Frequently asked questions
How many needles does the average Christmas tree have? Why aren’t all trees suitable for brewing? The answers to these questions and more, to help you decide whether to donate your tree this year, and to pick the right tree next Christmas…
On brewing with donated trees
Q: Which trees are suitable for brewing?
A: Any spruce that isn’t poisonous and hasn’t been treated with fire-retardant chemicals or sprayed with pesticides or artificial decorations is suitable for brewing – however, the flavour of your beer will differ depending on the variety of tree you use. Blue spruce, for example, has a fresh, citrussy flavour and aroma, while Douglas fir is characteristically Christmassy on the nose but much more subtle and grassy on the palate.
Q: How can I tell whether my tree is toxic or not?
A: Identifying which of the leftover Christmas trees we collect are toxic or otherwise unfit for consumption is our top priority before we start brewing – we’ve read up on how to identify different spruce varieties and have consulted different experts in this field. Larch trees and yew trees are both poisonous – yew trees contain taxine, a very powerful toxin that remains active even after the needles have been dried, cooked or preserved. Other poisonous species include Ponderosa Pine (also known as Blackjack, Western Yellows, Yellow Pine and Bull Pine), Lodgepole or Shore Pine, Common Juniper, Monterey Cypress, Common Yew, Norfolk Pine and Australian Pine. Luckily the Christmas tree varieties sold in the Netherlands are not toxic, so you’re very unlikely to have a poisonous species standing in your living room.
Q: How many trees do you need to brew Lowlander beer?
A: The yield of the average Christmas tree is between 30% and 50%: a tree measuring 1.70m and weighing 15kg will therefore provide us with between 4.5kg and 7.5kg of needles. So right now it is quite difficult to estimate how many trees we will need! As soon as we have collected all of the donated trees we will get to work drying the needles, steeping them, and making tinctures from them – we know exactly how to get the best out of them for our beer. Of course, we’ll keep you updated on our progress and let you know the final figures in January!
Q: What precautions do you take with the needles before you start brewing with them?
A: We only collect non-toxic, untreated trees that are fit for consumption. Nevertheless, all the needles that we pick will undergo a three-stage process to ensure there is absolutely no risk to consumers: first the needles are ‘purified’ in neutral grain alcohol; a second purification takes place in the brew kettle as part of our recipe; lastly, all our beers are pasteurised.
Q: Does my tree need to be organic?
A: When we started researching our Tree to Table idea, we spent a lot of time reading up on organic trees and investigating whether we would be able to brew with non-organic trees. The answer is yes – as long as the non-organic trees fulfil certain criteria, namely that they have not been treated with fire-retardant spray or sprayed with pesticides or artificial snow.
In actual fact, hardly any of the Christmas trees sold in the Netherlands can claim to be 100% organic. According to Milieu Centraal’s website, Christmas trees cultivated in an environmentally friendly manner, using as few pesticides as possible, do exist: these trees display the European organic-quality stamp (a green leaf) or the Planet Proof (formerly Milieukeur) symbol. Organic trees are available via adoption programmes; trees with the Planet Proof quality mark are only sold at a limited number of garden centres and growers.
Q: My tree has been toasty warm next to the radiator all Christmas – is that a problem?
A: Trees that have been stood outside in the fresh air yield much tastier and more aromatic beers than trees that have spent Christmas in a centrally heated house. That’s why we’ve also enlisted the help of bars, restaurants and other industry insiders who have had a tree out on the pavement over the Christmas season – trees we plan to collect from businesses include those decorating Amsterdam RAI and Horecava. We will let the trees we collect from you acclimatise to the outside world again before we harvest their needles, but you can help us (and your tree) by taking good care of it for the two weeks that it sits in your house. Give your Christmas tree about half a litre of water per day and don’t stand it too close to the radiator or fire. And remember that a cut tree has it a lot harder than a potted one whose root ball is still intact.
Q: What should I do if I’m not sure whether my tree is suitable for brewing?
A: If you’re not sure which species of Christmas tree you have, we’d rather not collect it, just to be on the safe side. If you still want to get involved in our Tree to Table project, you can donate to our crowdfunding campaign, treating yourself to something cool made from other people’s Christmas trees in the process. Find out more about Tree to Table events here.
On tree donation and collection
Q: Can I also donate my tree when I don’t live in The Netherlands?
A: Wow, who would have thought this Tree to Table campaign would spread across borders already… Thanks for your interest! Unfortunately as a small brewery we’re not equipped yet to drive around Europe, we wish ;-). It is definitely our Christmas wish to one day brew beer with spruce from all over Europe. Maybe next year?
Q: Until when can I donate my tree?
A: Tradition states that your Christmas tree should be out of the house by 6 January, so you will be able to sign up to donate your tree until that date. We will pick up the trees between 4-10 January; below you will find a table of pick-up dates and times per region.
Q: When will you pick up my tree?
A: The fantastic team of guys and gals who will collect the trees are planning to cover one region of the country per day. A region consists of a number of provinces; we’ve scheduled a three-hour time slot for each province.
Q: What if I’m not at home when you come to pick up my tree?
A: If you are in when we come to collect your tree, we will exchange it for a delicious, refreshing bottle of Lowlander beer. If you can’t be there for the collection, just leave your tree in a safe and easily accessible location – you can tell us where on the form.
Q: What do I need to do before I give you my tree?
A: Please ready your tree as much as possible for its destiny by stripping it of all its tinsel and baubles, and removing the pot. You can even pluck it for us if you like 😉
Other interesting tree-related bits and bobs
Q: Which varieties of Christmas trees are sold in the Netherlands?
A: Nordmann spars are the most widely sold and popular tree because they keep their needles for longer. However, that true ‘Christmas-tree smell’ is typical of the Douglas fir, a more expensive variety whose needles quickly fall off. Blue spruce and fine spruce are also popular Christmas trees in the Netherlands.
Q: What is the difference between a pine and a fir?
A: Both varieties belong to the conifer family, which also includes larch and yew trees. It’s very easy to recognise the different species: just look at how the needles grow on the branch. Fir trees have needles that grow individually; pine tree needles sprout from the branch in twos; larch tree needles sprout in clumps; and (highly poisonous) yew trees have red berries and needles that grow in a spiral around the branch. Check which type of spruce you’ve got this Christmas.
Q: How many needles does the average Christmas tree have?
A: Spruce trees have between two and 10 metres of branches per metre of height. Each metre of branch contains between 500 and 2,500 needles. So a two-metre-high Christmas tree produces anything from 2,000 to 50,000 needles!
Q: My question isn’t in this list, what can I do?
A: No problem! Email your question to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.