Tonic Inebriation

By Ellyn Gados / Photography By Brent Harrewyn | August 15, 2015
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In modern times we do not regard the Middle Ages as an era of health, but we can glean some lasting practices from their necessarily seasonal and horticulturally resourceful diets. Hardy drinkers may be delighted to know that gruit, a low-alcohol ale brewed to better store barley and spiced with herbs, was consumed in equal quantities to the unreliable water of the day.

Today, hopped beer has all but supplanted this ancient ale, but a few dedicated brewers have revived old recipes and in the process are rediscovering the taste and healthful qualities of native herbs and weeds of New England.

I was invited to sit in on a February meeting with the Zero Gravity craft brewers and Jeff Philie, of Hallow Herb Farm in the Intervale, and learn more about their efforts. The Burlington brewery has been making gruit since 2005. Brewer Paul Sayler got his original recipe from friend Tom Baker of Heavyweight Brewery in Pennsylvania. Baker uses gruit herbs like yarrow, sweet gale and woodruff in his Two Druids ale. Zero Gravity’s own version includes those herbs as well as Labrador tea, mugwort and nettles.

According to Paul Sayler, it only takes 8 to 12 ounces of herbs to spice the beer like hops would. “However, they have additional characteristics including soporific, medicinal and psychic qualities,” he says. “[Gruit] had a sort of enlivening quality, so the Church kind of put a kibosh on these herbs. Aside from being fascinated by beer traditions on a whole (all those beers came from gruit), we’re interested in gruit because it gives us a chance to use indigenous ingredients.” Paul has been buying antique herbalism books for research, such as a Native American taxonomy of herbs. “They used everything!” Certain plants like yarrow and mugwort grow wild in both Europe and North America and complement the brewery’s focus on rare German, Belgian and English beers, as well as local ingredients.

Destiny Saxon, also of Zero Gravity, is dreaming up new incantations of the ale. “I want to develop more varieties. I was hoping to get an aphrodisiac gruit brewed for Valentine’s Day. Seasonal ones like immune booster and S.A.D. beer, ready for March when everyone’s down in the dumps.” Currently the brewery makes a winter and a summer solstice gruit. The summer gruit is a favorite. Fresh-picked herbs bursting with essential oils impart more flavor, with a lower 5.5% alcohol content, and provide an extra boost of calcium and vitamin A from fresh nettles. Last summer they brewed “garden party carrot gruit,” a light beer made with carrots hearth-roasted in maple syrup.

Currently the gruit is available, on tap or by the growler, at American Flatbread as well as from Zero Gravity’s taproom and beer garden at their new #716 Pine Street brewhouse.

During the meeting, Jeff and the brewers fantasized about the herbs to come. “Early spring I can wild craft those and it’s top quality, ridiculously nice,” Jeff says of young nettle shoots, as they flip through seed catalogs. Blood-purifying nettles were once a standard tonic in beer for spring in New England. The group brainstorms with a resourceful eye on available plants. Jeff recommends a stand of sumac that could be used as an alternative to citrus and give the beer a nice red hue. “He’s so inspired about the lore of herbs,” Paul says of working with Jeff.

Coordinating harvest time and brew dates to ensure tank space and freshness of herbs is an important part of their seasonal production. The list of herbs Destiny is interested in using overlaps surprisingly well with what Jeff will grow for Urban Moonshine’s tinctures, prompting this author to ask the question, “How would you rather take your medicine?” Sweet gale, a native citrus-scented shrub, and yarrow are both used to make ale more intoxicating and act as digestive-aiding bitters. Labrador tea is soothing and mildly narcotic. Mugwort, most popular for its flavoring properties, is great for female reproductive health and has been known to produce vivid dreams.

You may think these beers have begun to sound more like medicine than refreshing drink, but Zero Gravity puts a high premium on drinkability in their brewery as they collaborate with American Flatbread to create food pairings. The solstice gruit is pleasantly herbal in flavor and not at all bitter, like other gruits can become. For fermented foods, it seems the sky’s the limit, evidenced by old recipes for cock ale broth beer. Earth Eagle Brewery of New Hampshire has even used boiled moose head in one of their more adventuresome brews. Destiny and Paul conduct infusion experiments plant by plant, mainly for taste. Some traditional gruit herbs like woodruff are healthful but intensely bitter and therefore left out. They also pay attention to effects because alcoholic infusions can alter the strength of an herb. Most herbs are boiled in a three-foot nylon bag with the wort and then removed before the fermentation process begins.

Tonight we are drinking “A Beer Named Sue,” heavy with Artemisia annua, or sweet Annie. Cousin to the infamously psychoactive wormwood, sweet Annie has a milder effect that aids in neurological function. “It brought me right back to being out in the fields,” Jeff says of the Sue beer, for which he grew the Artemisia. “Basically the exact opposite of hops, it’s bringing you up, increasing your sexual drives, libidinal and enlivening,” says Paul cheerfully. “Saisons are good for herbs, and because it’s a farmhouse beer, it’s expected that the brewer utilizes what is around,” Destiny adds.

Local breweries can also increase land fertility. Zero Gravity’s spent grain is fed to soil-enriching chickens and pigs. (The temptation to provide this wholesome ale to thirsty swine, probably the greatest unsung beer connoisseurs out there, remains large.) Many herbs double as cover crops and have the potential to be restorative for both soil and body, creating an opportunity for farmers to grow and sell nitrogen-fixing crops to brewers to enhance the local flavor and nutritional content of their beer.

In the 1800s, the St. Paul Street home of Zero Gravity and American Flatbread was a patent medicine factory. Today, with its emphasis on nourishing food and ales, it has perhaps returned to its apothecary roots. As the brewery expands to a second location, gruit will remain one of their flagship ales.


