Christmas is over and soon you'll be seeing dead Christmas trees lining the sidewalks, waiting to go where dead Christmas trees go. Sometimes, it's into a chipper to be turned into mulch. Sometimes, it's into the landfill — but you wouldn't do that, right? Sometimes dead Christmas trees can serve a higher purpose, such as the trees that became makeshift dunes after Hurricane Sandy ravaged parts of the East Coast shoreline in 2013.
But before any Christmas tree reaches its final destination, it can have a chance at a second life — or at least its needles can. The needles can be snipped and used to create a spruce beer or ale. This may seem like some new hipster, DIY idea, but in reality, spruce beer dates at least back to the ancient Scandinavians, according to NPR. They believed it would give them strength in battle and increase fertility as well as combat scurvy. In the 18th century, the British Navy brewed spruce beer to help sailors combat scurvy, too. The needles have vitamin C in them, although modern scientists aren't convinced enough of the vitamin remains after boiling for the pine to work its scurvy-fighting magic.
Today, we don't need spruce beer to combat scurvy or increase fertility. And, if we want to drink spruce beer we can purchase it from a craft brewery. Philadelphia's Yard's Brewing brews Poor Richard's Spruce Ale based on Benjamin Franklin's original recipe. Delaware's Dogfish Head brews the spruce-infused Pennsylvania Tuxedo that "pays homage to the flannel-suited hunters and gatherers who dwell deep in the backcountry of north-central PA." And Alaskan Brewing makes a Spruce IPA brewed with Sitka spruce tips.
Making spruce beer, soda and more
So why bother making your own? For the same reason home brewers make any beer — it can be a fun hobby, a way of being self-sufficient or a way to make homemade gifts. There are several recipes online that explain how to add spruce tips from your dead Christmas tree (or from a live tree from your yard or the woods) to beer. Splendid Table has a recipe for Spruce Syrup that will give a piney flavor to drinks. The food website also includes a recipe to add the syrup to a brewed beverage they call beer but seems more beer-like. (Without hops, is it beer?) The syrup can also be added to seltzer to create a spruce soda. Kegerator has some more specifics about brewing spruce in traditional beer and explains it can be added to several styles including saisons, IPAs, stouts, porters, pilsners and ales.
If pine-flavor is your thing, but beer isn't, here are some pine cocktails made with pine simple syrup, that you can create from your Christmas tree instead:
- Infuse vodka with spruce needles and create a Pine-Infused Vodka Sour Cocktail that uses both the infused vodka and a pine simple syrup.
- The Evergreen Cocktail brings together gin, pine simple syrup and limoncello to create a winter cocktail.
- The Pine Old Fashioned gives whiskey lovers a reason to use their pine simple syrup.