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Brew-w-Gruit-art - 9/25/17


"Gruit: Before There Were Hops There Was Gruit" by Lord John Marshall atte Forde.


NOTE: See also the files: ale-msg, beer-msg, Malthouse-art, small-beer-msg, Warm-Beere-art, grains-msg, herbs-msg, spices-msg, Ancent-Grains-art.





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Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org




Before There Were Hops There Was Gruit

by Lord John Marshall atte Forde


You can find more work by this author at:



The use of hops in beer is actually a fairly recent phenomenon.  In Germany, hops began to gain popularity in the 1300s, and are, of course, mentioned in the Reinheitsgebot, the German Beer Purity Law of 1516, as one of the permissible ingredients in beer.


Although there are early references to hopped beer, including one in the writings of Hildegard von Bingen in the llth century, ale[1] was brewed for many years with an assortment of herbs and spices used to provide the needed bitterness to balance the taste of the brew.  Without this bitterness, beer/ale is usually slightly sweet and, at least to my taste, more palatable.  This mixture of herbs and spices is known as "gruit", or sometimes "grut", or "grout".


Making the Base:[2]


The grain components of these brews varied considerably from region to region.  One Dutch recipe, obtained from Marcel Tettero, webmaster of the site "Jopenbier Koyt" refers to the following:


"Roasted gerstenmouten, tarwemout, oats, clean water and gruit"


According to Marcel, roasted gerstenmouten is roasted barley, tarwemout is wheat and oats are oats.


Based on information from the book "Beer, The Story of Holland's Favorite Drink", the grain (or grist) used for Dutch Gruit was approximately 1/2 barley, 1/4 wheat and 1/4 oats (2:1:1 ratio).  This ratio varied over time, with more barley and wheat entering the mix as time went on.  For example, the Domesday book of 1086, notes "The monks of St. Paul's Cathedral brewed 67,814 gallons of ale using 175 quarters of barley, 175 quarters of wheat and 708 quarters of Oats."  This is approximately a 1:1:4 ratio.


Because the rest of the preparation is based on German and Dutch sources, I determined to use the 2 parts barley: 1 part wheat: 1 part oats ratio.


The Gruit Mixture:


The sources I researched for this project, including Stephen Harrod Buhner's "Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers", agreed that three of the primary components of gruit mixture were Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Wild Rosemary (Ledum palustre) and Bog Myrtle (Myrica gale) also known as Sweet Gale.  I have decided for this project to use these three herbs as the foundation of my gruit mixture.


Other herbs were often added as well, according to "Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance."  Among the herbs and spices added in various locales through the Middle Ages are ginger, anise, cumin (in Germany).  Other herbs used, "at one time or another", include laurel, marjoram, mint, sage, acorns, ground ivy, rosemary, heather, alecost, wormwood, tree bark and sycamore sap.


Correspondence with Marcel Tettero indicated that his recipe included "Zoet Hout" and "Dennehars".  From further research I determined that Zoet Hout is licorice root.  Dennehars appears to be fir tree resin.


Obviously all of these herbs cannot be used in a single brew.  Taste tests[3] of several potential blends were performed and an herb mix was selected: The gruit base of Yarrow, Wild Rosemary and Bog Myrtle, along with licorice root, ginger, ground ivy (mugwort) and Bay Laurel berries.


Additional Ingredients


Yeast and raw sugar crystals complete the recipe. It is popular to say that "in period they didn't know about yeast," but this is not quite correct. While it is true that it was not until the work of Louis Pasteur that we came to understand yeast's makeup and mechanism, it was well known that there was an ingredient which lead to fermentation.  Unlike period brewers, I do not have a prior batch available to provide this extra ingredient and I do know and have available commercial yeast.


The raw sugar crystals, added to the fermentation vessels increases fermentability. Today we know that this is because it gives the yeast more easily obtainable food.


The Procedure:


One concern that arose in starting out was whether there would be sufficient conversion of the starch to sugar in the grain mixture (known as "mash"). The more period-likely 2-row barley has more of the enzymes that do this conversion than does the more modernly-used 6-row barley. In order to minimize this problem, I determined to use malted barley and malted wheat, giving the conversion a bit of a boost over unmalted grains.  In addition, in order to more closely replicate the color of the less evenly roasted grains of the time, I added 4 ozs of Muntons Crystal Malt, an ingredient which would not have been available in period.


I started the mash by heating 6 gallons of water to boiling on the stove.  While this was heating, the grains were crushed and put into the mash tun, (the vessel in which the grains are soaked) – a 7 gallon bucket lined with a mesh bag – along with half the gruit spices.


Once the water was sufficiently heated, I ladled the hot water onto the grain and gruit mixture, using a 1-cup ladle, occasionally stirring the mixture to blend it.  Water was added until the tun was filled to above the level of the grain with water.  It took over 6 gallons of water to thoroughly saturate the grains and fill the tun to the top with water.


Once enough water was added, the top was placed on the tun and it sat for an hour to allow the enzymes in the grain to activate and convert the starch from the grain into sugar.


At the end of the hour, the liquid at the top of the tun was sweet, still starchy (and very tasty).  The liquid was drained off the grain into a fermentation bucket, which was covered and set aside.  By this time, most of the enzyme activity, taking place in the grain had finished.  However, a great deal of sugar was still present in the grain mix, which could be recovered in a second infusion. Use of a second infusion is referenced in several sources, such as Digby's recipe for Mr. Webb's Ale and Braggot and in the beer recipe found in Harrison's Description of England.


