How To Brew With Spruce Tips
It's almost spring, which means it's time to start brewing with spruce. Yes, spruce beers may seem like a holiday specialty, but the real trick to brewing a good spruce beer is to start in the spring.
This is because spring is when spruce trees get their new growth: the tiny yet luscious tips that make for a delightful brewing adjunct. You want to harvest the new tips when they are short (1/2 to 1" long) and light in color. They should also have a fresh, spring-familiar aroma.
You can harvest the tips of spruce trees at other times of the year and get decent results, no question. But more than likely you are going to end up with a beer that tastes mintier or earthier than you intend.
I usually collect about a 1/2 gallon of spruce tips for my beer. I've not weighed them, but am guessing this is the equivalent of about 4 oz. I prefer to add my spruce tips at flame out, as my primary objective is to achieve a great spruce aroma. This is the characteristic that is going to show through most favorably in your beer; a bit of spruce flavor will be OK but I wouldn't overdo it. Try chewing on your neighbor's spruce branches to make your own opinion.
I typically back off on my late addition hops when adding spruce. I dial down the flavor hops and cut out the aroma hops altogether. For your hop schedule, go with a clean bittering hop such as Magnum, and think about flavor hops that will best compliment your objectives. Piney Hops, such as Simcoe, may be a good choice, but you don't want to overwhelm. Citrus and floral hops can also compliment the spruce quite well. I'd also recommend certain English varieties such as EKG and Fuggles.
As far as beer style, you are limited only by your imagination. I've done a spruce IPA, which was very well received and one of my favorites. I'd also recommend a spruce porter, where the spruce will be a little more subtle and elegant.
Whatever you brew, be sure to give it a kick ass label as spruce beers are ripe for creative design!