Size: 330 ml
ABV: 8.5 %
Having already told the story of St. Arnoldus and his waffle-stick (#26), its time to talk about another thing Steenbrugge beers are associated with – gruit, and the best way to do that is to take a little journey back in time.
Gruit, or grut as it is sometimes spelt is a medieval mixture of various herbs which were used for bittering and flavouring beer. It was clearly the precursor to hops and could include almost anything that would give flavour and conserve the life of the brew. Again, its worth reiterating that beer was often preferred to water in these days as it was a lot safer to drink! The composition of the gruit could be almost anything, but often included gale, mugwort, yarrow, heather, juniper, ginger, caraway, aniseed – you get the picture.
It was around the 15th Century that hops became the preferred agent used to make beer, and there are a number of reasons that have been cited – some of which are more likely that others.
Firstly, is the association with the Reformation in Europe. At this time the churches were monopolising the beer production, and Protestant princes in Europe saw the advent of hops as a way of cutting down the revenue of the Roman Catholic church. It has also been posited that it may have been a social measure taken by the more austere Protestants to calm down the more stimulating Catholic beers, by ensuring the sedative effects of hops. Although a touch spurious, certainly around this time the Bavarian Purity Laws were in abundance in Europe which as we know (#35) limited the brewing of beer to only key ingredients like malt or barley, water and hops.
Two much more likely reasons remain though. Firstly, there were often ‘incidents’. Accounts abound of beer being spiced with deadly nightshade or henbane. Local governments and lords needed their workers alive and while hops were suddenly in abundance this was much more satisfactory. Another much more likely reason is that hops tend to work much better and more consistently than gruit. This was evidenced in the late 19th Century when India Pale Ale was made with higher concentrations of hops to keep better on long sea journeys.
Either way certain brewers, especially those of the craft variety in Belgium and the USA, have recently experimented with re-substituting hops with gruit mixtures. Steenbrugge beers are one such example. Hops are still used but the Palm brewery has been keen to remarket these beers as containing the famous mixture. To be fair you can hardly say the effect was overly noticeable. I suspect this is a nice little marketing ploy to discern it from the beer I drunk next. It was a pleasant tasting strong tripel which went down extremely well, and it would end up being the first of six new beers I would try tonight, not to mention those home bankers I had already tried. It was to be quite a hangover !