Bell-bottoms, skinny jeans, pixie cuts, and vinyl records are just a few trends that have come and gone throughout the years. The list goes on and on of things that go in and out and back in during our lifetime. When it comes to beer, the same holds true. While our society in general is used to light lagers and juicy IPAs, there are some kinds of specialty beers that have been revived in relatively recent years. Take for instance the gruit. I have read about them extensively and had one at a beer bar in Washington, D.C. but didn’t know it. A fairly recent visit to Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co. in Ontario, Canada was another delightful reintroduction to the gruit, a beer with many variations. A gruit is basically a beer that does not use hops, but instead uses herbs such as myrtle, heather, and yarrow to name a few. It isn’t known exactly when gruits were brewed, but this ancient tradition seems to stem from Continental Europe around the Middle Ages. Hops were introduced to beer from around the 11th to 16th centuries (according to Wikipedia).
My introduction to gruits was a heavenly concoction by the name of Fraoch Heather Ale, brewed by Williams Brothers Brewing Company in Scotland. This ale is available in many parts; you just have to look for it. Before I knew what a gruit was, I secretly wished that there were beers infused with herbs, rose petals and the like. With craft brewers becoming more and more experimental, avoiding things such as artificial lime flavors like some big brewers use, many herbs and interesting combinations are produced on a regular basis. One of the world’s oldest beer styles, Sahti, is a Finnish ale that uses a combination of unmalted and malted grains, flavored with juniper berries and filtered with juniper twigs. The Kalevala, a national epic poem that in part pays homage to its beer brewing tradition is a testament to its importance in Finnish culture. I have yet to try a true Sahti, but American breweries have had their experimentation with it, such as Dogfish Head’s Sah’Tea, Boston Beer Company’s Norse Legend Sahti, and Goose Island Company’s Sahti to name a few. At Beau’s in Canada, I tried two delicious variations of their Bog Water, a gruit made with bog myrtle. Beau’s has received significant recognition for their gruit: “Beau’s has made a name for itself with gruits since the brewery introduced Bog Water in 2008, which is made with bog myrtle harvested by an Algonquin native from the wilds of northern Quebec instead of hops.” (The Ottawa Citizen, Jan. 30, 2014) Gruit has become such a popular style that February 1st is International Gruit Day, which started in 2013 when craft brewers declared it as such to raise awareness of the gruit and to praise the historical traditions of brewing with botanicals.
Another interesting beer that has made a local revival is the traditional Polish Grodziskie, a smoked, clear wheat malt with a history that goes back to around 14th to 15th century Poland in the town of Grodzisk Wielkopolski. A widely popular beer, Grodziskie saw a decline after Communism took over in Poland. By as late as 1993, the last brewery to produce it in Poland was shut down. However, WT Brews in Baldwinsville (a New York State Farm Brewery opened to the public in 2014 by Founder Mike Johnson and beer brewed by Rich Pinkowski) revived the Grodziskie locally and it has received rave reviews since its release. Honestly, I am not a fan of any smoked beer, but WT’s Grodziskie immediately won me over. If you haven’t tried it yet, head out to their new tasting room at 18 E. Genesee Street in downtown Baldwinsville, NY. Trust me, it’s worth the visit.
There are so many other wonderful styles that embody the “what’s old is new again” concept along with completely experimental new craft beers that are popping up everywhere around the country. If you haven’t tried some traditional European beers in awhile or these revived styles, I highly suggest you give your palate a wonderfully new experience that is traditions old. You don’t need to put on vintage clothing or listen to vinyl to enjoy nouveau old style beers – it’s all new to you! Cheers!
Adapted from Table Hopping, Jan 2016