Gruit (Pronounced ɡɹaɪt key)(alternately grut or gruyt) is a herb mixture used for bittering and flavouring beer, popular before the extensive use of hops. The terms gruit and grut ale may also refer to the beverage produced using gruit. Today, however, gruit is a colloquial term applied to a beer seasoned with gruit-like herbs.

Beer brewed following a 13th-century recipe using gruit herbs

Historical context


The word "gruit" stems from an area now in the Netherlands, Belgium, and northwestern Germany. The word refers to the herb mixture originally used to enhance the flavour of beers before the general use of hops. The earliest reference to gruit dates from the late 10th century. During the 11th century, the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV awarded monopoly privileges of the production and sale of gruit (Grutgerechtigkeit, or "grut licence") to different local authorities, and as such imposed a de facto tax on beer.[a] The control of gruit restricted entry to local beer markets—brewers in a diocese were not allowed to sell beer brewed without the local gruit, and imports were similarly restricted. The gruit licensing system also exerted control over brewers within a city, as the holder of a Grutgerechtigkeit could calculate how much beer each brewer could make based on how much gruit was sold to them.[1] Outside the area where the gruit monopoly applied, other countries and regions produced ales containing spices, but they were not called gruit. For instance, some traditional types of unhopped beer such as sahti in Finland, which is spiced with juniper sprigs, have survived the advent of hops.[2][3]

Specific gruit recipes were often guarded secrets. In 1420, the town council of Cologne "...directed a knowledgeable woman to teach a certain brewer, and no one else, how to make [gruit]..."[4] Although largely replaced by hops in the 14th and 15th centuries, gruit flavored beer was locally produced in Westphalia until at least the 17th century.[5]

In both the area where gruit existed and outside it, the traditional spices were gradually replaced by hops, in a slow sweep across Europe occurring between the 11th century (in the south and east of the Holy Roman Empire) and the late 16th century (Great Britain). In 16th-century Britain, a distinction was made between "ale" (which was unhopped), and the "beer" brought in by Dutch merchants, that was hopped.[6] In more recent centuries, however, the words "beer" and "ale" have been synonymous, as is still largely the case in British English, although recently there has been an increase in the use[b] where "ale" means beer other than lager beer.

The main factor for the replacement of spices by hops is that hops were cheaper (especially in the gruit area, where the price of beer flavouring spices was artificially kept high) and were better at rendering the beer more stable. This preservative effect is thought to have had a large impact on the early movement to switch over, although other plants commonly used in gruit mixes, for example sage, rosemary, or bog myrtle, also have antiseptic properties likely to extend the shelf life of beer.[citation needed] Spruce tips as a local food ingredient have a practical aspect as well; it is a plentiful resource in northern latitudes such as Finland and Alaska, while in Alaska hops must be imported from the lower 48 United States.[7]

Common ingredients


Gruit is a combination of herbs, commonly including:

Gruit recipes varied somewhat; each gruit producer included different herbs to produce unique flavors and effects. Other adjunct herbs include juniper berries, ginger, caraway seed, aniseed, nutmeg, cinnamon, mint, and occasionally hops in variable proportions (although gruit today is often sought out specifically for its lack of hops).[citation needed]

Modern brews


The 1990s microbrewery movement in North America and Europe renewed interest in unhopped beers, and several have tried reviving ales brewed with gruits, or plants that once were used in it. Commercial examples include:

