Gruits?

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by ForagedBudLite, Dec 4, 2019 at 5:59 PM.

  1. ForagedBudLite

    ForagedBudLite Initiate (19) Aug 11, 2019 Michigan

    Just curious about people's experiences with gruits - beers bittered without hops. It's a historic way of making beer or "ale" or whatever you want to call it, before hops were ubiquitous. I'm a fan of the style. The sort of flavors you get from using, say, meadowsweet or heather, are quite different from hops. It unlocks different possibilities.

    Probably the easiest gruit to find on the shelf is Midas Touch from Dogfish Head, which highlights saffron, plus fermentables like grape and honey. It serves an approachable entry point to gruits. In my neck of the woods, the local gruits I've been able to track down include Cannibal's Marinade from Schmoz (mugwort, wormwood, heather tips, and perhaps more that I'm forgetting), Vargdricka from Brewery Becker (juniper and bog myrtle), and Peach Gruit from Mountain Town (marsh rosemary, yarrow and bog myrtle).

    Vargdricka and Peach Gruit remind me more of your average beer than something like Midas Touch, but still with an unmistakable herbal essence that you're just not going to find in your average beer. Though it's been awhile since I've had Cannibal's Marinade, I recall it being absolutely wild tasting, and not in a displeasing way. People seem to either love or hate it. I hesitate to give more specific tasting notes without actually having a glass in hand.

    To finish this off, let me briefly mention: It's been speculated that gruits can be more intoxicating than hopped beers, owing to a synergistic effect between the herbs and alcohol. I personally think that whole angle is a bit overhyped. At most, I find you're going to get an effect from gruits close to absinthe - a debatable "is this placebo or not?" experience. Now of course if you add magic mushrooms or something similar to your beer, you'll get very intoxicated, but I don't think that was ever a very common thing to do. You won't trip from yarrow or heather.
     
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  2. Snowcrash000

    Snowcrash000 Poo-Bah (2,312) Oct 4, 2017 Germany
    Moderator Society Trader

    I've always been a big fan of herb/spice beers and therefore absolutely love Gruit, although it is very rare that I can actually manage to get my hands on one, much less an authentic one without hops around here...

    Dutch brewery Jopen make a very nice one though, called Koyt. Also, Estonian brewery Pohjala made an absolutely amazing BBA Gruit that does contain some hops though, called Laugas.
     
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  3. ForagedBudLite

    ForagedBudLite Initiate (19) Aug 11, 2019 Michigan

    Interesting stuff. I did come across a European gruit once here in America, called Vibration Dark: https://www.beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/50742/247953/. Unfortunately it was very old and had lost some flavor, I think.
     
  4. rousee

    rousee Meyvn (1,039) Aug 13, 2004 Massachusetts

    I like them. There was one I remember from Scotland that was bottled and had spruce tips that was decent. Cambridge Brewing in Cambridge, MA makes some decent ones but the place that really made what I thought were the best ones I've had was Zero Gravity brewing at American Flatbread in Burlington, VT.
     
  5. PapaGoose03

    PapaGoose03 Poo-Bah (2,532) May 30, 2005 Michigan
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    In the BA page of beer styles: https://www.beeradvocate.com/beer/styles/ you'll find the Gruits in the Herb and Spice beer category as you mentioned, and I've had the Midas Touch that you also mentioned. Dogfish Head is great at trying ancient recipes. I see Chateau Jihau on that list too, and it may also fall into the Gruit category, but I didn't dig deep enough to qualify it as such. There may be other Gruits further down that list too.

    I also noticed under the Specialty Beer grouping the Finnish Sahti (https://www.beeradvocate.com/beer/styles/148/) and the Scottish Gruit/Ancient Herbed Ale (https://www.beeradvocate.com/beer/styles/70/) styles, both of which could also have beers that fit the general definition of Gruit. Other styles under that Specialty group could also fit, although I didn't look deeply enough to say that there are some.

    I've had several beers in each of these lists, but all of them were a while ago when I was trying as many different beers as I could in the learning process. I don't recall much about any of them, thus I must have been neutral in my opinion about each of them, thus I didn't learn much. (I do recall really liking Chateau Jihau) So it might be time for me to revisit some of these beers that are easy to find to reinforce what I should have learned the first time.
     
