Gruit-Style Spiced Ale

OG, FG, IBUs and SRM will vary.  Before the use of hops in beer, European beers were often flavored with gruit (rhymes with fruit). Gruit is a blend of herbs and spices, the most common being bog myrtle, yarrow and rosemary.

Gruit ale was the main form of ale in Europe for close to 700 years. The production of gruit was monitored by the church. Many of the religious sectors had monopolies on the gruit trade and discouraged the use of hops to protect their interests. In Holland, gruit suppliers even taxed hopped beer.

The Germans were the first to use hops in beer. In the 1500s they instituted “The Bavarian Beer Purity Law,” which names hops as the only flavoring in beer. Because of the preservative qualities in hops, Germany was the only country that could successfully export beer.

Eventually all of Europe changed over to hops, with England being the most resistant. When the Flemish settled in Kent, England and planted hops in the fifteenth century, King Henry the VI finally passed a law allowing the growth and use of hops. It soon became apparent that using hops made better beer and gruit ales became a fond memory.

In our version of gruit-style spiced ale, we combine hops and gruit. Hops will be used for bittering and herbs and spices are used for flavor and aroma.

Commercial Beers To Try:   

Some excellent spiced beers are: St. Peter’s Spiced ale (spiced with cinnamon and apple), New England Holiday Ale, Anchor “Our Special Ale,” Harpoon Winter Warmer, Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale, Alba Scots Pine Ale, and Grozet Auld Scot’s Gooseberry and Wheat Ale.

Hops, Malt, Yeast, Herbs and Spices   

Bittering hops should not be more than 10 AAUs so that the bitterness does not detract from the spice and herb flavors. Almost any variety of bittering hop can be used. Crystal malt is used for body, roundness, color and sweetness. Chocolate malt is used for color, and to give the beer another dimension. Torrified wheat provides a whippedcream head and a smooth creamy body. Malto-dextrin provides body and a hint of sweetness. All of these characteristics provide a perfect backdrop for the spices and herbs. The following spices and herbs can be used for gruit: cumin, yarrow, sweet gale, anise, rosemary, caraway seed, coriander, cinnamon, ginger, juniper berries, nutmeg, millefoil, bog myrtle, nutmeg, elderflowers, cardamom, lavender, licorice stick, rosemary, mace, cloves, vanilla bean, woodruff, black pepper and marjoram.

Gruit can be a mix of a few or many spices, depending on the brewer. Some combinations that compliment each other are: sweet gale, coriander and cumin; nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and vanilla bean; or cumin, black pepper and lavender. The combinations can be as few as two or as many as ten. Use your imaginations and your taste buds.

Serving Suggestions

Serve gruit-style spiced ale in a tankard mug at 55° to 57° F. Enjoy with a simple dessert of lemon pound cake topped with freshly whipped cream and raspberries.

Gruit-Style Spiced Ale

5 gallons, extract with grain; OG = 1.058; FG = 1.015; IBU = 28


12 oz. U.S. crystal malt (60° Lovibond)
4 oz. torrified wheat
3.5 oz. British chocolate malt
6.5 lbs. Muntons extra light dry malt extract (DME)
2 oz. malto dextrin
8.5 AAUs Northern Brewer (1 oz. at 8.5% alpha acid) (bittering)
1 tsp. Irish moss

Gruit Mixture:

1-inch vanilla bean (chopped), 1/2 tsp. sweet gale, 1-inch piece broken licorice stick, 2 tsp. anise seeds (crushed), 1-inch of fresh ginger (grated).
London ESB Ale (Wyeast 1968) or English Ale (White Labs WLP002)
1-1/4 cup Muntons extra light dry malt extract for priming

Step by Step:   

Bring one gallon of water to 155° F, add crushed grain and hold for 30 min. at 150° F. Strain the grain into the brewpot and sparge with one gallon of 168° F water. Add the dry malt, malto dextrin and bittering hops. Bring the total volume in the brewpot to 2.5 gallons.

Boil for 45 min., then add 1/2 of the gruit mixture and Irish moss. Boil for 10 min., then add 1/2 of the gruit mixture. Boil for 5 min., then remove pot from stove. Cool wort for 15 min. in an ice bath or chill with wort chiller. Strain into the primary fermenter and add water to obtain 5-1/8 gallons.

Add yeast when wort has cooled to below 80° F. Oxygenate-aerate well. Ferment at 68° F for 7 days then rack into secondary (glass carboy). Ferment until target gravity has been reached and beer has cleared (approximately 3 weeks). Prime and bottle. Carbonate at 70° to 72° F. for 2 to 3 weeks. Store at cellar temperature.

Partial-mash option:

Mash 1.75 lbs. U.S. two-row pale malt and the specialty grains in 1 gallon water at 150° F for 90 min. Sparge with 2 gallons water at 168° F. Then follow the extract recipe, omitting 1.75 lb. of Muntons extra light dry malt extract (DME) from the boil.

All-grain option:

Mash 9.67 lbs. U.S. two-row pale malt and the specialty grains in 3 gallons of water at 152° F for 90 minutes. Sparge with 5 gallons of water at 168° F. The total boil time is 90 minutes. Add 6.8 AAU of bittering hops for the last 60 minutes of the boil. Add the spices and Irish moss as indicated by the extract recipe.

Issue: December 2000