Try This At Home: Spruce Beer

From American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, 1798.

Two friends of mine are attempting to make Spruce Beer, a very old recipe for homemade beer. In America’s early days, Beer was an indispensable household drink, being an important source of fresh water, calories, and in the case of spruce beer, vital nutrients received from the boiling of spruce branches.

Simmon’s recipe uses essence of spruce, which can be purchased in most brewing stores. Or, you can make your own by boiling spruce branches in with the hops, which is a great source of vitamin C. I’ve tried to make this recipe once before and it tasted like ass, but I made a few mistakes that my friends are correcting in their recipe.

Their photo slide show tells the story; they’re bottling their brew this Saturday, and tasting it in another couple weeks. I’ll give you the full report when I have it.

Spruce Beer


3 gallons distilled water
48 fl oz blackstrap molasses
2.5oz Fuggles hop pellets
1 tbs spruce essence
1 tsp yeast nutrient
1 packet Nottingham yeast


Stock pot with lid
Big Spoon
a few small bowls, such as Pyrex measuring bowls
Fermenter (lidded food-grade pail & bubbler)
Spray bottle with distilled water
small quantity of vodka

Sanitize everything within a 35 block radius. Put 2 gallons of water into stock pot. Add all molasses to the pot and stir until dissolved. Turn heat on and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. some time while the pot is heating place the third gallon of water and the spruce essence In the fermentor, shaking it vigorously for a few minutes (this adds oxygen into the water.) Once the water has reached a boil, add 2oz of hops pellets. There will be a hot break once the hops are added (the pot will foam) so spray the hot break with the spray bottle to keep it from foaming over. Dissolve the yeast nutrient in a small quantity of water. 5 minutes after the hops pellets were added, add the yeast nutrient. Continue to boil for 10 minutes.

Remove the pot from the stove and place in an ice water bath in the sink. Keep the lid on the pot at this point to keep contaminants out. Use the thermometer to monitor the temperature – once the temperature drops down to around 100 degrees, activate the yeast. Follow the directions on the packet, which will tell you to put the packet and a quantity of warm water in a small bowl and wait 15 minutes.

Pour the liquid contents of the pot into the fermenter, making sure not to dump the sludge from the bottom of the pot in too. Give the pot a quick rinse to get rid of the sludge. Pour (most of) the liquid back and fourth between the pot and fermenter 4-5 times to add more oxygen to the environment. The liquid should end up in the fermenter.

Pour in the activated yeast bowl into the fermenter. Put the lid on the fermenter. Fill the 2 chambers of the bubbler with vodka and insert it into the fermenter lid.

Place the container in a cool place, and wait a week. After 2-3 days if the bubbler is not happily bubbling away, you have likely done a disservice to your yeast and it is dead. You can grab another packet of yeast and get a good culture growing and then add it into the fermenter.

If it does bubble, you should spend this week reflecting on life and catching up on your favorite television episodes.

(thanks to Zaite and Mark S.)