“Gruit.” “Grew what?”…”it”….”what?” “Gruit.”
The title is the typical response I get when I mention Gruits to friends. Gruits are a style of beer brewed without hops and well they are pretty darn good.
Beer brewed with a heather plant instead of hops for preservative and balance was my first exposure to this style. I tried it at a talk at this year’s Craft Brewers Conference in Philadelphia. It was supplied by Cambridge Brewing Co. and it was fantastic and not at all too sweet. In fact, I found the beer to be refreshingly balanced. Here’s a link to a beer advocate review: https://www.beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/14/84578/
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the world is over run with IPA’s right now. Don’t get me wrong I love the IPA style of beer. There’s just a lot more to the beer spectrum than one style.
So what are Gruits and why aren’t more breweries making them. Well according to Wikipedia, Gruit is “an old-fashioned herb mixture used for bittering and flavoring beer, popular before the extensive use of hops. Gruit or grut ale may also refer to the beverage produced using gruit.” What I learned at CBC however was that Gruit Ales (aka Gruits), really can be made with just about anything to stabile and balance the beer so long as the recipe works.
Gruits were very common prior to the German Purity Law (aka: Reinheitsgebot) which popularity has for the most part resulted in the styles we enjoy today. It’s interesting to learn that the law was introduced in part at “in part to prevent price competition with bakers for wheat and rye.” There’s some additional discussion around how utilizing hops instead of other plants to stabilize and preserve the beer was “to suppress the use of plants that were allegedly used in pagan rituals, such as gruit. The rule also excluded problematic methods of preserving beer, such as soot, stinging nettle and henbane.”
This is clearly not the case anymore and we have many additional ways of making sure our food is safe so why haven’t Gruits returned in popularity? Part of this is because we just have become accustomed to our traditional styles. Part of the reason is also farming and economics. We have as a society created an industry around beer making which results in farmer plants hops and then needing to sell them. Yes, there has been hops shortages in the past but really as the demand goes up the hops fetch a higher price which results in a pricier beer to the consumer. I doubt you’ll find farmers planting other plants like they are hops right now. It’s just too risky.
Additionally, while I had trouble finding documentation online I was told by a few breweries that the FDA and TTB have trouble understanding the concept of Gruits and really investigate the contents of a beer if it is claimed to be a gruit and brewed with non-traditional ingredients. I suppose their concerned of funky drug like impacts as well as safety. This of course limits the experimentation any commercial brewery is willing to do.
For me, the homebrewer I just discovered a ton of stinging nettles in our backyard. I also just saw that I could brew beer with stinging nettles. Hmmmmm, I send another project coming on.
I did a little research online and found some interesting sites for additional reference:
- Gruit Ale Recipes: http://www.gruitale.com/recipes_en.htm
- Gruit Day: http://www.gruitday.com/
- Gruitbier Recipe on Byo.com: http://byo.com/mead/item/730-gruitbier-style-profile
How to make Nettle Beer: