Gruit beer – the original herbal beer brew, was known throughout Europe and surprisingly, was made without hops. It’s made a comeback in recent years in the craft brewery scene and has a deserved place on top beer charts due to its incredibly unique characteristics.
If this is the first time, you’re hearing about Gruit, or want to know what kind of beers are Gruit beers, then dive in and get ready for a crash course in the history of making Gruit and where to find it today.
What Is Gruit? What Is The History Of Gruit Beer?
Gruit beer is a drink that was the most popular type of beer before the 1500 and there is even evidence that it was a popular option back in the neolithic age over 5,000 years ago. The word Gruit is German for ‘herb’ which is an apt description of what Gruit beer is: a beer made of a variety of bitter herbs, spices and floral botanicals. The most common varieties of herbs that were used include rosemary, yarrow, dandelion roots, bog myrtle, sage, heather, juniper, caraway, cinnamon and ginger.
While it was incredibly popular the purification of beer came about thanks to the Roman Empire and countries such as Germany who created the Reinheitsgebot to start outlawing homebrewers. This ‘purity’ order declared that beer-making could only be done through the use of water, hops, and barley which slowly led to the gradual ousting of herbalists in favour of ‘scientific brewing methods’.
The Church, which held a monopoly on Gruit beer making and charged exorbitant amounts for them, along with taxes on the produce, began to get competition from those using hops to brew beer – which had no taxes. Over the following two centuries, beer brewing devolved into a war of the sexes, and it reached a point where women gradually stopped brewing anything beyond tea, stews, and soup due to the potential stigma of ‘slattern’ or ‘witch’ being attached to them.
This, combined with the Protestant Reformation saw the rapid decline in the popularity of Gruit ales and beers. The sheer intricacies as to how this all came about, including how the Enclosure Acts and the Industrial Revolution put an end to Gruit beer and homebrewing in general are quite fascinating to read about if you have the time.
Needless to say, these policies are what led to the decline of Gruit beer being produced in Europe, and as few surviving recipes are around, it’s hard to exactly replicate what could have been favoured regional Gruit beers.
Is Gruit A Beer?
Yes! Gruit is indeed a beer – it’s an ale to be precise.
Despite the lack of hops, the ingredients that are used in Gruit beers are what reliably would create a distinctly unique alcohol experience. What’s interesting is while modern beer has a host of vitamins and minerals and has proven to be healthy, gruit beer was notably medicinal in its nature due to the botanicals which were used to make it.
What Makes A Gruit? When Was Gruit Used In Beer?
Since Gruit beer’s name means herbal beer, it follows that the beer itself is characterised by its use of botanical, spice and herbal ingredients – which differ based on region and personal preference, as well as what personal tastes the brewer has. This means that today, very few Gruit beers are the same as the colour, taste, nose and flavour are all up in the air since no two Gruit beers are made precisely alike. Common ingredients used to make a gruit include Heather, Artemisa (Wormwood), Juniper, Yarrow, Bog myrtle, Sage, and other commonly found herbs.
What’s interesting is that Gruit may have a monopoly in Germany, and it fell out of favour, other unhopped beers and ales survive today with recipes intact, such as the Sahti ale in Finland, which contains Juniper berries and twigs.
What Does Gruit Beer Taste Like?
While very few Gruit ale recipes have survived till today, the Brasserie Dupont in Belgium does create a Gruit called Cervesia which is based on archaeological findings. They create this beer specifically for The Archeosite D’Aubechies, an outdoor museum that interprets life from the Iron Age to the Roman Era.
Other brewing companies follow varied recipes, from traditional thousand-year-old ones, to early 18th and 19th-century ones. This means in present times the taste of Gruit ale is as varied as you can imagine – though floral notes, a touch of bitterness, richness and depth is what can be expected.
How Does Gruit Beer Compare To Hoppy Beer?
While Gruit beer can provide more depth of flavour and experience when directly compared to hops-based beers, the modern hop beers do have the advantage of familiarity and expectations being met. When it comes to a beer ordered at a bar, you know what you’ll discover in a lager, ale, or stout. With gruit beer, however, each taste at each new place is an adventure in its own right.
Five Of The Best Gruit Beers To Try Right Now
Historical Ale Series by Williams Brothers Brewing Co. This Scottish company produces a gruit-like beer with only a ‘token’ amount of hops added. The range includes Alba and Fraoch, as well as Kelpie Seaweed Ale and Ebulum Elderberry Black Ale.
Kvasir by Dogfish, is an incredible take on the ancient Gruit ale. With a recipe that traces back to Denmark, and includes yarrow, honey, cranberries, lingonberries and more, you’ll be captivated by the sheer taste experience when trying one of their ranges options.
Special Herbs (Seasonal) by Upright Brewing Company have produced a bright, dry, and thoroughly tempting offer that produces a farmhouse style Gruit ale with ingredients like hyssop, lemongrass, Sichuan peppercorns and orange peels.
Lips of Faith by New Belgium Brewing Company – while this one is not currently being produced, its mixture of horehound, wormwood, and elderflower make it an intriguing mix that may yet return at some future date.
Viking Fraoch by D9 Brewing Company draws its inspiration from a combination recipe that includes ingredients from both a 4,000-year-old Viking Heather Flower Ale as well as a more recent 18th Century Scottish Ale.
What Is The Most Popular Gruit Beer In The World?
According to Beer Advocate, the top current Gruit Ale available is Special Herbs (Seasonal) by Upright Brewing Company.
What Are The Best Foods To Pair With Gruit Beer?
When it comes to pairing Gruit beer with culinary options, pretty much everything is fair game. From herb roasts to lemon chicken, and mild cheeses and fruity desserts, Gruit beer pairs pretty well with everything and anything around.
We can’t wait to get our hands on some Gruit beer in the future. Especially as it’s something our ancestors likely knew how to make and enjoy on a regular basis.
Jake has been a craft beer and homebrew enthusiast since his college days. He loves scouring Europe for unique and unusual hops to add to his beers.
Founder of Jake’s Brew Haven – he currently hosts beer-tasting sessions at select local pubs in Baltimore.
Jump To a Section Below
- What Is Gruit? What Is The History Of Gruit Beer?
- Is Gruit A Beer?
- What Makes A Gruit? When Was Gruit Used In Beer?
- What Does Gruit Beer Taste Like?
- How Does Gruit Beer Compare To Hoppy Beer?
- Five Of The Best Gruit Beers To Try Right Now
- What Is The Most Popular Gruit Beer In The World?
- What Are The Best Foods To Pair With Gruit Beer?