Salt Spring Island Ales recently released a new batch of their seasonal Spring Fever Gruit.
If you are not sure what a gruit is, it is a type of ale that was phased out in Europe between the 11th and 16th century. While gruits and beer are brewed with thee of the same ingredients—water, yeast, and grain—instead of hops, they used a number of different bittering and flavouring agents, including weet gale, mugwort, yarrow, ground ivy, horehound, heather, and more.
As I’m quite used to reviewing beers at this point, I thought it would be fun to challenge myself and review something made without my beloved hops.
Passed down in families or jealously guarded by monasteries, gruit ale recipes come from an era when beer was flavoured with a variety of herbs & spices. Developed with the help of Salt Spring’s “Wild Seed School of Herbal Studies,” our Spring Fever Gruit is made without hops—using wildcrafted herbs and a little “Lunar magik.” It was brewed on the full moon—said to maximize botanical essences.
Bright, cider-like flavours, a floral/clover nose and a slight sweetness make our Spring Gruit uniquely different and refreshing.
- 650 ml bomber bottle
- ABV: 5.2%
- IBUs: NA
This gruit poured out an opaque dark brown colour, with a thin sliver of head that only left tiny specks of lacing.
The nose was incredibly floral, herbal, and earthy. I got clover, heather, lavender, and other assorted wildflowers. It’s hard to compare it to anything other than the smell of hiking through the moors.
The palate had very similar characteristics and brought to mind drinking strong herbal tea with hints of ginger, cinnamon, lavender, and heather. There was also a mead/honey-like character—no doubt from the wild flower pollen.
The mouthfeel was medium bodied with low carbonation. The finish was off-dry with a short-lived bitterness that differed greatly from that found in hopped beers, being a lot more earthy and rustic.
This was tricky one to review. I’ve reviewed a gruit before, but that one cheated a little and still had hops in it. This one was completely hop free and while I like to think my palate has become relatively refined when it comes to the combination of malts and hops, a gruit is a very different beast.
What is interesting is that Salt Spring told me that they used locally harvested wild yarrow, myrica gale, and labrador tea (AKA bog rosemary). However, I have no idea what those smell or taste like, so my brain just interpreted them as the closest thing it knew. Sort of like when some one tries a new type of meat and they think it tastes like chicken.
If I had to compare this gruit to anything, I’d say it’s a little beer-like, a little mead-like, a little cider-like, and a little herbal tea-like, but really it is more than the sum of all these parts.
That’s what I love about the style though, it’s challenging to the palate, but also incredibly rewarding. This floral and herbal concoction is definitely not for everyone, but I found it both complex and refreshing.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Serving temp: 8-12C
Food pairing: Plowman’s lunch; Shepard’s Pie
Glassware: Pint glass