Steendam 31, 9000 Gen
Not sure if you are aware but hops were not the only herbal addition given to beers. And I don’t mean current craft bee move, that make brewers to add every piece of flower/vegetable they can find on the local market.
And the name was Gruit/Gruyt/Gruut – depending on the region. The term was used on the territories of current Belgium, Netherlands and some parts of Germany and described herbal mixture used for spicing and bittering.
Before it was known as Gruut, the herbal-beer-addon exists under the name materia cervisiae. The name pops up first in Germany. Kaiser Otto II granted the rights to sell Gruut to the Church of Liège in the year 974. The name Gruut was first noted in the year 999, same Kaiser have granted similar rights to the church in Utrecht. Even if hops were making its way through the brewing scene of the middle age Europe, Gruut was popular in some regions till XIII century. There were monopolists selling and producing Gruut and they were less than happy to see hops coming. Also, past brewers had to pay taxes based on the content of Gruut in the beer (today it is based on alcohol content). Thus, many local governments that got good money from Gruut were not happy. This led to some trade wars and sometimes almost anecdotal situations
One of such stories is the story of Gent in Belgium. The city is divided by the river Leie in two parts, at some point of the history the right bank was ruled by Flemish and the left bank by French-speaking communities. Flemish brew with hops, whereas French brewed with Gruut. Full exclusivity apparently. At the end, hops became prevalent in the brewing, mostly because of their antibacterial and preserving abilities (and they were cheaper), but even today, the only brewery still using Gruut indicates on its labels: “brewed on the left side”.
Back to the Gruut – it is difficult to say what was exactly inside – based on the historical records people tend to believe that it was based on sweet gale, mugwort, yarrow and ground ivy. With a possible addition of spices including juniper or ginger (see Wikipedia for a complete list of possibilities). Very likely, there were multiple combinations and addition possible. What also is clear that each brew master would have its own secret recipe.
Now let’s go back to the left side of Gent and the one and only Gentse Gruut Stadtsbrouverij. Brewery doing beer only with Gruut. I went there last weekend, during Lichtfestival Gents just to see what does the Gruut-beer taste like. There was too late for the brewery tour, but I may be back in summer. Still some photos of the taproom and tanks.
At the moment, they sell 5 beers on the regular basis. I have managed to taste the blonde and two were the take home message from this trip.
Honestly – blonde was my first choice to taste. As stated here many times – blondes are almost as low aromatic as lagers. When usually it is a problem – this time it is an advantage. In blonde, you have a chance to get all the aroma of Gruut. And I was not disappointed – bit sweet, with a note of nutmeg, very herbal, but not in a citrus hop way, rather like one of your herbal teas. Bit in the direction of nettle. On top some herbal bitterness and not too heavy yeast. Very positive and a must try for every beer lover.