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  6. Warwick7

    Warwick7 Initiate (72) May 25, 2019 Maryland

    As a Medieval rennactor I would love to try Gruit Ale, I am always looking for more realism. I havent pursued it as much as I should as they were hard to find and DFH didnt seem like me. But this thread is making me pumped enough try. Will let you know. If its anything like English Ale I will cherish it.

    Cheers
     
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  7. ForagedBudLite

    ForagedBudLite Initiate (19) Aug 11, 2019 Michigan

    I'd say that the Dogfish Head ancient ales could be called gruits. Although I was a little late to the game, I was able to find most of the DF ancient ales in stores in the bomber format. My favorite was Birra Etrusca, and all were at least "good" IMO.

    And I have had my fair share of sahtis. I like juniper beers well enough, but for some reason the style never truly excites me. Definitely love the history behind sahtis though, and it's definitely an enjoyable beer style.
     
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  8. PapaGoose03

    PapaGoose03 Poo-Bah (2,532) May 30, 2005 Michigan
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    I think I've only had one Sahti which was brewed by my local brewery (once) and it was not all that good to my tastes, but I drank it. I also watched Dark Horse Brewing's exhibition on National Homebrew Beer Day a number of years ago of creating an authentic Sahti by pouring the mash runnings through a slightly inclined, hollowed-out half log (like a trough) that was filled with juniper branches. (I think the tree variety of the log might also have been juniper, but I'm unsure of that.) They were going to put that beer on tap after fermentation, but sadly I don't recall going back to sample it.
     
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  9. ForagedBudLite

    ForagedBudLite Initiate (19) Aug 11, 2019 Michigan

    You've probably had it, but Nordhouse from Brewery Vivant is a nice sort of fusion beer. It's an IPA with hops and juniper, and brewed with a farmhouse yeast. Cans of the stuff are everywhere in Michigan.
     
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  10. Warwick7

    Warwick7 Initiate (72) May 25, 2019 Maryland

    Looks Like Midas Touch will be my first my first one unless I find something else.
     
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  11. PapaGoose03

    PapaGoose03 Poo-Bah (2,532) May 30, 2005 Michigan
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    I've not had Nordhouse but I typically don't pay much attention to Brewery Vivant's beers on store shelves. I look first at Bell's or Short's stuff. I always fully enjoy the beer and food when I visit Vivant's brewery in GR though. I'll look for Nordhouse and give it a try.
     
  12. Warwick7

    Warwick7 Initiate (72) May 25, 2019 Maryland

    I enjoyed Midas Touch but Its rare I drink a strong ale. i like it but to me it didnt taste much different then a malt forward English Ale with not much hops.
     
  13. derftron

    derftron Disciple (355) Feb 8, 2012 Oregon

    Upright Special Herbs is probably the only Gruit I have had, and its amazing.


    thats all i got folks
     
  14. Insomniac

    Insomniac Initiate (13) Nov 5, 2019

    It’s not a favorite style of mine but it’s relative rarity makes it a true change of pace and the style has grown on me over time. The brewery I most associate with this style is William Brothers Brewing Company from Scotland. They release a holiday gift pack in Ontario most years called Historic Ales Of Scotland, which includes a few examples of the style.
     
  15. Insomniac

    Insomniac Initiate (13) Nov 5, 2019

    You might be referring to Alba Scots Pine Ale. If that’s the one, it’s from William Brothers, mentioned in my previous post. Cheers.
     
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  16. beertunes

    beertunes Poo-Bah (6,494) Sep 24, 2007 Saint Martin
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    My opinion? Yes please. Moar!

    Haven't had a lot of them, but I find the style interesting, different, and,refreshingly, they all don't taste the same. Unlike some other styles.
     