Beer name Gruit ingredients Brewery Country
Gruut Blond, Gruut Wit, Gruut Amber, Gruut Bruin, Gruut Inferno Gentse Stadsbrouwerij Gruut Ghent, Belgium
Beann Gulban Heather White Hag Sligo, Ireland
Wolf & Gruit Mint, cinnamon, ginger, verbena, sage Brokreacja Zator, Poland
Golden State of Mind Chamomile, coriander, and orange peel Ale Industries Oakland, CA, US
Fraoch Heather flowers, sweet gale and ginger Williams Brothers Alloa, Scotland
Alba Pine twigs and spruce buds Williams Brothers Alloa, Scotland, UK
Myrica Sweet gale Hanlons Devon, England, UK
Gageleer Sweet gale Proefbrouwerij Lochristi, Belgium
Cervoise Heather flowers, spices, hops Lancelot Brittany, France
Artemis Mugwort and wild bergamot (Also known as bee balm or horsemint) Moonlight Brewing Company Santa Rosa, CA, USA
Alaskan Winter Ale Young Sitka spruce tips Alaskan Brewing Company Alaska,[8] USA
Our Special Ale Young Sitka spruce tips Anchor Brewing Company San Francisco, CA, USA
Spruce Tip Ale Young Sitka spruce tips Haines Brewing Company Alaska, USA
Spruce Tip Gruit Young Sitka spruce tips Wolf Tree Brewery Seal Rock, OR, USA
Island Trails Spruce Tip Wheat Wine Young Sitka spruce tips Kodiak Island Brewing Company Alaska, USA
Sitka Spruce Tip Ale Young Sitka spruce tips Baranof Island Brewing Company Alaska,[9][10] USA
Bog Water Myrica gale (bog myrtle) Beau's All Natural Brewing Company Vanleek Hill, Ontario, Canada
Spring Fever Gruit Organic barley, heather, and spices Salt Spring Island Brewery British Columbia, Canada
Various Weekly Offerings Locally foraged herbs, flowers, roots, and berries as well as
classic gruit ingredients
Earth Eagle Brewings Portsmouth, NH, USA
Posca Rustica Recipe based on archeological research at The Archeosite D'Aubechies - Sweet woodruff
(wild baby's breath) and bog myrtle are just two of a dozen different spices used.
Brasserie Dupont Wallonia, Belgium
Namastale Juniper and rosemary Church Key Brewing Campbellford, ON, Canada
Dunes Wormwood, mugwort, turmeric, lemongrass, and sage Solarc Brewing Los Angeles, CA, USA
Session Gruit Chamomile and elderberries Solarc Brewing Los Angeles, CA, USA
Earl Earl Grey Tea, lemon verbena, and foraged rosemary Solarc Brewing Los Angeles, CA, USA
Wine Trash Granache grape must and Yarrow Flower Solarc Brewing Los Angeles, CA, USA
Sun Eater Rosemary and dried lemon peel 4th Tap Brewing Co-op Austin, TX, USA
Jopen Koyt Sweet gale and other herbs Jopen Haarlem, Netherlands
A River Runs Gruit Lavender, chamomile, rose hips, and elderberry Rock Art Brewery Morrisville, VT, USA
Spruce Stout Spruce Tips Rock Art Brewery Morrisville, VT, USA
Zingiberene Ginger Gruit Ginger Schmohz Brewing Company Grand Rapids, MI, USA
Ancient Gruit Ale Wormwood, Grains of Paradise, Hand-picked Wild Yarrow The Beer Diviner Cherry Plain, NY, USA
Stop Trying to Make Gruit Happen Barrel aged (6.5%) Denizen's Brewing Company Silver Spring, MD, USA
Irish Gruit Gruit Heather tips, Rose hips (5.7%) Dunagan Brewing Company Gig Harbor, WA, USA
Gruit Yarrow, sweet gale, and Labrador tea Proper Brewing Company Salt Lake City, UT, USA
Earthbound Gruit Missouri Cedar branches, heather tips, basswood honey Dangerous Man Brewing Co. Minneapolis, MN, USA
Nursia Star Anise, caraway, ginger, and spruce Avery Brewing Co. Boulder, CO, USA
Special Herbs Lemongrass, hyssop, Sichuan peppercorns, and orange peel Upright Brewery Portland, Oregon, USA
groot Clove, juniper berry, rainbow peppercorn, and caraway seed Oliphant Brewing Somerset, WI, USA
Witchcraft Gruit Ale Dandelion, ginger, coriander, lavender, orange Peel LyonSmith Brewing Keuka Park, NY, USA
Acqua Passata Thyme, rhubarb, mugwort Retorto Podenzano, Piacenza, Italy
Palisade Oak bark, myrica gale Jelling Bryghus ApS Jelling, Denmark

Since 2013, craft brewers with an interest in making gruit flavored ales have banded together to mark 1 February as International Gruit Day.[11] The day is intended to raise awareness of and pay homage to the historical traditions of brewing with botanicals.

See also



  1. ^ It is believed that Henry IV awarded the German clergymen the exclusive right to produce and tax gruit in order to gain the clergy's support throughout the Holy Roman Empire.[citation needed]
  2. ^ Originating in the United States


  1. ^ Thomas, Diana W. (2009). "Deregulation Despite Transitional Gains: The Brewers Guild of Cologne 1461". Public Choice. 140 (3/4): 329–340. doi:10.1007/s11127-009-9420-4. ISSN 0048-5829. JSTOR 40270926. S2CID 189841589.
  2. ^ Sirén, Ilkka (11 August 2016). "Sahti, the Ancient Beer of Finland, Is Not for Beginners". Vice. Retrieved 8 April 2024.
  3. ^ "Sahti and Related Ancient Farmhouse Ales". Brewing Nordic. Retrieved 8 April 2024.
  4. ^ Unger, Richard W. (2004). Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 44–45. ISBN 978-0-8122-3795-5.
  5. ^ Schulte, Aloys (1908), "Vom Grutbiere. Eine Studie zur Wirtschafts- und Verfassungsgeschichte", Annalen des historischen Vereins für den Niederrhein insbesondere die alte Erzdiözese Köln (in German), vol. 85, pp. 118–146, doi:10.7788/annalen-1908-jg05, S2CID 202507552
  6. ^ Hornsey, Ian S. (2003), A History of Beer and Brewing, Cambridge: The Royal Society of Chemistry, p. 323, ISBN 0-85404-630-5
  7. ^ Roberts, James (2 March 2012), "Spruce tips to birch syrup, beers with the Alaska touch", Anchorage Press, archived from the original on 21 October 2015, retrieved 22 September 2015
  8. ^ "Alaskan Winter Ale is released", Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12 November 2010, archived from the original on 12 July 2015
  9. ^ Roberts, James (4 June 2014), "Spruced Up", Anchorage Press, archived from the original on 28 April 2015, retrieved 30 March 2015
  10. ^ Oliver & Colicchio 2011, p. 655.
  11. ^ "International Gruit Day - February 1st",, retrieved 3 November 2015



Further reading