The Lovely, Charming Gruit
“Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there once lived a Gruit Ale full of character and pleasant earthy flavors that come from herbs. It was void of hops – those pesky, resinous green cones used in Beer to add bitterness and preservative qualities. You see the Gruit Ale and the Beer were in essence brewed with the same methods just very different ingredients. And, over time, the more delicate Gruit Ale faded away in favor of the brutish Beer.”
Ok. So the story of Gruit Ale isn’t a fairy tale or even that dramatic. But the name does sound mythical and fictitious. As if it were a troll living in the tales read to us when we were children. The reality: Gruit Ale has been brewed for centuries widely throughout Europe. It’s a delicious, fermented beverage made with herbs instead of hops that has captured our interest as of late.
Some quick history for you. At the turning point in fermented beverage history, the infamous Reinheitsgebot (aka The Bavarian Purity Act) was established in 1516. It dictated that beer must contain hops and according to GruitDay.com “the Bavarian style of brewing took hold in most of Europe and Gruit Ale gradually faded into obscurity.” A very good reason why you may have not heard of this style of fermented drink until now.
DID YOU KNOW? February 1st is National Gruit Day. It’s a real thing. Take a look at some of the breweries that created special events this past National Gruit Day (2/1/16).
Thanks to the 1990 craft beer resurgence, this ancient beauty has seen the light of day once again. All kinds of interesting combinations of botanicals are being used to create one-of-a-kind, complex flavors. Botanicals such as heather, spruce tips, lavender, sweet gale, ginger, lemongrass, sage, rosemary, etc. have been widely popular for making Gruit Ale.
Recently, we cracked open a 2015 bottle of Cambridge Brewing Co. Heather Ale to share with some friends. Just a little something we picked up last summer when beercationing in Massachusetts.
It had a slight lavender color when poured into the glass with little to no head. Low carbonation is actually a trait I prefer at times. For me, it allows the earthy notes to really resonate when you first breath in the aroma and then when you taste the ale. Another bonus is that the ale is smoother in mouthfeel. Not “creamy” mind you. Just not so crisp or sharp like a highly carbonated beverage.
Enough about it’s carbonation level. Let’s talk about the taste! While some folks thought it had a nutmeg or “cider” quality, I immediately honed in on what I equated to “lavender.” It reminded me very much of Derek’s lavender wheat ale he brewed a few years back. But the heather in this ale was slightly more delicate. Almost earthier than lavender. Sort of ‘coriander meets lavender’ type of vibe and complexity.
Although I would say that it had a sweetness in flavor, it was not at all sweet as in ‘candy sickening sweet’ (aka ‘cloying’). Just enough to balance the herbal qualities of the heather. The beverage finished with fresh baked bread notes which lingered just a bit on the tongue.
All in all a very delightful ale!