing can be an intimidating but rewarding hobby to get into. All you really need to get started in it is a few pieces of basic equipment, including a carboy or jug, a cork and airlock, some food-safe sanitizers and some recipes. And while most home brewing involves making the traditional ales and lagers that define modern brewing, there are other recipes based on older, rarer styles of beer.

This wintry Puritan-style brew is one such deviation from the norm. Based on a recipe from the 1840 cookbook "Directions for Cookery, in its Various Branches" by Eliza Leslie, it was adapted by culinary historian and author Sarah Lohman. Brewed with real spruce branches, hops, dark maple syrup and no grains, it’s light, yeasty and dramatically different from modern beer.

However, before getting started, Lohman suggests that would-be home brewers get some basic homebrewing practice in. Her recommendation for those getting started is to purchase a one gallon home brew kit, which is what this recipe is designed for. Those usually come with some kind of basic recipe to with which to practice. From there, it’s on to new ideas like this Spruce Beer.


  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 gallon plastic bag full of spruce limbs (the tips and newer growth)
  • 1 cup dark maple syrup
  • 1/4 ounce hops (such as Willamette and Centennial)
  • 1 packet ale yeast
  • 6 raisins
  • 5 allspice berries, cracked (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger (optional)


  1. Boil water, hops and spices in a large pot for 20 minutes. Add the spruce limbs and boil for another 10 minutes. Strain the mixture through a mesh brew bag (if you have one) or a metal strainer. Let the liquid stand until it is warm.

  2. Sanitize a gallon glass jug (known as a fermenter). You can do this with a no-rinse sanitizer, found at brewing stores. Pour the warm spruce liquid into the jug; if using a funnel be sure to sanitize that as well. Add the yeast and the sugar. Cork the jug with a sanitized rubber stopper and an airlock. Store in a cool, dark place and allow it to ferment for 2 to 4 days, or until it stops bubbling.

  3. Sanitize your bottles (Lohman prefers 250-milliliter clip top stopper bottles, but you can bottle in traditional small beer bottles) by boiling them for 30 minutes and then letting them cool upside down. Put three raisins in the bottom of each bottle and fill with the liquid. (The original recipe claims that the raisins stop the fermentation process, but it’s mistaken; they’re to give the yeast one last meal, which carbonates the beverage once it’s bottled.)

  4. Allow to sit another two days, then chill.