When I heard about gruit, a historical hopless ale, I knew I wanted to try it. And then, the more I learned about it, the cooler it became. Gruit waned in use as the popularity of hops grew throughout the Middle Ages, but has enjoyed somewhat of a revival as a result of the craft brewing movement.
I struggled a bit with the recipe for this ale. There are no primary sources that I can find that list the ingredients for a gruit ale, but numerous secondary sources list yarrow, sweet gale, mugwort, St. John’s wort, and marsh rosemary as the basics. I tracked down this selection of herbs, and set to work. I used honey because it’s what would be most prevalent (not sugar) in the The resulting ale is sour, fizzy, and really different from your average hopped beer. The herbal flavors are there, and reasonably pleasant, along with residual sweetness from the honey. It’s a pale, slightly murky yellow color with just a hint of green.
It’s got to be Greywater Watch, right? I mean, it includes marsh rosemary and bog myrtle; if there’s anywhere in Westeros that qualifies as a bog, it’s The Neck. Even without the sparkle, it seems a great drink for the muggy heat of summer, especially if you are combating mosquitos in a swamp…
Brewer’s Note: I couldn’t find a good source for an historical recipe for gruit. If any of you know of one, I’d love to take a look at it! This recipe is cobbled together from a variety of sources, plus what I thought tasted good. 😉
Ingredients for 1 gallon:
- 1 Tbs. dried yarrow
- 1 heaping Tbs. dried St. John’s Wort
- 1 Tbs. dried mugwort
- 1 Tbs. Sweet Gale (bog myrtle)
- 1 heaping Tbs. Marsh Rosemary (hard to find, thus optional)
- mesh bag
- 1 gallon water
- 1 Tbs. Irish Moss to clarify (optional)
- 1 1/2 cups honey
- 1 packet ale yeast
- [1/4 cup honey for priming]
- 1/4 cup boiling water
Place herbs in a small mesh bag, add to 1/2 gallon of water in a pan, and simmer for 30 minutes. The color should be a dark brown. If using Irish Moss, add it 10 minutes before the end of the boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool until it’s warm but not hot. Pour the honey into your glass carboy, then strain the liquid over it, swirling vigorously to mix until the honey is dissolved. Top off with water as needed. Allow to cool to room temperature, then pitch yeast.
When the wort is done fermenting (mine took 2 weeks), you can prime it with honey, if you want it carbonated. To do this, combine the priming honey with 1/4 cup boiling water. Stir until the honey has dissolved, and allow to cool. Pour this into the carboy, stir up, and let the dregs settle back to the bottom. Rack into bottles and cap. Allow to sit for at least 1 month before trying.
11 Comments Add yours
If I can find where to get these goodies, I am so going to try this. Having the hubby go to the brewery supply store tomorrow to pick up another couple of jugs, airlocks and yeast. =)
The problem with finding gruit recipes is that it was often a trade secret, exclusive to the monks on a region-to-region basis. Controlling the only source of beer preservative was a major source of revenue for monasteries, so they had a lot of reason to keep it out of public knowledge.
Not only that, but the monks were often the only ones who could recognize or cultivate some of the more specific herbs, and could control the supply of them as they wished, and drive up prices. Add on top of that some actually toxic ingredients like wormwood and nightshade, along with amanita mushrooms (aka Viking berserker mushrooms). The resulting beer was likely poisonous and possibly even psychotropic.
Starting around the Middle Ages, economic growth and the decline of Church control coincided with an increase in the use of hops as a bittering agent and preservative. By 1516, Bavaria became the first state in Europe to pass a Reinheitsgebot, or beer control law, effectively outlawing any beer produced with gruit. This had the dual benefit of standardizing the quality of beer throughout the duchy, and taking away the monastaries’ monopoly on preservative.
Thanks to the Reformation, Hundred Years’ War, and general passage of time almost all recipes have been lost or destroyed. The ones that do survive may not necessarily list the more exotic ingredients specific to any one monastery, or may simply omit them for the safety of the recipe.
I ended up just creating my own version of a gruit rather than rely specially on one recipe. Hibiscus flowers, dandelion root, elderberries, lavender flowers, rose petals (from the backyard), orange peel, and 2 lbs honey. Smells like cherry pie.
Very cool! Do you recall the proportions? I’d love to give it a try…
More of a metheglin than a gruit. Wouldn’t malted barley be a base for a gruit? Looks good though. I’mma try it out.
You’re spot on! How funny- I could have sworn that I added malt to the mix the second time I tried it, but have no record of such. I guess that’s going on the list. 🙂
Any word yet on how adding malt to the mix affects the brew. Also, how much malt would you add?
I’ve been meaning to revisit this, and may get to it this summer. I’d have to play with the proportions to get a good Original Gravity.
A suitable substitute for the marsh rosemary is Labrador Tea
I finally found most of these herbs at my LHBS and decided to give it a shot! Thanks for posting! I didn’t find sweet gale or marsh rosemary (and my grocery store didn’t carry Labrador Tea) but I got all the rest. I did an original gravity reading and got 1.025 but since I didn’t heat the honey much, it didn’t fully dissolve. Decided to spike it a bit with 1 cup of brown sugar boiled for one minute in 1 cup or so of water because I saw another gruit recipe that called for it and I was trying to keep it gluten free. My next reading was 1.045. I’m guessing the ABV will be near 5% accounting for the honey. The herbs smelled delicious!
About gruits: Williams Brothers Brewery in Scotland brews a range of historical Scottish gruits – pine ale (my father’s favourite beer in the world and bastard to find), heather ale – about which there is a very sad story concerning the Picts in the North, seaweed ale, and something else that I can’t recall at the moment. They might be a good resource for you. Secondly, and you may already know this, but Stephen Harrod Buhner wrote a great book called “Sacred and Healing Herbal Beers,” which includes a great many recipes for gruits, meads, and other unusual fermented beverages, as well as a lot of history. There is also information on the medicinal qualities of the ingredients. If you haven’t already, check it out.