Durango Living
- Page 10
Spruce up - Happy Hour
Steamworks celebrates 10 years of brewing beer with locally harvested spruce tips

Magazine Editor

In one sip, you can taste the essence of the forest. Steamworks Brewing Co.’s seasonal Spruce Goose beer is infused with fresh spruce tips.

It’s like Christmas in a glass.

This is the 10th year that Steamworks has offered the seasonal brew, which was launched Nov. 6. Head Brewer Ken Martin said the beer style is based on an English Old Ale.

“It works well with the integration of the flavors and aromas provided by the spruce tips,” he said. “The result is a robust malty beer with caramel and toffee notes, as well as a ‘cherry-candy like’ quality.”

Beers brewed with spruce and other varieties of pine were introduced to Scotland by the vikings. They would spike beers with fresh spruce tips to prepare for long sea voyages and adventures. The vitamin C in the greens helped prevent scurvy.

On launch night at Steamworks restaurant in Durango, one of the first-served glasses of the amber beer was complex, but the pine scent and flavor was subtle – not over the top. A sweet, toffee-malt aftertaste was pleasant, prompting another round.

Drinking Spruce Goose creates a warm and fuzzy feeling – and not just because of the 7.9 percent alcohol. A group of staff members gather the spruce tips near Little Molas Lake in late July.

“It makes for a fun day in the alpine, with an end result that we all really appreciate,” said Martin.

He said recipe has been the same throughout the years, but there are subtle differences from year to year, similar to a wine vintage.

“We as brewers always wait eagerly in anticipation of what this year’s crop will be like in flavor and aroma, and how that will integrate with the beer. Many brewers may not prefer to brew with that much uncertainty, but we enjoy it.”

Gift Idea:
Festive spirits are thoughtful hostess gifts. Consider giving locally produced Colorado Honey Whiskey from Honey House Distillery; or Soiled Doves Vodka from Durango Craft Spirits.

Culinary uses for fresh spruce tips
The key to cooking with the tips of evergreen trees is to harvest them when they first begin to emerge from their brown papery casings – usually in late July. At this stage, spruce tips are very tender and have a fresh flavor that tastes lightly of resin with hints of citrus.

Culinary uses include flavoring for salt, sugar, syrup, vinegar or a candied confection. The cookies below use finely chopped tips to evoke the warm, woodsy scent of a conifer forest.

Consuming spruce in any form comes with one warning: Don’t do it if you’re pregnant.


Makes about 4 dozen cookies
¼ to ½ cup fresh conifer needles
and/or tips – can use fir, Douglas fir, pine,
spruce, or substitute rosemary
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons orange zest
Pinch of salt
2 cups all-purpose flour

Finely chop the evergreen needles/ tips using a food processor, coffee or spice grinder, or high-powered blender. (You can also use a knife, but be sure to chop very finely.) The mixture may be a bit sticky and fibrous. Remove any large fibers or stray, whole needles.

In a large bowl, combine the evergreen needles/tips, butter, sugar, orange zest, and salt. Mix with a wooden spoon until creamy.

Gradually add the flour, mixing thoroughly after each addition to form a buttery ball of dough. You can mix with a wooden spoon, your fingers, or both. Divide the dough between 2 large sheets of parchment paper. Using the paper as an aid, roll each piece of dough into a 1.5-inch diameter log. Wrap in plastic and freeze for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°F.

Unwrap the dough and cut into ¼-inch thick rounds. Depending on the conifer you used and the grinding method, you may see little fibers sticking out from the edges of the cookies. These are harmless and fine to eat, but for prettier cookies you can take the time to pick them out or smooth them down before baking.

To bake, place the cookies 1 inch apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake until the edges are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.