Brewmaster, 1st part

  • By
  • On 1st November 2013

We want to show the first part of Bar& Beer, a Beer Club collectable Brewmaster, article 12, 2013.

Adapted by: Gruit Projects.

Few beers are more historical than Gruit, whose origin and height in popularity is around the Middle Ages, when hops did not occupy its present privileged position, and when several plants (lavender, artemis, rosemary and others) competed to add their characteristics to beer.

We believe that to appreciate correctly the nuances that various botanical provide and to assess the retrieved style in its just meaning, two samples would not be sufficient. Thus, the Brewmaster  has, in this occasion, six references, four of which correspond to this genre: all from Belgium, Gruit Blond -straw color with a coriander and clove taste-, Gruit Amber -caramel and citric overtone-, Gruit Bruin  -the dark one- and Gruit Wit -that will be liked and surprise with its white foam.  An approximation to a style that it will not leave you indifferent.

Before hops

Until the XV century, Gruitbeer was the most common beer on the European continent and the British Isles. Since the fall of the Empire, this dark liquid –of similar hue to Stouts or actual Porters- served to quench the thirst of the population. The color results from unpredictable malting techniques.

Gruit Mixture_Mirto de BrabanteThe arrival of hops- the first record about its use is in 736 at Weihhenstephan Abbey of Bavaria- and the Reinheitsgebot, changed everything, but the evolution was very slow. Since its generalization, the medieval brewers continued using herbs (gruit) to give taste to their products. Perhaps only one, or maybe a mixture. Some of them –juniper or myrtle of Brabant- in greater quantities than others. All of them, providing certain bitterness, so the primary Gruit characteristics could be easily identified with vermouth taste.

The liquid´s quality obviously depends upon the quality and properties of the herbs used in its elaboration. The stratified society was based upon a rigid system of rights and obligations between lords, vassals and servants. Anyone who wanted to grow the herbs had to have authorization. Curiously, the best herbs were on the lands of the Crown which remained undeveloped, the paradox was, while somebody had authorization to make beer, they hadn´t the authorization to harvest the ingredients from these public lands. Eventually, the jurisdiction to grant this right, passed to the local authorities and the elaboration was regularized at the same time that technical details were improved.

Gruit beers

The herb beers have their roots in history and their existence can be presumed from the first years after the fall of Empire. However it’s primary importance is around the IX to XIII century, during the dark ages with strong religious presence. Then the wise women with knowledge about plants´ properties were branded witches by ignorance. Historical justice (or not), at the head of Gruit beers now (Gruut in Belgium) we find a woman: Annick De Splenter.

The transcendence of gruit was such that during the reign of Carlos V, there was a coin named Gruut. The meaning was precisely the fact that one of its uses was to pay the taxes incurred by beer production. Now, the house has recovered the image of this coin and we can find them on the labels and on the bottle caps, helping us to identify this product.

In the beginning of the fall of the use of the plants to make beer, we find factors such as the high tax burdens -a lot of gruitiers were enriched in the cities because of it, integrating a new middle class that jeopardized the stratified structure. The gruitier had the botanical Knowledge and was the responsible for making the mixtures, one of the best kept secrets. Then a lot of monasteries enacted regulations for exclusivity in preparation.

In the Middle Ages a lot of plants were used not only for giving flavor to liquid, but also to promote conservation. However, to drink beer was risky in other senses. The elaboration techniques were still rustic and even when the experts used regulated quantities, the botanical properties mutated for different factors: geographic situation, climatic conditions or stratum soil.

Nowadays, the knowledge of the Gruut-Gruit team has recovered the lost flavour with an added quality assurance.