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  17. unlikelyspiderperson

    unlikelyspiderperson Meyvn (1,097) Mar 12, 2013 California
    Society Trader

    This us the most interesting aspect of gruits to me, it opens up a whole world of flavor potential. I have to try every new to me one I see because (unless they are made with the same herbs) they each have totally different flavors. The best packaged ones I've had came from a brewery in mt pleasant, MI whose name I can't remember. I also love one that a tiny local brewery makes that is a dark and flavored with a variety of mushrooms. The same place also made a true root beer that was pretty pleasant
     
  18. Coronaeus

    Coronaeus Savant (963) Apr 21, 2014 Ontario (Canada)
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    One of the breweries up here that gets dumped on a lot for a whole bunch of reasons has done a lot of them - 22 listed on this site - and always seem to have one or two available. I’ve liked the ones I’ve tried. I believe they have used a recipe or recipes provided to them by one of the esteemed writers for this site’s magazine.

    https://www.beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/15435/?view=beers&show=all
     
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  19. unlikelyspiderperson

    unlikelyspiderperson Meyvn (1,097) Mar 12, 2013 California
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    Just wanted to add, the brewery in mt pleasant MI that makes good gruits is called Mountain Town
     
  20. johnnybgood1999

    johnnybgood1999 Disciple (345) Oct 31, 2008 Virginia

    I've had two of these. Midas Touch and Fraoch, a heather ale. Midas Touch is still around. Fraoch used to be readily available. Haven't seen it in a few years now. I like both and would love to see more of the style. I'm not sure why more aren't made. I will say Fraoch was too expensive. I remember it being around $5 or $6 for a single bottle at only 5% ABV.
     
  21. zid

    zid Meyvn (1,356) Feb 15, 2010 New York
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    Most of the beers being discussed in this thread aren't gruit beers. The BeerAdvocate style listing here called "Scottish Gruit / Ancient Herbed Ale" is misleading people. Gruit beers weren't Scottish (the style description here oddly points this out), and the slash indicates that people can dump any "ancient" ale into the category. Williams Bros. do not make any gruit beers and don't claim to. Heather ale is a heather ale. Dogfish Head doesn't call Midas Touch a gruit. It's a beer/wine/mead hybrid with saffron inspired by drinking vessels found in Turkey that's won awards at GABF as a "honey beer." It is not a gruit beer in the slightest. Going beyond that, if a hypothetical local brewer in Montana makes a small batch of beer with some random foraged plants and no hops, it's also not a gruit beer. The horse and buggy was popular before mass-produced cars, but that doesn't make every mode of transportation before the car a "horse and buggy." :slight_smile:
     
  22. meefmoff

    meefmoff Devotee (426) Jul 6, 2014 Massachusetts
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    You had me until this part. Why wouldn't this one be considered a gruit? I thought that was exactly what the definition was - a beer made with some combo of herbs/plants in place of hops for bittering. I'm sure you're right, I just don't understand why.

    My only real experience with gruit is at Earth Eagle in New Hampshire which used to make a bunch of them and still makes a few (at least by the definition I understood).

    Thanks for any further info.
     
  23. ForagedBudLite

    ForagedBudLite Initiate (19) Aug 11, 2019 Michigan

    I think it depends on how strict you want to get with the definition. Originally, the term would've applied primarily to unhopped beers in specific parts of Europe, that would've likely employed plants such as mugwort for bittering. But a more modern definition is to use the term for nearly any unhopped beer.

    One could also contend that any drink that doesn't strictly follow the Reinheitsgebot cannot be beer. But I'd disagree.
     
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  24. guinness77

    guinness77 Meyvn (1,232) Jan 6, 2014 New York

    The brewery I bartend at (The Brewers Collective) actually specializes in gruits and all I’ve really got is that I’ve liked most of them and disliked a few of them. We brewed one with smoked sage and cheese pumpkin I loved. We have another one with Heather flowers and rye I don’t particularly care for.

    I’m really happy though to work for a bunch of guys who’d rather brew a gruit than an IPA for sure, even though I’m guilty of drinking IPAs often.
     
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  25. zid

    zid Meyvn (1,356) Feb 15, 2010 New York
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    "I'm sure you're right" - That's your first mistake. :wink:
    With some beer types I see things much looser than other people, and I'm the opposite way with some other types. You can chalk it up to just my personality. You'll see people say that a gruit is a beer without hops (as @ForagedBudLite mentioned above). If thats' a valid approach, then it's got to be the loosest style parameter of all time. I guess we can also start to call every beer made with hops an IPA :wink:. Legally, commercial beer essentially needs to have hops as far as I know (including packaged beer labeled "gruit"), so the term isn't even being used accordingly there. What if the beer has no hops... or herbs, spices, or any other plant product used for bittering?

