The Significance of Spruce Beer in 18th Century Expeditions

Greg Evans, Executive Director, Maritime Museum of British Columbia, Discussing the significance of spruce beer in 18th century expeditions.

Maritime Museum of British Columbia

© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia


I believe that spruce beer played quite a significant role in voyages of exploration on the Pacific coast. Particularly with British explorers who knew from experience that water taken on board ships was often rancid, skunky and slimy by the time two or three months of the voyage had passed. Therefore, realizing that that was not a nutritional drink they looked for other means to encourage and ensure that the health of their crew was paramount. One nutritional item was spruce beer. So Royal Navy ships and British ships of exploration would take malted barley on board along with a yeast and hops for brewing on board. When they got to the Pacific Coast, they would take the young needles of the spruce tree or indeed the bark as well they would also use that as a seasoning and a flavouring and they believed at that time that it had preservative qualities and had nutritional value. Whether or not they understood vitamins C and B in those days, I’m not sure but we do know now that vitamins C and B was present in spruce beer.

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