As soon as is it humanly possible after the fermentation process is over, bottling begins. There is no harm in leaving the fermented beer inside of your carboy/fermentation vessel for a little while considering that the alcohol generated by the frenzied activity by the yeast post-fermentation now acts as a natural preservative, but the longer one waits to bottle the longer one is going to have to wait in order to sample the finished product. I could hardly wait, and at sometimes I almost, nearly, couldn’t. Walking past all that (hopefully) delicious beer almost everyday and knowing that it wasn’t yet ready to be savored is a tribulation and test of personal endurance that I’m sure every home brewer can relate to.
Short of investing in and installing a draft system with your own CO2 tanks (something that I might actually do one of these days) there really isn’t a way to speed up the carbonation process and it usually takes a bottle of beer around 10 days to 2 weeks at around 65-70°F to carbonate, give or take a few days on either end of the scale depending upon the style you are brewing and the amount of/type of sugar you added. It is exactly 2 weeks ago today (January 21st 2015) that I bottled my new-and-improved Winter Sprucer recipe and so I made the executive decision to crack one open and give it a try (If you haven’t read up on the brewing process for this particular recipe you can check that out in my previous article right here)
One of the other benefits of bottling is allowing yourself to have a sneak preview of your finished product, although what your sampling most likely doesn’t have any of the subtle flavors and aromas that haven’t had a chance to mellow out and develop inside the bottle. This unfinished beer is also flat, so what you are trying is certainly not a close representation of what you ought to expect once you try one of the finished bottles, but I find that I can’t handle not knowing how I had done and so decided to sample a wee bit. Besides being uncarbonated and warm, it had a pretty ridiculous flavor that definitely due to the addition of flash-frozen spruce twigs throughout and after the boiling process. This kept my hopes up that I had gracefully stumbled upon a winning adjustment to the original Sprucer.
Now, as I sit before the computer with a Winter Sprucer 2.0 in hand and take my first few sips, I am absolutely blown away but what it is exactly that I have unleashed upon myself. What really surprised me was how well I had managed to accentuate the unique but potent flavor and aroma of spruce but also pair that nicely with some of the other ingredients and components of the beer. I was deathly afraid of overdeveloping the spruce at the expense of all the other additives but I don’t think hat’s the case. Bold, resinous spruce is definitely the dominant character, but the Simcoe and Pacifica hops add to a ‘flavor-scape’ of damp woodlands filled with fern and moss coated boulders.
The aroma is fresh, fairly well-balanced, spicy and fruity, not unlike apricots, gooseberries or under-ripe mangoes mixed with freshly cut conifer needles. The flavor is bright and astringent due to the turpentines in the spruce needles. The aftertaste is unique and exceptional; a cooling, almost menthol or toothpaste-like flavor mixed with sweet resin and mounds of orange rinds. The carbonation is light and fizzy, the color of the beer a bright, glowing amber gold. I am very pleased with these results.
As an added twist and side project to this recipe I added a few older, mature spruce twigs about 3-4 inches long that I lightly bruised into around half of the bottles right as I was capping them. I feel that the natural yeast on the spruce needles (as well as the needles themselves) will add more flavor and carbonation to the beer compared with the controls, i.e. the bottles which don’t have any needles in them. Or I could be way off and there may be no measurable difference, but there was only one way to find out. A few extra minutes of effort could contribute to a lifetime of gain. Who knows.
In conclusion, as pleased as I am with the way that this beer turned out, there is always and should always be room for further experimentation and development. I am happy with the amount of spruce and how noticeable it is in the beer, but feel that there are many more hop varieties out there to have fun with and see if they are able to compliment and/or improve the flavor of this recipe and also get along with the possible unpredictability of spruce. I’ll be sure to keep you all posted once I get started on another batch, Winter Sprucer 3.0, and by my estimates at the moment that will likely occur sometime around May or June when the 2015 wave of fresh spruce tips are emerging. Since I used frozen spruce tips for this recipe I can hardly wait to taste and experience a beer made with spruce collected the morning of the brew day.