Jeremy White put a taster glass of The Silver Tart beer in front of me. I found the pink colour curious, but was even more curious about the story because… Jeremy had used “history,” (as if it were an ingredient,) in the making of this beer.
The Silver Tart – Big Spruce Brewing
Jeremy began his organic microbrewery in Nyanza, Nova Scotia in 2013. He was working at developing different brews when Lorna MacDonald, a summer theatre director, approached Jeremy about producing a beer to be served in conjunction with an upcoming production. The Belles of Baddeck portrayed some aspects of the life of Alexander Graham Bell (the inventor of the telephone,) and his wife Mabel
Rather than just slapping a unique label on one of his beer bottles, Jeremy decided to base his new brew on some fact of historical significance.
After searching in the museum archives, Jeremy learned that Alexander Graham Bell enjoyed drinking raspberry cordial made from shrub. Making shrub is an old method of preserving overripe fruit. It is used as a base for a refreshing drink. (see recipe at end of article.) Jeremy experimented with different fruits, but he found the best taste to add to his beer was a raspberry flavour.
When completed, it was named The Silver Tart, rhyming with the name of Graham Bell’s first plane – The Silver Dart.
Jeremy says, “It has become the summer rage of craft beer.” This beer is produced using the same methods as the others but before completion he adds 120 lbs. of raspberries to each vat for another 10 days of polishing.
As I sipped my sampler on a hot East Coast day, refreshing and tart were the tastes I sensed. I could envision Alexander Graham Bell sipping Raspberry Cordial with his beloved wife on their lawn overlooking the Bras D’Or Lakes.
The Tip of the Spear
In 2013, the site of Fortress Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, celebrated its 300th anniversary. This fortress (fort and town,) was one of the busiest ports in North America and was originally built by the French in 1713 and taken over by the British for the last time in 1758. During its glory days, the French upper class enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle but the lower class lived with the basic necessities of life. Beer played an important part in their daily diet, and as it was a safer option it was consumed more often than water.
The Mi’kmaq First Nations peoples drank spruce tea and taught early settlers to use spruce to prevent the disease known as scurvy, that had killed so many during the early days of settlement.
Again, the Big Spruce Brewing company was approached to produce a custom beer to be served for the anniversary. Sold in a unique brown bottle, the story of the original Louisbourg brewery is on the back of the bottle.
Jeremy started to research and found information in old records that supported his plans to base a beer on a fact of history.
The brewery at Fortress Loiusbourg made spruce beer and in the 1750’s records inform us that 4000 barrels were produced for the garrison of 2000 troops. The records that were written by the French were highly detailed and were destroyed by the British when they took over the Fortress, however, fortunately a second set of every record kept was sent to France. Those records paint a vivid picture of life in the Fortress.
Beer was originally made by using black spruce tips, that were collected from mid June to mid July. They were mixed with molasses and fermented in barrels.
Big Spruce was able to recreate a beer reminiscent of the flavours of the brew that soldiers drank in the 1700’s – a valuable contribution to the 300th anniversary.
Recipe for Spruce Beer
Spruce Beer – from the Hannah Jarvis Cookbook, health remedies, c.1811. By Hannah Jarvis.
Boil some spruce boughs whiteout bran till the water tastes sufficiently strong of the spruce. Strain the water and stir in two quarts of molasses to half a barrel. Work it with yeast. When sufficiently worked bung it up or bottle the contents.
Recipe for Fruit Shrub
Use 5 cups of fruit that is overipe but not mouldy. Add 4 cups of sugar to the mashed fruit and let sit 24 hours. Strain juice from the mashed fruit. Add an equal amount of red wine vinegar and bottle. Store for 4 weeks. This mixture is delicious added to cocktails or soda water and ice.