    Gruit is actually the word for the historical herbal mixture rather than the beverage. A gruit beer was made with gruit. If a brewer in Montana (to continue my silly image) put lime rind, chia, and sassafras bark in a beer without hops and called it a gruit, I wouldn't think of it as a gruit beer personally... because that beer wouldn't resemble a gruit beer. The brewer might say, "Why are you being so specific with the word gruit?" But the brewer has got it backwards - he's the one choosing to use the specific word for no logical reason. Instead of just considering his beer a spiced beer or a herb beer, he's naming it after the historical gruit herb mixture consisting of bog myrtle and yarrow used in the Middle Ages around the area of modern Germany... even though there's actually no connection to that type of beer. There's absolutely no reason why a modern brewer should select that term from another culture and from history for a beer that doesn't come close to resembling the thing being referenced. If someone is trying to reasonably recreate a gruit beer that's different. Otherwise, they should come up with their own word. Sorry for rambling. :slight_frown:
     
  26. jesskidden

    jesskidden Poo-Bah (1,882) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey
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    Well.... it's more complicated than that (as if the subject needed more complication).

    In the US, for a "malt beverage" (their legal catch-all term for a beer) brewed here to fall under the labeling and other regulations of the TTB it must contain hops - "7½ pounds of hops (or the equivalent thereof in hop extracts or hop oils) per 100 barrels" [Ruling 2008-3 below]. So, that's 0.075 lb for 1 barrel, or 1.2 oz. for 31 gallons of beer (check my math!). Tiny amount, even by AAL macro beer standards, and obviously there's no requirement about when or the length of time they're added, their strength or freshness, etc.

    But "beer" brewed in the US without any hops can still be made, but it then falls under the different and more involved FDA food label standards. (Same for "beer" brewed without the minimum or any barley malt *). Most US brewers of "Gruit-ish" beers that are packaged and shipped out of state have apparently chosen to go the simply route of just adding that tiny amount of hops required by the TTB (sticking with "the devil they know" for labeling) AND whatever herbs and spices they want.

    Even more complexity (or maybe a better explanation than above?) at:
    TTB Ruling 2008-3 - Classification of Brewed Products as “Beer” Under the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 and as “Malt Beverages” Under the Federal Alcohol Administration Act

    FDA - Labeling of Certain Beers Subject to the Labeling Jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration Guidance for Industry

    * Don't know of a hopless "beer" with a FDA label, but here's examples of DFH's and (? Forgot) barley-maltless beer:
    [​IMG]
     
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  27. cavedave

    cavedave Poo-Bah (2,606) Mar 12, 2009 New York
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    That makes total sense. So, to which larger taxonomic group(s) would you assign non hop beers that don't contain a traditional gruit mixture of herbs?

    And would you expect your distinction, correct as it is, to make things easier,or more difficult, for consumers who wish to buy a beer without hops, but don't know about and/or don't care about the ancient recipe for gruit, and whose only reference for a beer without hops is by looking for gruits?

    Sorry for the questions. You can chalk it up to my personality. :grin:
     
  28. Snowcrash000

    Snowcrash000 Poo-Bah (2,312) Oct 4, 2017 Germany
    Moderator Society Trader

    While you are absolutely correct about the historical roots if the style, I think that you are holding on to a very narrow, oudated definition of the style that's not really relevant anymore. Styles evolve all the time and I think it's fair to say that the modern definition of Gruit does absolutely encompass any beer that substitutes a bittering herb mixture for hops.

    To use a variation of your own example, saying that a Gruit can only be called a Gruit if it's made with sweet gale, mugwort and yarrow is kinda like saying that an IPA can only be called an IPA if it's made with the exact hop and malt varieties that were available in England during the 18th century :wink:.
     
