Cocktail & Other Recipes By Spirit Other Cocktails

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. / Tim Nusog

Home brewing can be an intimidating but rewarding hobby. All you really need to get started 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, this beer is light, yeasty and dramatically different from modern beer.

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


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


  1. Boil the water, hops, allspice berries and ginger 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 cool 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. If using a funnel, be sure to sanitize that as well. Pour the warm spruce liquid into the sanitized jug. Add the yeast and the maple syrup. 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 two bottles (Lohman prefers 250-milliliter clip top stopper bottles, but you can bottle in traditional small beer bottles). Do so by boiling them for 30 minutes and then letting them cool upside down. Invert the bottles right-side-up, and then 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.