Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

January 17, 2013

On the Gruit Path

Filed under: gardening, magic, Vinting — Tags: , , , , , — paragardener @ 3:31 pm

The topic of gruit ale generated more than theoretical interest, so I’ve decided to collate & post some info to empower people to make or find this stuff. The first part of this post is for people making their own; it concerns getting seeds or transplants, growing the herbs, buying the herbs and where to add the herbs in the brewing process. The second part concerns tracking down gruit ale for sale.

Plants and Growing Info:

The best place to buy dried beer herbs appears to be Wild Weeds. You will find the “Holy Trinity” of beer herbs there under the names Sweet Gale, Yarrow, and Labrador Tea.

Myrica gale (sweet gale, bog myrtle) — This is a 2-4′ high shrub that grows along the waterside. It has been a brewing spice in Europe for over 2,000 years. Also native to North America, the Potawatomi Indians used the plant as a smudge to banish evil spirits (a suggestion of antiseptic action). Flavorwise, sweet gale is said to have a spicy aroma and a bitter taste, but also to impart a vanilla-like richness. For the head, sweet gale is narcotic or stupefying, yet it is said to improve the lucidity of dreaming.

Gagelstrauch (1)

Myrica-gale-1

North American sweet gale can be purchased for transplant through Fourth Corner Nurseries, a business dedicated to propagating native plants, or New England Wetland Plants.

Sweet gale prefers boggy to wet soil, something you might achieve almost anywhere by applying water almost continuously. However, it also appreciates acidic conditions (pH 4 to 6.5) — presumably the boggy places where it grows naturally are loaded with humic and fulvic acids from the slow decomposition of plants. Any level of sunlight is fine, but some shade will help protect this plant of the North from the summer heat.

Bog myrtle’s chemistry is best expressed with a combination of hot-water extraction and alcohol extraction; therefore half of it should be boiled with the wort, and half thrown in the fermenter (in a permeable bag.) On the other hand, plenty of people just toss it in the boiling wort and strain it out. All of the aerial parts of the plant are used, however, the best time is when “nut cones” are on the stem. Use 1.5 g of herb per gallon of brew. Or, use 1 oz. per gallon, to make sweet gale ale (with no other spices.)

Achillea millefolium (yarrow) — This plant vaguely resembles Queen Anne’s Lace. The leaves have zillions of feathery leaflets. This one has been with Eurasians since Neanderthal times, a very old friend indeed. Yarrow is used to dramatic effect in the binding of wounds, as well as manifold subtler uses (antiseptic, blood-flow promoter, …?). Tossing yarrow stalks is the oldest way to cast the I Ching, and yarrow heals battle wounds in the Iliad, so yarrow was known far and wide for its potent magic. Mentally, yarrow provides enhanced clarity and quells anxiety — except if taken with ale, when it precipitates instant drunkenness.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) (2863774620)

Yarrow seedlings can be purchased from Fourth Corner, or seeds from Alchemy Works.

Like many herbs, yarrow prefers mediocre soil with good drainage. For seeds, barely press into moist soil; seeds need light to germinate in 5-10 days at 62-75F/18-25C.

In beer, yarrow is bitter and preservative. Leaves should be boiled in the wort, but delicate aromatics can be taken from the flower heads if they are placed into the cooling wort right after the boil. Use at 1.5 g per gallon in gruit, or 1 oz. per gallon in a single-herb brew, or half that mass of recently dried yarrow.

Rhododendron tomentosum (wild or marsh rosemary) — This low shrub has leaves smooth on top, fuzzy beneath. A second species, Rhododendron groenlandicum, is also acceptable, and this is one of those annoying cases where the scientific name seems to add little clarity to the discussion (you may also read about these plants as Ledum glandulosum, Ledum latifolium, Ledum palustre, or as multiple types of Labrador Tea.) Don’t confuse these with Limonium, a completely different genus known as marsh rosemary, but also as sea lavender or statice: Limoniums are not what you want. In herbalism, Labrador Tea seems to be popular for treating a laundry list of conditions. It is much more widely available than true wild rosemary. Either plant contributes to some sort of narcotic delirium, with higher doses leading to headaches and cramps.

Labrador tea Ledum glandulosum close

Labrador Tea seeds are available at From the Forest.

Wild rosemary likes the same sort of acidic, boggy soil as Bog myrtle (Myrica gale.) However, it is somewhat less tolerant of shade. Seeds are broadcast onto moist soil in Spring when its temperature is 55-65F/13-18C, or in Fall.

Wild rosemary has a fresh, spicy aroma and bitter taste. The brewer should take caution when utilizing any unfamiliar source of wild rosemary, as not all of the plants in this group are of equal potency. As with bog myrtle, half of it should be boiled with the wort, and half thrown in the fermenter (in a permeable bag, weighted with a clean or sterile stone.) Use fresh flowering tops in gruit at 1.5 g per gallon, or 4/5 oz. per gallon in a single-herb brew.

Other plants: Gruit was used over a big piece of Europe for seven centuries or so… the recipe varied quite a bit. Sometimes the mix included juniper berries, ginger, caraway seeds, aniseed, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Some sources go on to name mugwort, wormwood, heather, and licorice. Or lavender, lemon balm, chamomile, and sweet fern. These lists are by no means exhaustive, however, some people seem to use “gruit” to refer to any mix of beer herbs excluding hops, regardless of how authentically medieval it may or may not be. Literally speaking, “gruit” is Old German for “herb” (and you pronounce it along the lines of “fruit.”)

Finding Gruit Ale:

There seem to be no gruit ales distributed on anything like a national basis (in the United States, at any rate). To buy gruit ale, you need to find a local brewery that has achieved competency in the style.

I searched the ‘net for “Michigan gruit -fruit.” This technique seems to work fine for other states, although I don’t know if you’ll find a gruit brewery far from the chilly, boggy places where marsh rosemary and bog myrtle grow.

In Michigan, Kuhnhenn Brewing Co. of Warren carries an occasional heather ale. Mt. Pleasant Brewing Company carries “Sacred Gruit Ale” as a regular beer, with the authentic triumvirate of major herbs. Mt. Pleasant brews are carried by a number of distributors across the state. You can look at this map and call your local distributor to find out which stores have Sacred Gruit. Mt. Pleasant brews are also served up at Mountain Town Station brewpub in Mt. Pleasant.

Still curious? Take a look at Gruit Ale.com… I especially like their pilgrimage to the 50th parallel to harvest wild bog plants!

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2 Comments »

  1. I am regular visitor, how are you everybody? This article posted at this website is
    genuinely nice.

    Comment by patriciakbliss.tumblr.com — November 21, 2015 @ 10:23 pm

  2. sadly those plants do not grown in Florida as I be trying to find gruit for my home brewing

    Comment by Magnus Thunderson — May 12, 2016 @ 4:52 pm


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