The Fizz: Empire Bottling Works Spruce Beer

People make beverages out of nearly anything. Spruce beer is one proof of it.

Some sources claim that spruce beer originated with the Vikings; others say it was a tea made in winter by Native Americans in North America. The Iroquois, it is said, passed on this tea of steeped spruce needles

Just call it the chairman of the boards

Just call it the chairman of the boards

to French explorer Jacques Cartier in the 1500s to cure sailors who were sick with scurvy. By the 1700s, spruce tea was known to sailors on the West Coast and in Oceania for the same purpose.

Meanwhile, East Coast settlers had advanced to brewing beer from hops, molasses and spruce tips and branches. Eventually, the flavor was adapted as a soft drink.

How much vitamin C does a spruce beverage contain? Not much, according to modern researchers. In fact, if a sailor depended only on spruce beverages to reverse scurvy, he’d have to drink enough to float a navy.

It’s not easy to find spruce beer soda, but lucky us – Empire Bottling Works in Bristol, R.I., still makes it. Empire, established in 1930, is so small that it doesn’t have a website and it prints its address and phone number on its labels.

What’s in it: Artesian spring water, cane sugar, “extract flavor” (presumably of spruce), citric acid, sodium benzoate.

Appearance: Yellowish, milky, opaque with carbonation bubbles rising out of the murk.

Aroma: Sweet and spruce-y, reminiscent of the day we all sanded More

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