The Rise and Fall of Gruit

Courtesy Washington City Paper

This is the story of gruit, typically thought of as a type of beer brewed in the medieval Low Countries of the Netherlands, Belgium, and western Germany, and the genesis of excise taxation. The intertwined history of both the beer and tax law muddied the waters and by the 17th century the knowledge of gruit as a beer had passed from living memory. This paper is an attempt to put together the many pieces, spanning multiple countries, languages and centuries, to create a clearer picture of gruit as a beverage than what is currently found in the English language. The word gruit seems to have many meanings within the context of brewing. With gruit a grain product deemed necessary for brewing beer was meant, but also a certain tax paid at each time of brewing, as well as specific herbs added to the ale, and even the beer itself. As this study intends to look deeper into historic gruit, the modern definition of gruit as generic herbal ale in contrast to hopped beer is not taken into consideration. Gruit as a product changed throughout its history. From a beer additive revered for its fermenting powers, it morphed into a beer with a reputation for headache causing herbals. From piecing together the many different puzzle pieces an interesting picture emerges: one of gruit not as just a handful of brewing herbs, but as a powerful and deemed necessary wort fortifier…

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