  29. zid

    zid Meyvn (1,356) Feb 15, 2010 New York
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    I don't expect people to agree with me. I'm OK with "agreeing to disagree" with the entire beer geek community. :slight_smile:

    @cavedave - Calling a beer a "gruit" does not make things easier for a consumer who does not know about gruit beer. It's the opposite. If the brewer said this is a sage beer, a herb beer, a mint beer, a spiced beer, a field beer, or (to use examples of such beers mentioned in this thread) a rye beer, a pumpkin beer... it would be easier for the consumer. If a brewer is making a beer without hops and a bunch of odd ingredients that can encompass anything grown, then the label or chalkboard simply needs to state what's in the darn beer. It's not about taxonomy (or expanding taxonomy). If a consumer is actually "looking for gruits" then they are already in the weeds (so to speak :wink::grin:). (BTW - I'm wishing you well man!)

    @Snowcrash000 - I understand why you are making that argument, but I do not believe that this is a case of style evolution akin to that of IPA. The IPA style has evolved over the years like any other beer style. I bet that gruit beers evolved over the years in the Middle Ages and had regional differences as well (I mean that beyond the notion of a gruiter having their own recipe). That's not the same as plucking a name out of a point in history and doing whatever you want with it due to there being no direct evolutionary connection. I don't believe that an IPA today needs to be made with the exact same malt varieties as used in England in the 18th century, BUT I am also not someone who subscribes to the idea that a hoppy black beer is an IPA despite what brewers put on the bottle. If beer evolution can be seen as a thread over the years, then there are cases when the thread snaps because it can't support the weight. For me, the black IPA is such a case. Ditto for a pumpkin gruit.
     
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  30. ForagedBudLite

    ForagedBudLite Initiate (19) Aug 11, 2019 Michigan

    I totally get your arguments. But I do think it's useful to have a broader umbrella you can place sage or mint beers under. And what I like about the word "gruit" in that sense is that it reinforces that adding weird plants to beer or ale has a strong tradition behind it. Because I think a lot of modern people are apt to ask "Why are they adding sage to my beer?" When you explain what gruits were/are, you provide a strong answer.
     
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  31. meefmoff

    meefmoff Devotee (426) Jul 6, 2014 Massachusetts
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    I'm agnostic on the naming convention, but I'm very pleased to have learned that "gruit" actually referred to a particular spice blend at a particular point in time. Thanks!

    You raised my interest to poke around a little, and it appears there is actually such a thing as "International Gruit Day". Here is their description of gruits on the main page, which sounds like they acknowledge both the history and their modern attempt at reviving the tradition with a wider array of ingredients, so maybe everyone's happy? :slight_smile:

    https://www.gruitday.com/what-is-gruit-ale

    "Many centuries ago (pre-1000 CE) most beers in Europe were brewed without the use of hops. Instead bitterness was provided by a mixture called gruit (German for “herb”), a secretive and expensive blend of herbs and spices, sold only to brewers by the local “gruit right” holder. Brewing with gruit was mandatory, as enforced by the church and the state. The typical gruit mixture contained a variety of plants and herbs – bog myrtle and yarrow were almost always used – as well as whichever culinary seasonings were available – including cinnamon, ginger, aniseed, juniper and nutmeg. However, many cities considered free of church control began brewing with hops, thanks to their cheaper price, unique aromas and preservation qualities. Eventually, by the year 1600, brewing with hops would become the norm, and brewing with gruit eventually faded into obscurity, especially following the Bavarian Purity Act of 1516, which ordered that only hops were to be used to spice beer. Today this style of beer is known as gruit ale, and luckily craft brewers have rediscovered this ancient form of brewing, resulting in a gruit ale renaissance.

    Craft brewing is based on the notion that beer should not be limited by the conventional norm – that beer should be about discovery and experimentation, and gruit ales are one of the best examples of this pioneering spirit.

    On February 1, 2019, craft brewers from all over will raise a glass of their chosen gruit while using the hashtag #GruitDay on social media to promote awareness of this ancient beer style."
     
  32. Snowcrash000

    Snowcrash000 Poo-Bah (2,312) Oct 4, 2017 Germany
    Moderator Society Trader

    While I appreciate their take on the style, I would like to point out that "Gruit" is NOT German for "herb", in fact it's not a German word at all. Perhaps it is some kind of ancient germanic dialect or whatever, but the German word for "herb" is "Kraut".
     
