Written by Franz Hofer for A Tempest in a Tankard


Gruit conjures up images of medieval goblets and mysterious mixtures of herbs and spice. Gruit is also a reminder that the ale Europeans drank right up to the dawn of the early modern era was worlds away from the hopped beverage we’ve come to know and love.

But what is gruit? In its broadest sense, gruit was a spiced ale that people from the British Isles to Bavaria and Bohemia drank alongside wine and mead. It’s also the name of the mix of herbs and spices that gave the beverage its distinctive, potent, and occasionally sharp taste. And it’s this mix that opens a window onto the power-political dynamics of the time — for this was no mere packet of potpourri.

The Holy Roman Emperor was the ultimate source of the Gruitrecht, which gave possessors the right to compose the gruit mixture and then sell it to brewers. Along with other rights such as tolls, markets, and minting, the emperor could grant the Gruitrecht to members of the nobility (typically counts) or the clergy (typically bishops).

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Twenty-Five Beers for 2024

A few weeks back I wrote about the cultural dynamics that influence our taste, while also giving an account of what has shaped my own tastes in beer. I followed up with an exploration of the kinds of beers I like, ending that piece with a list of beers that had caught my attention of late.

That list is still at the end of Beers I Like, and Why, but it’s way down at the end of a piece that’s already fairly long. So I’m turning the list into a standalone post (with a few modifications and different photos) to draw more attention to these superb beers.

A quick recap if you haven’t read the piece above: To keep things simple, I confined my selection to beers I drank for the first time in 2023. Even if the list doesn’t encompass every one of my favourite beer styles, it represents the kinds of beers I seek out from one day to the next. It’s also a testament to the kinds of beers that surprise me — and a reminder to keep an open mind about those styles and categories of beer we might not drink every day. And it’s a list that brings me full circle to the kinds of experiences I mentioned in the first piece in this series, Accounting for My Tastes in Beer.

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Accounting for My Tastes in Beer

Written by Franz Hofer

In between evenings of losing myself in my annual “big book” (Don Quixote this year), I’ve been reading Terry Theise’s What Makes Wine Worth Drinking: In Praise of the Sublime. Theise makes a compelling case that people who write about wine or who sell wine for a living be forthcoming with their readers and customers about their tastes.

It’s a simple premise: writers and critics should examine their taste proclivities so that their readers know where they stand. As Theise asserts, this is the first obligation of the critic, whether that person is writing about wine, beer, art, or music. It’s what buttresses our credibility. And, I’d add somewhat paradoxically, it’s what makes our judgments and pronouncements that much more “objective.” (More on that below.)

Unlike Theise, who’s a wine merchant, I’m not in the business of selling my readers beer. But like Theise, I’m also subtly (or maybe not so subtly?) trying to sell you on a particular vision of what beer is or can be, along with the kinds of experiences that make beer worth drinking. That’s why, I think, it makes sense to give you an account of what has shaped my tastes — the beer gardens, Wirtshäuser, beer hikes, beer regions, and beer cities I write so much about — in short, the places that transform the liquid in the bottle or glass into something more.

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