One of the most striking sensations during the first ski tour of the season is the smell of the trees. It's an undeniable fact that spruce trees smell better after the first few snowstorms of the year, and because skin tracks tend to wind through tight evergreen forests, it's easy to catch a whiff of that wonderful aroma that carries the feeling of being outside in the winter.
That feeling is enhanced tenfold in the spring, when the spruce trees have extended their reach by an inch or so with light green tips. My brother and I used to break off the new growth and chomp on pieces as we gained elevation, mimicking the deer that make frequent snacks out of spruce tips year-round.
When I discovered that Upslope's new early winter seasonal is an IPA brewed with real-life spruce tips, I knew I had to try it. Though I'm fairly partial to the German Beer Law and remain skeptical of any additive to beer that isn't water, malt, hops, and yeast, I can't think of anything less radical than adding spruce tips to a beer. Sure, lemon and orange peel have also been added, but given the current status of citrus flavors generated by hops alone, I figured the brewers just needed an extra bit of zest to even out the woody taste of the spruce.
I got my hands on a special preview release of the Upslope Spruce Tip IPA, and as it turns out, I was right. This delightful IPA is exactly that: an IPA. A bit dark in color, the nose is mostly citrusy, as one would expect from the expert IPA brewers at Upslope, with just the slightest hint of pine. The Simcoe and Cascade Hops rightfully take center stage, while the malty finish evens out the sharp hop flavor. It takes a good amount of warming on the tongue to get any woodsy taste to reveal itself, and if not for the can label's literature, one could drink this fairly even-keeled IPA completely unaware that this beer includes spruce tips or citrus peels.
That being said, I have a can already stashed in my pack for my next ski tour, and you can bet I'll add a spruce tip floater to heighten the flavor. Because if there's anything you can add to a beer to impress your ski touring partners, it's gotta be part of a tree.
Read more: Booze of the Month - Upslope Brewing Company
Upslope Spruce Tip IPA
Hops: Simcoe and Cascade
Color: Pale Amber
Aroma: Piney, Citrusy
Availability: November, December
Special ingredients: Spruce Tips, Lemon Peel, Orange Peel