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Never one to go for understatement, Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione outdoes himself when describing the newest seasonal offering to come out of his Delaware-based brewery.

Pennsylvania Tuxedo, says Calagione in a video posted on the company’s website, “smells like Paul Bunyan’s cologne” and “tastes like tongue-kissing mother nature.” Ok then.

Putting aside whatever experiences led to that latter comparison (we’re not gonna go there), Calagione’s sensual similes make sense. The beer, a collaboration with 187-year-old outdoor clothing company Woolrich, is a pale ale brewed with fresh spruce tips — as in, real bits of new growth tree, harvested by hand last spring in the forests of Central Pennsylvania surrounding Woolrich’s factory.

The forests play a part in the name of the beer, too. A “Pennsylvania Tuxedo” is the name given to the black-and-red woolen outfit woodsmen used to wear to keep warm when hunting. Specifically, per Woolrich, the “503 Hunt Plaid Wool Jacket and Pants.” (Although the head-to-toe plaid is no longer really in style, you can order the top half of the ensemble, plus a version of it emblazoned with the Dogfish logo.)

First created in 2014 as a brewpub exclusive that only poured in Dogfish’s Rehoboth tavern, Pennsylvania Tuxedo is now available in wide release — including here in Philly.

YouTube video

Fun backstory aside, is the beer any good? Happily, the answer is yes. A Paul Bunyan-sized yes, even — because it’s not cloying or sweet or any of that stuff you might associate with “spruce beer.”

On the nose, you don’t smell the conifer at all. In fact, you can hardly place the flavor when you take a sip, although there’s an obvious ~something~ there that gives the regular hop resin-pine flavor an extra-bright kick.

Asked to guess what that unusual ingredient was, a taster could not identify it. “Mint? No… Orange? Nah… Ginger? Hmm, wait, I can get this…”

It’s the spruce tips. Since they were added at the very end of the boil, they don’t contribute a lot of bitterness. Overall, the beer is crisp and aromatic, with a slight lingering of citrusy flavor as it goes down your throat. It’s also very light in feel for its 8.5 percent IBV — a number at the high end of where a double IPA usually rings in.

The finish is so clean, in fact, that it’s almost dangerously easy to drink. Which also hearkens back to the beer’s inspiration.

Apparently, in the mid-19th century, Michael Bond Rich, grandson of Woolrich founder John Rich, had a run-in with spruce beer. A barn raising was delayed two days because of rain, and the beer prepared as a refresher for workers helping out ended up getting extra potent. “As it was accessible to me,” Bond Rich reportedly recalled, “I drank quite freely and, when later on I stooped over to get a drink from the spring, I fell in headfirst and was too much intoxicated to get out.”

So forewarning: Don’t plan on taking a swim after you drink Pennsylvania Tuxedo. But do seek it out before it disappears until next fall.

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Danya Henninger

Danya Henninger is director of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the...