In their ongoing search for new beer styles, Victoria’s Phillips Brewing has looked to history for their latest idea. According to their website, the explorer Captain Cook brewed spruce beer from a mixture of molasses and fresh Sitka needles when he first arrived in Nootka Sound in 1778. This was enough inspiration for the intrepid brewers at Phillips to undertake a modern version of the same.
5.5% ABV / brewed with spruce tips
Not much to report here: it’s golden and clear with a clean, white head and some lacing on the glass.
Very interesting. Not exactly what I was expecting (which was pine, I guess), but this has a very unexpected aroma that starts sweet and berry-like and then finishes with an earthy woodiness and a tinge of bitter rosemary right at the end.
The aromas are pretty much reflected in the flavour profile: a sweet sort of berry taste at the start that mellows into a woody/earthy flavour. I have to say that a few sips brought to mind Phillips’ flagship Blue Buck Ale, which made me wonder if they basically just added the spruce tips to a batch of Blue Buck.
Although the beer doesn’t seem that effervescent, there is initially a very tingly sensation which might come from the spruce somehow. It lasts a second or so and then turns into a tart sweetness. After a few sips, there is an unpleasant sticky resinous sensation on the tongue that persists.
As spruce beers go, this is only the second one I’ve tried after Tofino Brewing’s spruce-tip-infused IPA, which I tasted last year at Central City’s Summer Cask Festival. I loved that one, but it also used a very flavourful IPA as its base, whereas this one seems to be built off of Blue Buck, not one of my favourite beers to begin with. That said, I commend Phillips for taking a risk. And I gotta give them bonus marks for the top-notch label artwork.
Total Score: 17/25
Availability: This is a limited edition brew in 650-ml bottles only. You won’t find it in government liquor stores. Look for it in private stores in Greater Victoria and the Vancouver area, as well as right at the brewery.