Gruit: nothing mysterious about it

Münster town hall, with the Gruetgasse (Gruit Alley) to the right. Inset: bog myrtle. Source: WikipediaGruit was a Medieval beer ingredient in the Low Countries and westernmost Germany, as we saw in the previous article. Local governments had a monopoly on it and made good money selling it. But too often, people like to pretend there is something mysterious about what exactly gruit was composed of, and what purpose it served. However, gruit isn’t such a big mystery: more information has been preserved than you may have thought. So here’s a quick survey of gruit, and now you never need to say anymore that we don’t know anything about it.

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Fact check: where did gruit occur?

British Library - Petrus de Crescentiis - Rustican des ruraulx p. 157Recently someone added me to a gruit chat group on Facebook, called ‘The Gruit Guild’. That meant many pictures of brews and of people picking herbs out on the heath. After all, gruit was a herb mix added to beer in the Middle Ages, before people started using hops. But recently, someone asked a historical question, so I was happy to interfere. The question was: where did gruit actually occur? A fact check!

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Health beer

Johan Hoff's Malt extractWouldn’t it be wonderful, if beer was actually really healthy? Instead of damaging your liver and giving you hangovers? Oddly, in the 19th century beer was seen as a perfectly healthy drink. This was of course an age when many people drank themselves half-conscious with gin, and then beer didn’t look so bad.

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