In America, we celebrate the important holidays – Groundhog Day (say good-bye to winter, because our furry weatherman saw no shadow this year), Valentine’s Day (our mainstream excuse to overcharge for roses) and our favorite, International Stout Day (since we’re already drinking, this one’s easy to remember). February 1st was International Gruit Day, celebrating the Gruit Ale (obviously).
So now we all need to figure out what the hell a Gruit Ale is so we can celebrate another reason to drink.
Gruit or Grut (German for herb) Ale is essentially any brew that uses an herbal mixture as a flavoring or bittering agent in place of hops. Many of the original herbs used are more or less unfamiliar in name, such as sweet gale, mugwort, yarrow, ground ivy, horehound, and heather, while other adjuncts, such as juniper berries, ginger, caraway seed, and aniseed, can be more easily discerned by today’s drinkers.
Most don’t know that the herbal collections making up gruit were the original “hops” – at least before gruit’s use began to dwindle in a large way during the 15th and 16th centuries. Many factors went into its disappearance, including the passing of the German beer purity law, Reinheitsgebot, which originally stated that water, barley, and hops were the only ingredients that could be used in beer production.
Another explanation for the disuse of gruit is based in religion – since some herbs used were known to have stimulating and even aphrodisiac effects, switching to a sedative substance like hops satisfied a Puritan need to keep people from enjoying themselves (sound familiar?).
It wasn’t until the 1990s that microbreweries in the US and England really began re-experimenting with gruit, and we have these pioneers to thank for bringing back centuries-old brews to our shelves.
Gruit Ales We Like and You Might Want to Try:
Cambridge Brewing Co. Heather Ale & Weekapaug Gruit Ale – Cambridge, MA
Elysian Brewing Co. Rapture Heather Ale – Seattle, WA
Zero Gravity Craft Brewery / American Flatbread Solstice Gruit Ale – Burlington, VT
We definitely take issue with any brews that were once banned based on their enjoyment factor – as you can tell, we’re very opinionated here, and we think for good reason. So we’re happy to see experimentation in the industry and encourage the revival of this unique brew. These herbs really help brewers blur the lines between the art of food and the art of beer – turning the brewing process into its own veritable cooking adventure. As beer continues to gain its rightful place next to wine on our dinner tables, gruit ales might help make the process of pairing even less daunting for those getting into craft beer due to their dynamic herbal notes and aromatic diversity.