It’s The Most Wonderful Time For Tree Beer

By John Gillooly, Brewmaster
December 10, 2018

EVERY FAMILY HAS THEIR OWN TRADITION...

In January of 2013, the then still gestating Faction Brewing Company, led by former Drake's Brewmaster Rodger Davis, came up with a beer idea. It was early January, and discarded Christmas trees lined the streets. What a waste of awesome pine flavors and aromas! They'd be perfect in a beer! Unfortunately, Faction still wasn't up and running, so Rodger reached out to us down here at Drake's to set up what would be the first brew ever by Faction Brewing – Tree Beer!

The base beer was a pretty basic IPA – a little light caramel malt, some Citra and Amarillo (not a ton), some dextrose to dry it out. To this, Rodger added ~40 pounds of chopped up fir branches to the kettle, which imbued the beer with deep pine/resin flavors. The beer was released during SF Beer Week 2013, and was a bit of a sensation. It also blew out of our tap room at a pretty brisk rate. Success!

I vowed never to brew it again.

Sure, the beer was great – but the cleanup? Boiled fir branches cauterized to the bottom of the kettle; sap stuck in clumps – a mess that took hours to clean.

So, I let 2014 pass without brewing a "Tree Beer"

... unfortunately, people remembered, and it was clear for 2015 that I would be brewing Tree Beer again. We thought about how to do it, and we pulled out the Hop Back – a device traditionally used for infusing hop flavors into beer. Why not use it for spruce/pine/fir? Because of the configuration of the Hop Back, we weren't going to fit a tree in there, so we used a combination of spruce tips, juniper berries and a Christmas wreath. It worked quite well process-wise, but was a bit more... subtle than the initial brew, and was dubbed "Needs More Tree" *SIGH* – try again next year.  

In late 2015, we went back to the same process as above (using the Hop Back for the flavor infusion), again using spruce tips and juniper berries – and adding leaves and branches foraged in Redwood Park by staff Brewer (and Botanist) Molly O’Brien, along with some whole leaf hops. This replicated the missing aromatics of the initial brew (with some added character) – but at a price. One of the branches Molly foraged was Bay Laurel, which has huge anti-fungal properties. This caused the beer not to ferment initially, and much yeast and O2 was added to finally get it going (to the amusement of staff Brewer/Biologist Roxanne Fernandez, who diagnosed the problem). But it worked, and was quite excellent.

At this point we had a thing going, so 2016 was more of the same (without the Bay leaves), and again – pretty happy beer. Molly was gone for 2017, so we dropped the forage (not wanting to poison anyone), and increased the hops. We wanted to keep this beer's IPA roots front and center, and refocus on the interplay between the spruce notes and the hops aromatic elements. And that is where the beer landed this year. It's an IPA with spruce elements (no more Tree – Just the Tip!) with the hop (primarily Chinook) and spruce resins combining for an awesomely refreshing and balanced glass of pine forest.