AT LAST a use for Christmas trees that is not purely decorative.
A Scottish brewer has taken the concept of the traditional festive beer to its logical conclusion by creating a drink from the tips of spruce trees.
Based on a Viking recipe, the Alloa-based Williams Brothers Brewing Company has produced Nollaig Festive Ale, which incorporates parts of the Christmas tree to give it a suitably Yuletide flavour.
The ale has proved so popular - all 800 bottles have sold out despite a hefty £13 price tag - that next year Williams Brothers will increase production to 10,000 bottles.
Brewery chairman Scott Williams said that the idea came from their interest in recreating ancient brewing techniques - most famously with their heather ale.
The spruce ale uses the tips of the tree, picked in spring when the growth appears, before brewing begins in April.
“It’s used as a spice,” Williams said. “Imagine you’re making a stew and the malted barley is the meat and gravy, the spicing usually from the hops. Here it’s the hops and the spruce. It goes into the boil and all the resins and flavours are extracted from the tips which are then fermented.
“So you have a malty, sweet characteristic from the barley, while the spruce is perfumey, but also quite resiny, so that adds feel to it, and the hops are bitter. The idea is that you get all three ingredients working in balance.”
Brewed at seven per cent strength, it varies from its ancient cousin in that Vikings relied on the drink to keep disease and illness at bay while they were at sea.
“We know they spiced their beers with pine and spruce because it’s got a lot of vitamin B and vitamin C, so it would protect them from scurvy,” said Williams. “They probably had a lot more spruce in it, to help boost vitamin levels.”
A Forestry Commission Scotland spokesman said of the recipe: “It can never be said that trees are not one of the most versatile things on the planet. They can help fight climate change, be used to build boats, buildings and refresh the parts that others can’t reach.”