Super-quick history lesson: gruit is unhopped beer, and nearly all beer used to be unhopped. Hops became the standard brewing herb for a complicated mess of reasons involving religion, taxes, public health, the rise of commercial vs home brewing, and more taxes. Hops are also very easy to grow in mass quantities and are both pleasingly bitter and antiseptic, a handy one-plant equivalent to the herbal mix that does the same thing in gruit. So there you go.
So why make gruit when you can get hops? BECAUSE IT TASTES AWESOME. It is delicious in its own right. This stuff wasn’t the default state of beer for hundreds of years for nothing.
Here’s my recipe. It’s very, VERY flexible and pretty much any part of it can be tweaked to your taste.
I Like to Gruit Gruit
(5 gal, extract. WE AIN’T GOT NO TIME FOR SPECIALTY GRAINS THE MINT’S TAKING OVER THE YARD GET IN THERE GO GO GO)
6lbs DME. That’s it. The type is entirely up to you, I used half pils, half wheat. Make a gruit porter or something. Do it.
1/2 tsp grains of paradise – 20 min
2 oz. yarrow flowers, leaves, stems (fresh) – 10 min
6 oz. mugwort (dried) – 10 min
8 oz. mint leaves, stems, maybe some bugs (fresh) – add at flameout for about 3-5 minutes steeping.
Champagne yeast, why the hell not.
Still got a 60 minute boil here, get your 3 gallons going and do what comes naturally. You can spend some of the time picking bugs off the mint or you can say screw it. Once the boil’s done you get to strain a frankly alarming amount of yard waste out of your wort (and have a fascinatingly bitter and herbal brandywort), top it off with cold water to 5 gal, cool and pitch yeast.
When you bottle it a month later, it might look a little something like this.
Liquid sun, my friends. The yarrow gives it a little extra yellow tint. @#$%$ beautiful.
Tasting notes: Yes, you need all that mint if you want to be able to taste it in the finished product. Mint will boil off, ferment off, and age out. You could probably use twice the mint. As it is, it’s a mild harmonious note in a slightly woody, complicated herbal bitterness. The champagne yeast is better at fermenting sucrose and fructose (fruit sugar) than maltose (barley sugar) so it leaves some sweetness in the beer and makes for a fairly low alcohol content. This is a real farmhouse brew, easy to drink a lot of and still be fine to get useful stuff done. I got pretty much what I was aiming for with this one and I LOVE it.
If you want some more recipes, gruitale.com has some. They are by no means a complete or definitive list. The herbal mix in a gruit is a lot like chili recipes: variable and exquisitely attuned to the cook’s personal taste. Mess around a little. Heed the ape: it’s your bucket, and you can put whatever you want in it.