Adventures in homemade gruit ale
by PJ Aiello
“Gru-it!” my friend pronounced in his Dutch accent after I had asked him to repeat this crazy new word. "What is it?" I asked. He then went on to explain to me that this is what people drank in Europe before the Bavarian Purity Law (known as the Reinheitsgebot. Introduced in 1516 by Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria). “Have you ever heard of an alehouse?”, he asked. “Well this is where people would go to who were ailing.”
I was intrigued! While I had no proof if this was true, having recently begun home brewing my own craft beer I was eager to learn more. So off I went to the internet later that night to research gruit ale.
I was amazed by what I read and now determined to add gruit ale to my projects list. A little more research and I soon found out that a gruit ale called Bog Water (crafted by Beau's) was available at the LCBO. So off I went to my local store. After searching the entire walk-in fridge I asked a nearby LCBO employee for help in finding it. To my dismay I was informed that they were sold out. This had me wanting it even more as I thought it must be popular. But as luck would have it, I finally spotted a single bottle of another of Beau's gruit ales called “Maddammite Noo Broo”. I quickly snatched it off the shelf and approached the customer service desk to ask if they had more. It was their last bottle, but the clerk informed me that other nearby stores had them in stock. She gave me the store locations including the amount they had left in stock. Eight were the most available at one of the stores, then three at another and that was it! So off I went and that day I was the proud purchaser of the last 12 bottles of Maddammites Noo Broo in Burlington, Ontario!
The weather was very hot that day and when I got home what was the very first thing I did? You guessed it, I popped the cap off of a Noo Broo and poured it into my dry throat! I was refreshed with the citrus fruity bubbly taste. Well, as the story goes I had another one for desert, and of course there were seconds and thirds. To my delight I awoke the next morning feeling energetic and lively.
Having no more gruit ales available to buy in the city after consuming my last 12, I directed by efforts to learning how to make this delightful concoction. I trolled the net for every resource I could find on gruit ale recipes. There was actually a very limited number of recipes I could find. Eventually I finally found a book that would teach me what I needed to know.
Having taken a certified herbalist course in Rhode Island, USA back in 1997, I already had a collection of herbs to draw from and needed to source just a few more of the basic herbs required. Using many of the same techniques I learned from my previous home brewing, and the guide book I had acquired, I carefully scripted a recipe and cooked my first batch of what I called “Healthy Herbs Brew”. A while later I began to bottle it, and as was my usual tradition, I artificially carbonate a few bottles right away to try it (using a home carbonator given me as a gift from a girlfriend). I drank 3 pints that night. I was feeling fine, nothing out of the ordinary until I went to bed... and that's when things got a little funky weird.
The moment after I shut the lights and closed my eyes I found myself in a large room, sort of like a lab. There were two men standing near to the centre-right side of the room, having a discussion with one another, and they acted as if I wasn't even there. I immediately opened up my eyes in the dark of my bedroom and everything was back to normal, except that I felt very alert. I wondered what was happening. I closed my eyes again, and there I was again in the same room with the same two men... everything exactly as before! I opened my eyes back up again and thought hard about this strange thing. Then it dawned on me that one of the ingredients used in gruit ale, myrica gale, was known to induce lucid dreams. But this was different. It was like I began dreaming the moment I closed my eyes before I fell into a deep sleep. In a matter of fact, I felt like I didn't sleep at all that night. It was an overly energetic experience, and I determined the next morning that I should only drink this batch earlier in the day to avoid another seemingly sleepless night. To my surprise and relief, this dreamy sleeplessness effect was significantly reduced after three months of natural bottle fermenting. At this point the taste had also improved significantly to something similar to the fruity citrus taste of the Noo Broo.
After having shared a few bottles with my best friend in my sunny back patio on a hot Saturday afternoon, he informed me enthusiastically, “PJ, this is your ticket to retirement!”
Well, maybe not just yet, but I recently finished bottling another home gruit experiment, and plan on heading to my nearest International Gruit Day 2017 event on February 1st to experience new recipes that I'm sure have already been perfected!
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