More hot water was added to the tun, to start the second infusion.  This time it took 3 1/2 gallons of water to fill the tun to the top (because the grains were already saturated, it took less water to fill the bucket).


The grain and water were allowed to sit for 15 minutes and then the second infusion was drained out and added to the first, until the bucket was full.  The rest of this second infusion was fermented separately.


One of the major differences of early, unhopped ale, compared to modern brews, is that there is no substantial boiling after the infusion.  In a modern hopped beer it is necessary to boil the sugar water obtained from the infusion (wort) with the hops to extract the bitterness of the hops. This boiling does not appear in unhopped recipes and was not done here.  The wort was placed into the fermentation vessel(s), along with the rest of the gruit mixture and the raw sugar. The yeast went in after the wort had cooled [4].


Fermentation proceeded for the next 4 days and was very lively.  After two more days, fermentation appeared to end [5].  At that time, the ale was racked into a glass carboy and allowed to settle for two days, then put into bottles and sealed.  







Arnold, John P., "Origin and History of Beer and Brewing", (1911), reprinted 2005, Cleveland, Beer Books


Bennett, Judith M., "Ale, Beer, and Brewsters in England", 1996, New York, Oxford Press


Buhner, Stephen Harrod,  "Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers", 1998, Boulder, Siris Books


Cornell, Martyn, "Beer The History of the Pint", 2003, London, Headline Book


Corran, H. S., "A History of Brewing", 1975, North Pomfret, David & Charles, Inc.


Culpepper, Nicholas, "Culpepper's Complete Herbal, (1653), 1995, Hertfodshire, Wordsworths Editions, Ltd.


Daniels, Ray, "Designing Great Beers", 2000, Boulder, Brewers Publications


Glover, Brian, "Beer, An Illustrated History", 1997, London, Hermes House


Harrison, William, "The Description of England", (1587), 1968, Mineola, Dover Books


Haydon, Peter, "Beer and Britannia, An Inebriated History of Britian", 2001, Thrupp, Sutton Publishing Ltd.


Hieronymus, Stanh, Brew Like A Monk, 2005, Boulder, Brewers Publications


Hornsey, Ian S., "A History of Beer and Brewing", 2003, Cambridge, Royal Society of Chemists


La Pensse, "The Historical Companion to House Brewing", 1990, Hull, Montag Publications


La Pensse, "The Craft of House Brewing", 1966, Hull, Montag Publications


Mosher, Randy, "Radical Brewing", 2004, Boulder, Brewers Publications


Papazian, Charlie, "The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing", 1991, New York, Avon Books


Pollington, Stephen, "Leechcraft, Early English Charms, Plantlore and Healing", 2000, Norfolk, Anglo-Saxon Books


Renfrow, Cindy, "A Sip Through Time", 1994, Sussex, Renfrow


Smith, Gregg, "Beer, A History of Suds and Civilization from Mesopotamia to Microbreweries", 1995, New York, Avon Books


Unger, Richard, Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, 2004, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press


Various, "Beer,The Story of Holland's Favorite Drink", 1994, Amsterdam, Batavian Lion/De Bataafsche Leeuw


The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt Opened: Whereby is Discovered Several ways for making of Metheglin, Sider, Cherry-Wine, &c. together with Excellent Directions for Cookery: As also for Preserving, Conserving, Candying, &c. First edition, London, 1669.




The Foundation for Gaian Studies

Buhner, Stephen Harrod, "The Fall of Gruit and ther Rise of Brewers Droop", 2003, http://www.gaianstudies.org/articles6.htm





The Debatable Brewers' Guild



Gerard's Herbal



Gruit Ale.com



Gruit Historic Beer of Choice in the Modern Age



"Jopenbier Koyt" http://members.home.nl/m.tettero/Overveen/Jopenbier.html


Jopen Koyt Website – Commercial Brewery



North American Women's Club of Eindhoven, The Netherlands Web Page of Dutch to English Spice names



The Recipe


For a 5 gallon batch:

*Note - this recipe is based on the latest batch of gruit brewed in 2009, the spice in the gruit mixture vary from the ones listed above, based on tasting the results.  I suggest you use these quantities.




4 lbs Crisp Maris Otter Malt

2 lbs Weyerman Malted Wheat

2 lb Flaked Oats

8 oz Muntons Crystal L60


Gruit Mixture:


2 oz Liquorish Root

2 oz Dried Ginger Root

2 oz Mugwort

2 oz Bay Laurel Berries

2 oz Bog Myrtle

2 oz Marsh Rosemary

2 oz Yarrow

(Half of the gruit mixture was in the brewing vessel, the other half was in the fermentation vessel).



1 lb raw sugar crystals



Wyeast 1968 – London ESB Ale Yeast - $6.25 (keystone)

This yeast was selected because it has a low attenuation, which means the yeast stops working at low alcohol rates, which will leave plenty of malt flavors and shows high flocculation, i.e. it quickly settles out of the beer to the bottom of the vessel, which will help it clear quickly.


[1] Although the terms are used interchangeably today, "ale" was originally defined as an alcoholic beverage made with grain and water and possibly brewed with herbs, while "beer" referred to beverages made with grain and water with the addition of hops.

[2] The specific recipe for this brewing may be found at Appendix I

[3] Tinctures were made of several herbs in alcohol, and these were added to a very light bodied, low hopped American commercial beer to evaluate the tastes

[4] The combined worts had a hydrometer reading of 1.044.  Not period, but of interest to brewers.

[5] Final hydrometer reading was 1.008



Copyright 2017 by Joe Fling. <jfling at gmail.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org