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Campbell River brewery captures flavour of Baikie Island in spruce tip ale

Proceeds from beer donated to Baikie Island restoration
A handful of spruce tips from Baikie Island give the beer a unique flavour. Photo supplied by Beach Fire Brewing

What if you could help save the planet and enjoy a tasty beer at the same time?

Beach Fire Brewing has partnered with Greenways Land Trust for the fourth year running to bring the taste of Baikie Island to the brewery. The Baikie Island Spruce Tip Ale is the result, a crowd favourite that also gives back to help with restoration efforts on the island.

“(Greenways) got some of their people to go out and harvest spruce tips from the Baikie Island estuary. They are in charge of the stewardship of the island and are trying to rehabilitate it back to the forested state. They pick the spruce tips off, which doesn’t harm the trees, and we make a donation of partial proceeds of the beer,” said Darrin Finnerty, owner and brewer at Beach Fire.

Baikie Island was purchased in 2000 by the Nature Conservancy of Canada and transferred to the city a year later under a covenant that the city would protect and manage the property as a nature reserve. The area serves as an important ecosystem for salmon, waterfowl, migratory birds and other native species integral to the well-being of our natural environment.

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Greenways Land Trust volunteers picked spruce tips on the island over the course of the spring, dropping off their harvest a bit at a time. Finnerty said that in all, they put about 25 kg of spruce tips in the beer. They also save a bit of spruce tips for some more interesting beers that will come out in the winter.

“It’s obviously spruce-y, but it’s got a really citrus-y character to it. Back when settlers were coming to North America, I guess there was a lot of spruce beers. They didn’t bring hops over with them yet, so they used what they could find and spruce was one of the favourites. Lots of vitamin C in it too, that really helped the sailors ward off the scurvy,” he said.

“It’s a pale ale. It’s not too hoppy, there’s actually very little hops in it. Just a tiny bit to balance it out, other than that it’s all spruce,” he added. “Other spruce beers use hops and spruce, but we really wanted to use just the spruce tips and see what they tasted like on their own.”

From every pint of Baike Island Spruce Tip Ale sold, Beach Fire donates 25 cents to Greenways. That works out to about $600 by the time the batch is sold out.

“It’s one of the fastest-selling seasonal beers that we do,” Finnerty said. “In less than a month it’ll be gone. People get really excited for it and everybody’s bugging us to make it more often. Spruce tips are only out at one time of the year. Then it would lose its novelty if we did it more often too, so it’s kind of fun to do it one time of the year.”

Novelty is not in short supply at Beach Fire, however. A few years ago, Finnerty felt the need to experiment a bit with the beers he brews. He started a “small batch Tuesday” at the brewery, which lets him take some chances and make some very unique beers.

“We can try something weird and if it doesn’t work out then it’s no big deal and no real loss. We’ve got a real following with our Tuesday small-batch beers,” he said. “When we first opened, it was one of the quieter days of the year, but we started doing the small batches on Tuesdays and it became one of our busiest days of the week. We have a lot of people coming in on Tuesdays because they don’t want to miss out on the weekly special.”

The Spruce Tip Ale was the base for this week’s small batch. He added some juniper, orange peel and other botanicals to turn it into a Gin and Spruce ale. This is only available on Tuesday, June 15.

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25 cents from each pint will go towards the restoration of Baikie Island. Photo by Marc Kitteringham / Campbell River Mirror