This weekend, to celebrate our Battle of Black Creek Revolutionary War Re-enactment, Ed has brewed up a batch of Spruce Beer. Colonial soldiers learned from the First Nations peoples that spruce could prevent and cure scurvy: a scourge of mariners and soldiers alike prior to the 19th century. Scurvy was recognized as a disease caused by a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables, but it wasn’t understood to be caused by a deficiency of Vitamin C until 1932! Thus, while soldiers and sailors didn’t know that spruce was an excellent source of Vitamin C or why Spruce Beer kept scurvy at bay, they did know it was good for what ailed them! In North America, Spruce Beer was brewed in the home and on the march. Molasses, a source of both fermentable and unfermentable sugars, with a burnt sugar flavour similar to malt, could replace barley when soldiers were far from farmlands or when grain supplies were low. Spruce Beer was on order for the “Health and Conveniency of the Troops” under the command of British General Amherst in North America in 1759. He also authorized sutlers (merchants who travelled alongside the military) to brew as much as they desired to add to the supply (for more information about General Amherst’s forays in North America; check out his general orders to the troops, published in Commissary Wilson’s orderly book, available online here). His personal recipe is preserved in his journal, published by his descendents in the 1930s.
General Amherst’s Spruce Beer Recipe
Take 7 pounds of good spruce & boil it well till the bark peels off, then take the spruce out & put three Gallons of Molasses to the Liquor & boil it again, scum it well as it boils, then take it out the kettle & put it into a cooler, boil the remained of the water sufficient for a Barrel of thirty Gallons, if the kettle is not large enough to boil it together, when milkwarm in the Cooler put a pint of Yeast into it and mix well. Then put it into a Barrel and let it work for two or three days, keep filling it up as it works out. When done working, bung it up with a Tent Peg in the Barrel to give it vent every now and then. It may be used in up to two or three days after. If wanted to be bottled it should stand a fortnight in the Cask. It will keep a great while. – Journal of General Jeffrey Amherst
Ed’s brew uses barley and molasses from a later recipe, that was designed to produce a more palatable beer. Ed describes the beer produced by the above recipe as tasting like “drinking turpentine mixed with Vicks”. For those of you unfamiliar with Vicks, it’s an ointment with a powerful smell caused by two main ingredients – camphor and menthol. By our time period – the 1860s – Spruce Beer was still being made, but often with additional ingredients such as oils of sassafras, wintergreen, ginger and substantially less spruce. Recipes usually called for spruce oil, or essence of spruce – that is previously boiled and distilled spruce oil that could be purchased from the store – and less spruce oil than any other ingredient. Ed has tried to recreate the ‘hint of spruce’ style that was popular in the 1860s in this brew. Ed describes the brew as a complex Brown Ale with hints of pine, smoke, treacle (molasses) and oak. This year, he’s using an organic blackstrap molasses – very exciting! Ed’s Spruce Beer will only be available at BlackCreekPioneerVillage (not in the LCBO), and will be ready for sale beginning this Friday, June 15th, 2013. Why not celebrate Father’s Day by dropping by the Village and checking out the Battle of Black Creek and picking up a growler of Spruce Beer to take home!