In a world where consumers are kept at a distance from the stories behind much of the food they eat, people are becoming more and more interested in food production transparency. This goes for the beer world as well.
Earlier this year, consumers got upset when they discovered that Newcastle Brown Ale was being made with an artificial caramel coloring agent reportedly linked to cancer. The Heineken-owned company subsequently changed its recipe.
As food production anxieties grow, consumers are turning to local alternatives where transparency is as easy as driving to a farm and looking out at the fields of produce and cattle.
Many Maine brewers are making beer with locally sourced ingredients. Up and down the Pine Tree State, you can find beers made with local hops, grains, blueberries, cherries, ocean water and even oysters and kelp. Maine brewers are willing to get weird and wild with local ingredients, and Maine craft beer lovers gladly lap it all up.
In his Biddeford brewery, Banded Horn co-owner and head brewer Ian McConnell is using a local ingredient in his beer that abounds in Maine, though few, if any, brewers are using it. McConnell, a multi-generational Mainer, is using locally harvested spruce tips in place of flavor and aroma hops in his Greenwarden ale.
Before we break down the flavor profile of a spruce tip ale, let’s look at the story behind how these spruce tips were harvested.
On Saturday, the Banded Horn team hosted a picking party through the Maine Brewers’ Guild. The eager spruce tip pickers met at McConnell’s family land in Etna, where the host gave a summation on the history of spruce tips in brewing – it was a common ingredient in colonial beer – along with a tutorial on how to properly pick spruce tips from a tree. He then cut down a white spruce, and host and participants went to town. Branches from the felled spruce tree were used later in the evening for a bonfire. Along the way, beers were consumed, barbecue was eaten and 150 pounds of spruce tips were harvested.
There’s the story behind the beer, but what does the beer taste like?
Greenwarden follows an American ale recipe, so the malt backbone is light and refreshing, a great canvas for the hops and spruce tips. During the hop boil, when most craft brewers are tossing in copious amounts of hop pellets, McConnell only uses Summit hops at the beginning of the boil to impart a bitter piney flavor. For the remainder of the boil, spruce tips are used in lieu of hops. The result is a hop profile with a bright aroma and flavor that is, for a lack of a better descriptor, sprucy. The spruce flavor, however, is not overwhelming. The balance between the malts, hops, and spruce tips makes for a beer that rides that line between innovative and drinkable. This beer is crushable. Very crushable.
Last summer, Greenwarden was one of Banded Horn’s best selling beers. Look for a June 11 release date at the brewery in four-packs of bottles and in select bars on draft.
In our modern world rife with opaque food manufacturing practices, know that when you tip back a pint of Greenwarden, you’re drinking fresh Maine ingredients harvested on a spring afternoon by caring hands.
PROFILE: American ale brewed with Maine spruce tips
ABV: 5.6 percent
WHO: Banded Horn Brewing Co.
WHERE: 32 Main Street Building 13-W, Biddeford | www.bandedhorn.com
FIND IT: At the brewery on June 11 in bottles and growlers and in select bars
At select bars and restaurants in Portland
Saturday to Wednesday, mainerumriots.com
This five-day celebration of all things spirits is named after the 1855 Portland Rum Riots. If you want to be part of this cocktail extravaganza, head to the website to peruse the dozen events and map out your plan of attack. As a beer guy, I’m eyeing the Beer Baller, Shot Caller event on Monday night (location still to be determined). The rules of the competition: “You pair a shot and a beer. No other ingredients and no garnish. Winner takes all the glory.” Me? I’d pair Rising Tide’s Daymark Ale with New England Distilling’s Gunpowder Rye Whiskey.