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  33. zid

    zid Meyvn (1,356) Feb 15, 2010 New York
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    I think that's a good point of view. One problem with it though is that we're probably failing at it in too many places. Something I was trying to communicate with @Snowcrash000 but doing it poorly was that we'd be better off considering gruit beer a historical beverage rather than a blanket name for a totally different expression. A product of using the term loosely is that we're also applying it to any brewer attempting to do a modern take on a so-called "ancient ale." Look at this thread. If we are claiming that Midas Touch is a gruit (and this thread certainly is), despite the fact that the inspiration for it was evidence of a beverage from a totally different period in history, then we've totally screwed up. The Midas Touch scenario isn't about the evolution of a beer style or name, it's simply painting the wrong picture. That's where we're at.

    That's just the evolution of language. :wink: (I kid) I agree with you of course, but perhaps this should make you more sympathetic to my point of view. :wink:
    Here's a quote from Martyn Cornell if it provides anything interesting:
     
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  34. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Meyvn (1,473) Jun 8, 2005 Michigan


    Dr. Patrick McGovern's "Ancient Brews" has the DFH series of beers transcribed for a Homebrew 5 gallon batch. The recipes include hops, usually .2 oz. of Simcoe. That's not much, but it scales down from the TTB requirements.
     
  35. unlikelyspiderperson

    unlikelyspiderperson Meyvn (1,097) Mar 12, 2013 California
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    @zid, to me it seems totally appropriate to call most hop free beers "gruits" based on the historical use of the term. There wasn't a specific proscribed herb blend used universally and it's reasonable to suspect that the relative uniformity had more to do with availability of herbs in medieval central Europe as opposed to some strict stylistic parameters. I also agree that any brewery selling a gruit should make very clear the herbs involved
     
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  36. CaptainHate

    CaptainHate Savant (941) Apr 22, 2006 Ohio
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    I had a Dunes from Solarc Brewing last weekend, which is listed as retired which it isn't, containing sage, wormwood, mugwort, lemongrass and turmeric. It had an interestingly pleasant taste that I'd have again if available (my daughter in Los Angeles sent it to me as a birthday present).
     
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  37. zid

    zid Meyvn (1,356) Feb 15, 2010 New York
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    This is a serious question and not meant to be rude: Would you call sake or chicha types of gruit?
     
  38. ForagedBudLite

    ForagedBudLite Initiate (19) Aug 11, 2019 Michigan

    The question wasn't posed at me, but I'ma just butt in: I typically look at a gruit as a "beer" without hops that is made with grain and bittered with some kind of plant. Other fermentables may be thrown in, such as fruits or honeys. Midas Touch - I believe - is made with barley and saffron, in addition to honey and grapes. So in my mind, it has the spirit of a gruit, which I would also define as a way of making "beer-like" drinks before beer as we know it really existed.

    Sake and chicha are not bittered with plants, or at least rarely so. So I'm disinclined to call those drinks gruits. Now if someone out there was bittering chicha with annatto or another plant, then I'd be comfortable calling that a gruit.
     
  39. unlikelyspiderperson

    unlikelyspiderperson Meyvn (1,097) Mar 12, 2013 California
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    of course not, neither of those are even beer (although I understand that BA wrote an article about chicha and some consider it beer). Both have names already and are distinct beverage styles of their own.
    What I understand to be at issue here is, would we call a beverage made with malted barley, no hops, and some mix of herbs a 'gruit' or would we only call it a 'gruit' if it is made with malted barely and a specific mix of herbs? I would go with the former option
     
  40. puck1225

    puck1225 Poo-Bah (2,452) Aug 14, 2015 Texas
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    Over the weekend, I went to BS Brewing near Seguin, TX for their Winterfest. As part of this event, they had brewed a small keg of Rosemary Juniper Acient Ale brewed with no hops and served warm. It was very flavorful, rustic and enjoyable. I am wondering about other BA’s experience with fresh ancient ales and what breweries brew them. Thanks!