Not "tip money" as in what you give a waiter, but "spruce tip" money - an odd item of local barter worth money in remote
Skagway, Alaska. Thanks to Dick Hanscom of Fairbanks for sending this BBC News article. -Editor
In May 2016, a year after moving his family to Skagway, Alaska, John Sasfai walked into Skagway Brewing Co. with his wife, Aelinn, and
ordered four pints of Spruce Tip Blonde Ale. But instead of pulling out his wallet, the guide for Klondike Tours put a 4lb sack of spruce tips on the
bar to pay his tab.
That's because in this town, the bounty he foraged from trees near Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park serves as a currency.
This village, with a year-round population just shy of 1,000, is notably remote - it's about 100 miles north of Juneau and 800 miles
south-east of Anchorage. And though stampeders established Skagway during the late-19th-Century gold rush, these days the nuggets of value are
plucked from the forest, not panned or mined. While spruce tips - the buds that develop on the ends of spruce tree branches - are only good for cash
at Skagway Brewing Co., bartering with spruce tips for food, firewood or coffee (which are delivered by barge once a week) is not uncommon.
Alaskan spruce-tip dealings began with the Tlingit tribe, who brewed the Vitamin C-rich tips into tea long before the arrival of British
explorers. But Captain James Cook, who visited Alaska in the late 1770s, famously concocted a distinctive spruce-tip beer to help prevent scurvy
among his sailors. The spruce tips are only tender enough to harvest for a week or two every year in spring, and though they're salutary as
ingredients in potables, spices and sauces, their antimicrobial quality also makes them popular in hand creams, salves and bug-bite ointments.
Because there's no commercial agricultural economy in Alaska, harvesting spruce tips is as close as people can get to living off the land for
profit, Hasskamp told me. During the summer high season, Skagway welcomes some 10,000 daily cruise passengers who come, in part, to savour various
spruce tip products such as the Spruce Tip Blonde Ale and spruce tip ice cream.
Until 2016, the going rate for a pound of spruce tips at the brewery was $4, or a pint of beer. After examining state liquor laws, Healy
determined the brewery couldn't legally offer beer as compensation, so in 2017, it switched over to a cash-for-spruce system and upped the
per-pound rate to $5. Most people will still spend that money directly on beer anyway, Clifford said, and the newly expanded brewing facilities will
help the brewery meet the uptick in demand for Spruce Tip Blonde Ale.
To read the complete article, see:
Wayne Homren, Editor
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