Spruce up your shelves with an unusual beer revival

23 August, 2007


What exactly is spruce beer and is it available in the UK?


Spruce beer was a very popular drink in Georgian times and could be alcoholic or non-alcoholic.

Flavoured with needles and/or sap from a spruce tree, usually in place of hops, it was enjoyed by Jane Austen. It was also favoured by sea voyagers such as Captain Cook, who valued the high vitamin C content in spruce beer which made it a useful precaution against scurvy.

The style is still found in several parts of the world, generally in more northern climes.

It was introduced to Scotland by the Vikings and remained popular in the Highlands until a century or so ago.

Happily the style has been revived by Alba, whose Scots Pine Ale is available from various online suppliers, including beers-scotland.co.uk. According to that website: "Alba is a triple-style ale brewed to a traditional Highland recipe from Scots pine and spruce shoots pickled during early spring.

"Pure malted barley is boiled with the young sprigs of pine for several hours then the fresh shoots of the spruce are added for a short infusion before fermentation."

The result is a "tawny brown strong ale with spruce aroma, rich malt texture, complex wood flavour and lingering finish". The beer has an abv of 7.5 per cent and is best drunk at room temperature from a wine goblet as an after-dinner digestif.

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Lifting the spirits

I were to sum up alcohol sales over Christmas 2017 in one word, it would be “gin”. At Nielsen, we define the Christmas period as the 12 weeks to December 30 and in that time gin sales were £199.4 million, which means they increased by £55.4 million compared with Christmas 2016. There’s no sign the bubble is about to burst either. Growth at Christmas 2016 was £22.4 million, so gin has increased its value growth nearly two-and-a-half times in a year. The spirit added more value to
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