Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Bière d'épinette

I understand that the more temperate zones of the world are sweltering under a heat wave from Hell. I'll have you know right now we sensible ones are cool, calm, relaxed and sweat-free up here where the outside temperature is a reasonable and sane 12 degrees Celsius, or 54 degrees for you Fahrenheit fans. All the comments over the past few months of "Holy fuck! How could you possible live up in the Arctic?" seem so satisfyingly misguided right now. Suffer.

My favourite summer drink as a youngster was spruce beer, which, like root beer and ginger ale, contains no alcohol. Never mind, it is an amazingly refreshing soda pop with an ironic pedigree. You see, when the original French Canadian settlers had to winter over in Quebec with only salted or brined food, they started to develop scurvy and other diseases which were the result of vitamin C deficiency. The French, unlike English arctic explorers a couple of centuries later, actually had the common sense to listen to the locals how they could best deal with this debilitating condition.

The locals in this instance were Huron, Montagnais or Iroquois, who pointed out that by boiling the bark of conifers they could produce a broth which had amazing curative qualities. Now the French, again like their Anglo counterparts, again had the common sense to add yeast to the concoction, which produced the first alcoholic beverages in North America, much to the detriment of the Huron, Montagnais, Iroquois and a host of other First Nations.

Over the intervening centuries, spruce beer in Quebec lost its alcohol - thank you very much, Catholic Church - and has been a carbonated beverage for almost a century.

Spruce beer can only be described to the uninitiated as like sucking on a liquid 2" x 4". It is heavy - no, that's too weak a term - it is positively overpowered by the flavour of pine. It is like taking a pint of Pine-sol™ and adding a couple of pounds of refined sugar. But for some strange reason, it is incredibly revivifying when the forges of summer incinerate your soul and sap (pardon the pun) all your strength.

Sadly, as in many childhood favourites like real licorice, the homogenizing iron of "modern times" has squeezed out character and uniqueness in favour of the bland and conventional. Quebec is the last place on earth (and I would like to be informed otherwise) of this bizarre soda. A few years ago Crush marketed spruce beer here, but seem to have dropped it. Now it only seems to be a private brand or made and sold in corked bottles in small "Mom and Pop" restaurants, such as those on Notre Dame in the St-Henri district of Montreal.

So, is there any beverage of your youth now regretfully missing from your area? And, Americans, please explain to me the difference between root beer and sasparilla.


Blogger Annie Drogynous said...

Birch Beer. It's soda, reddish in color, like a cross between Dr Pepper and Cherry Coke but 10 times better!

6:59 AM  
Blogger nanuk said...

Blair Bitch - kewl!! Is it still available in Georgia?

4:59 PM  
Blogger Fuff said...

Fancy a swap in weather for a couple of days Nanuk?

5:30 PM  
Blogger nanuk said...

Fuff - not on your life!!! I honestly think my blood has become quite thick up here and I can no longer tolerate the heat. But you and yours are welcome anytime.

7:07 PM  
Blogger merlinprincesse said...

I HATE JULY AND JANUARY. hehhheheheh! De la bière d'épinette!?! Je ne savais même pas que ça existait! When I was young my fav was Strawberry Crunch. De la liqueur aux fraises... And Cream Soda... Now I drink Perrier and San Pellegrino. AM I SNOB SIR? I don't think so sir! Just that I find sodas too sweet! :) And I envy your Summer. Yes.... I would like the weather to be a perpetual 15 degrees! *sigh*

10:56 PM  
Blogger nanuk said...

The one soft drink I cannot stand is Cream Soda. What kind of flavour is it supposed to be in the first place? And it is so sweet.

3:26 AM  
Blogger DutchBitch said...

I miss Ranja met een Rietje...

4:41 AM  
Blogger merlinprincesse said...

I was young and naive, Nanuk! :)))) I'm unable to drink it NOW! It's a kid's beverage.... And your are right. What flavour is it supposed to be... Soda à la crème? Yeech!

7:35 AM  
Blogger marty said...

Cel-ray soda. Dr. Brown is/was the brand and this is/was soda that has the flavor of celery.

I haven't seen it in years. I don't remember ever buying a can. I just knew it existed and might have tasted it a couple of times.

10:57 AM  
Blogger Annie Drogynous said...

Nanuk, sadly no. It's only available in the Pennsylvania/Philly area and even then, it's kinda' hard to find. Some restaurants have it, some supermarkets and other times you have to go to Amish country just to find it.

1:14 PM  
Blogger Fuff said...

Thanks Nanuk, but I'm sure you could do with a few degrees more...
I agree on the cream soda, ew.

7:23 PM  
Blogger RisingSlowly said...

Cor! This blog is really good.

4:28 AM  
Blogger Nobody said...

What the hell is the difference between root beer and sasparilla? I've been wondering about that for years.

11:14 AM  
Blogger Anna said...

I miss grape crush from my childhood, also known in my world as purple coke. I doubt I'd enjoy it as an adult, but I sure liked it then.

I also miss rootbeer(which I do like as an adult) in a big way. It's not sold in Ireland.

Wintermint, although not sold in soda form that I know of, is a flavour not found here either; I miss that too.

Heatwaves, which also aren't found here (although the Irish among us have been dying in the glorious weather we've been having the past couple of weeks) are not missed.

12:33 PM  
Blogger The Wrath of Dawn said...

It's not a soft drink that I miss, but a soft drink flavoured Popsicle. I have never, ever seen a root beer Popsicle in Newfoundland, but in New Brunswick, they have them at every corner store (or they did not long ago). Yum.

Uou can get birch beer here, but it's not in every store. You can also get pineapple soft drink. Ick.

2:58 PM  
Blogger The Wrath of Dawn said...

You can also get it. Let Uou get his own.

2:58 PM  
Blogger Scarlett said...

I think you Canandians would melt down here. Can't we compromise and blend our weather so your not so damn cold in the winter and we're not so damn hot in the summer?

3:44 PM  
Blogger Mr. Fabulous said...

I miss Birch Beer, which was kind of like...hmm...I'm not really sure. It wasn't sasparilla or cream sode, but it was kinda related...

6:06 PM  
Blogger The Phosgene Kid said...

The recipe for Spruce Beer sounds pretty close to the one they use for making turpentine.

6:59 PM  
Blogger CCCCppppCCppp said...

tell marty we got Dr. Brown's cel ray lass than a year ago

unless it was realy old i guess they still make it

8:53 PM  
Blogger The Phosgene Kid said...

I hear that beer goes well with a stack of sawdust pancakes!

1:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a great site european sailing cruise Americans average credit score Voip compare adapters Distance learning human resources management quali Big tit ebony pornstar conference calling how long after last clomid pill ovulate Incorporate in minnesota home based businesses aloha print seat covers

4:20 PM  
Blogger said...

nanuk: grew up drinking creme soda in quebec and montreal, as well as biere d'epinette. loved both. also all the breads, pastries and yummy foods gramma used to cook! things just used to taste better then didn't they? not sure if i would still eat like that now. but childhood memories are so wonderful. i do remember opening the bottle of spruce beer though and remembering it smelled like my cedar chest!! lol

4:46 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home