Why Don’t We Gruit In the Road?

If my experience this past weekend brewing a gruit is any indication, I have a feeling this style is going to be a huge trend in brewing sometime in the next 10 years. Life is cyclical and everything goes retro, even beer.

So what is a gruit, you ask? Gruit is an old form of beer from Medieval Europe. Traditional gruit recipes call for bog myrtle, wild rosemary and yarrow, among many other herbs, including juniper berries, caraway, wormwood and aniseed.

Gruit all but disappeared by 1500 as hops took over, primarily because of its superior ability to preserve beer. There may also have been some political and religious reasons behind the takeover of hops.

pouring grain

For our beer, we added juniper berries, mugwort, clove, rosemary, cardamom, coriander, and bog myrtle. The cherry on top may have been the peat smoked malt. The best part was that we really couldn’t screw this up. We got our base recipe from Radical Brewing (p. 241), but since none of us have ever had this type of beer, we could have done anything we wanted and as long as it tastes good, no one will know the difference.

So why do I think gruit is going to make a comeback 500 years later? BECAUSE MY HOUSE HAS SMELLED LIKE A FREAKING MOUNTAIN CABIN FOR THE PAST THREE DAYS. I don’t bust out the caps lock for much, but I’ll use it for the gruit.

The aroma from the brew kettle was heavy on the clove and I thought it was going to turn out like a Christmas beer. However, once the beer got into primary and yeast took over, the aroma that was expelled smelled like we had hit the gin a little a too hard while a fire roared in a mountain cabin.

The “Lab”
herb lab

The combination of herbs and smoked malt was nothing short of sensational. I love hops, but my goodness! What a wonderful change of pace. The obvious trend over the past few years among brewers has been to try and push the hoppiness threshold that our palates can handle. Like most things, at some point we’re going to get bored with it and we’re going to look elsewhere for innovation.

The wide variety and combination of herbs available offer limitless possibilities of taste and aroma. There are other herbal-based beers, such as sahti in Finland, but it’s a largely untapped market and is a way that brewers can truly distinguish themselves. On a practical level, it may not catch on commercially simply because the shelf life of this style of beer may be too short without the hops to preserve it, but that won’t stop us homebrewers.

I haven’t anticipated drinking a batch of beer this much since my first one.

full carboy

Why Don’t We Gruit In the Road
A Collaboration of Untamed Beer, General Lordisimo and OrangeCoat
10-gallon yield

Grain bill:
10 lbs 2-row malt
9 lbs crystal 80
2 lbs smoked malt
1/2 lb chocolate malt

Infusion mash at 154 degrees for 90 minutes
60 minute boil

30 minute additions:
6 g fresh rosemary
2.5 oz crushed juniper berries
19 g dried mugwort

5 minute additions:
5 oz crushed juniper berries
2 g sweet gale
12.5 g crushed caraway seeds
38 g dried mugwort
12 g fresh rosemary
12 g ground cloves
12 g ground cardamom
12 g crushed coriander seeds

Batch 1: 1762 Belgian Abbey
Batch 2: 1007 German Ale

No brew day is complete without smoked meat.
The Chief Herbalist. I sure hope that’s just mugwort in that bowl to the left.
A watched pot never cools.
The General was worn out by a long day in the field.
lord sleeping

All photos courtesy of Dan McCord.


About Brian

I like beer.
This entry was posted in Homebrew, Recipes. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Why Don’t We Gruit In the Road?

  1. Nathaniel says:

    Between the message you left me last night, this blog post, and my vague memory of the one time I tried a gruit about four years ago (at Zero Gravity/American Flatbread in Burlington VT) I have to say that I am super crazy excited about this beer. I agree about the fragrance. The closet where I store my beer while fermenting is out of control with herby junipery beery smell.

    I further agree that the direction of herb flavored beers could become the next big thing in craft brewing. While I could never, in my right mind, knock hops as a wonderful flavoring agent in beer, the opportunity to play around with a wide variety of flavoring agents is just so open with the addition of different herbs and spices. Furthermore, I think there might actually be a market for it, even considering the absence of the hops’ additional preservation ability, mostly because in our modern day and age we have other various means of promoting longevity of shelf-life.

    So here is the hope and anticipation that our first gruit attempt comes out well. If it is a success I will be more than willing to try out other variations of herbs in later brews.

    ~General Lordisimo aka Lord aka Nathaniel

  2. nikki3bags says:

    I love working with fresh herbs and berries in the kitchen. Then, to put my herbalicious skills to the test in a beer is a happy marriage indeed.

  3. Eric says:

    Hope yours turns out better than the one I tried to make three or fours years ago. It was the only batch I’ve ever dumped down the drain. Your recipe sounds more promising than mine. Good luck with it.

  4. brewboy-IP says:

    looks like a good time man. and i love the beatles spin

  5. Brian says:

    I moved the gruit to secondary late last week. I took a taste, and my goodness, it was intense. It was almost herbal tea-like. It wasn’t bad, but it was definitely a strong flavor. I’m sure it will mellow a bit after conditioning and sitting in the bottles for a few weeks.

    Early indications are this would be a fantastic winter beer. It started out very herbal, with juniper and clove being the most apparent. The smoke flavor kicked in more in the aftertaste. Very interesting ride! I’ll be sure to post a full review once it’s bottled and conditioned in a few weeks.

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