According to legend, bottles hung on tree branches trap evil spirits at night, and dawn’s first light destroys them. The idea dates back a few thousand years, and is believed to have originated in the Middle East, then passed on to Africa, and eventually to Europe and the southern United States during the slave trade.
Fred Block, founder of Tryon, N.C.’s BottleTree Beer Co., stumbled upon his first bottle tree in 2002 while researching Southern folk art. At the time, he was looking for a symbol to represent his homebrewing hobby, and although the bottle was a natural parallel to his beer, he felt a deeper connection: It was less than a year since Sept. 11, when “people were looking for something good, and to ward off evil,” and the bottle tree was just that. Block created a website to share his newest BottleTree homebrewing projects online, and traffic spiked. Pictures of bottle trees old and new flooded his mailbox, and Block suddenly found himself a de facto documenter.
A full-time engineer, Block launched BottleTree Beer Co. in 2010, with its sole beer, Blonde, produced at Thomas Creek Brewery just across the border in South Carolina. Today, his beer company distributes bottle tree lore across the South. Though juggling two careers, Block recently found time to add to his lineup: Red, an imperial amber, is due out in November. –Christopher Staten
THE 3-STEP BOTTLE TREE
1. Collect bottles. Go monochromatic with identical green bottles, or use a hodgepodge collection of different shapes and sizes. Remove labels, and rinse each bottle.
2. Find a frame. Large fallen branches and dead trees make for rustic-looking bottle trees; select ones with strong arms and no bare areas. Or, buy a symmetrical iron version from sites like TheBottleTreeMan.com.
3. Trap evil spirits. Bury the base of the frame deep and straight to hold up to wind. Slip a bottle on each branch, and wait for good juju to come your way.