Banded Horn Brewing Company’s Greenwarden

Beer Reviews by | Aug 2017 | Issue #127

Spruce tips are certainly not the first ingredient that comes to mind when thinking about brewing. Although with the growth of extreme brewing, I’ve heard of and tried more beers that use this subtle flavoring. The latest example I was lucky enough to stumble upon at my local packie is Greenwarden from Biddeford, Maine’s Banded Horn Brewing Company.

According to founder Ian McConnell, the name draws from the high fantasy element suggested by the overall brand identity. “I had originally envisioned the Greenwarden as an elf-like creature who protects the northern forest,” he says.

Greenwarden is a pretty good-looking brew, with a pale amber hue and some froth on top like every other Pale Ale out there. At first the spruce aroma and flavor come off a bit mild, but sip after sip my senses realize that the spruce is everywhere and remains on the palate pleasantly. It’s not unlike other beers that may have a piney flavor from the hops used, though the spruce doesn’t result in growing bitterness. Instead, it’s more of a lingering softness that tells you that you aren’t just tasting a tree—there’s a lot more depth.

“My intent was to utilize an ingredient that was both Old World and locally available, and feature it in a modern beer style,” explains McConnell. “We use spruce tips to replace about 95 percent of the flavor and aroma hops in a clean, pale Amber Ale. The goal here is to really let the spruce shine through.”

This unusual ingredient is not something you can just grab from your local grocer, but perhaps try your backyard if you homebrew. “Originally the tips were sourced from my family’s land in Etna, Maine,” says McConnell. “Since demand has grown so much for Greenwarden, we have begun to manage the land there as a spruce forest. We also planted 60 trees at The Farm in Saco, Maine, and harvest tips annually from Pierson’s Nursery in Dayton.”

Given that spruce tips are seasonal, and because Banded Horn only wants to use fresh cuttings, this beer is brewed in limited quantities. That said, it’s still possible to find some cans through the summer if you look hard enough. By far one of the most drinkable versions of a spruce beer I’ve had, and very much worth the hunt.

Banded Horn Brewing Co. | Biddeford, ME
STYLE: American Pale Ale
ABV: 5.6%
AVAILABILITY: Rotating (Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, typically in June and July.)
Look: 3.75 | Smell: 4 | Taste: 4.25 | Feel: 4 | Overall: 4
Jason’s Score: 4.09/5