Born and raised in Vermont, Ellyn Gaydos is currently freelance writing while raising pigs and vegetables.

In modern times we do not regard the Middle Ages as an era of health, but we can glean some lasting practices from their necessarily seasonal and horticulturally resourceful diets. Hardy drinkers may be delighted to know that gruit, a low-alcohol ale brewed to better store barley and spiced with herbs, was consumed in equal quantities to the unreliable water of the day.

Today, hopped beer has all but supplanted this ancient ale, but a few dedicated brewers have revived old recipes and in the process are rediscovering the taste and healthful qualities of native herbs and weeds of New England.

I was invited to sit in on a February meeting with the Zero Gravity craft brewers and Jeff Philie, of Hallow Herb Farm in the Intervale, and learn more about their efforts. The Burlington brewery has been making gruit since 2005. Brewer Paul Sayler got his original recipe from friend Tom Baker of Heavyweight Brewery in Pennsylvania. Baker uses gruit herbs like yarrow, sweet gale and woodruff in his Two Druids ale. Zero Gravity’s own version includes those herbs as well as Labrador tea, mugwort and nettles.

According to Paul Sayler, it only takes 8 to 12 ounces of herbs to spice the beer like hops would. “However, they have additional characteristics including soporific, medicinal and psychic qualities,” he says. “[Gruit] had a sort of enlivening quality, so the Church kind of put a kibosh on these herbs. Aside from being fascinated by beer traditions on a whole (all those beers came from gruit), we’re interested in gruit because it gives us a chance to use indigenous ingredients.” Paul has been buying antique herbalism books for research, such as a Native American taxonomy of herbs. “They used everything!” Certain plants like yarrow and mugwort grow wild in both Europe and North America and complement the brewery’s focus on rare German, Belgian and English beers, as well as local ingredients.

Destiny Saxon, also of Zero Gravity, is dreaming up new incantations of the ale. “I want to develop more varieties. I was hoping to get an aphrodisiac gruit brewed for Valentine’s Day. Seasonal ones like immune booster and S.A.D. beer, ready for March when everyone’s down in the dumps.” Currently the brewery makes a winter and a summer solstice gruit. The summer gruit is a favorite. Fresh-picked herbs bursting with essential oils impart more flavor, with a lower 5.5% alcohol content, and provide an extra boost of calcium and vitamin A from fresh nettles. Last summer they brewed “garden party carrot gruit,” a light beer made with carrots hearth-roasted in maple syrup.

Currently the gruit is available, on tap or by the growler, at American Flatbread as well as from Zero Gravity’s taproom and beer garden at their new #716 Pine Street brewhouse.

During the meeting, Jeff and the brewers fantasized about the herbs to come. “Early spring I can wild craft those and it’s top quality, ridiculously nice,” Jeff says of young nettle shoots, as they flip through seed catalogs. Blood-purifying nettles were once a standard tonic in beer for spring in New England. The group brainstorms with a resourceful eye on available plants. Jeff recommends a stand of sumac that could be used as an alternative to citrus and give the beer a nice red hue. “He’s so inspired about the lore of herbs,” Paul says of working with Jeff.

Coordinating harvest time and brew dates to ensure tank space and freshness of herbs is an important part of their seasonal production. The list of herbs Destiny is interested in using overlaps surprisingly well with what Jeff will grow for Urban Moonshine’s tinctures, prompting this author to ask the question, “How would you rather take your medicine?” Sweet gale, a native citrus-scented shrub, and yarrow are both used to make ale more intoxicating and act as digestive-aiding bitters. Labrador tea is soothing and mildly narcotic. Mugwort, most popular for its flavoring properties, is great for female reproductive health and has been known to produce vivid dreams.

You may think these beers have begun to sound more like medicine than refreshing drink, but Zero Gravity puts a high premium on drinkability in their brewery as they collaborate with American Flatbread to create food pairings. The solstice gruit is pleasantly herbal in flavor and not at all bitter, like other gruits can become. For fermented foods, it seems the sky’s the limit, evidenced by old recipes for cock ale broth beer. Earth Eagle Brewery of New Hampshire has even used boiled moose head in one of their more adventuresome brews. Destiny and Paul conduct infusion experiments plant by plant, mainly for taste. Some traditional gruit herbs like woodruff are healthful but intensely bitter and therefore left out. They also pay attention to effects because alcoholic infusions can alter the strength of an herb. Most herbs are boiled in a three-foot nylon bag with the wort and then removed before the fermentation process begins.

Tonight we are drinking “A Beer Named Sue,” heavy with Artemisia annua, or sweet Annie. Cousin to the infamously psychoactive wormwood, sweet Annie has a milder effect that aids in neurological function. “It brought me right back to being out in the fields,” Jeff says of the Sue beer, for which he grew the Artemisia. “Basically the exact opposite of hops, it’s bringing you up, increasing your sexual drives, libidinal and enlivening,” says Paul cheerfully. “Saisons are good for herbs, and because it’s a farmhouse beer, it’s expected that the brewer utilizes what is around,” Destiny adds.

Local breweries can also increase land fertility. Zero Gravity’s spent grain is fed to soil-enriching chickens and pigs. (The temptation to provide this wholesome ale to thirsty swine, probably the greatest unsung beer connoisseurs out there, remains large.) Many herbs double as cover crops and have the potential to be restorative for both soil and body, creating an opportunity for farmers to grow and sell nitrogen-fixing crops to brewers to enhance the local flavor and nutritional content of their beer.

In the 1800s, the St. Paul Street home of Zero Gravity and American Flatbread was a patent medicine factory. Today, with its emphasis on nourishing food and ales, it has perhaps returned to its apothecary roots. As the brewery expands to a second location, gruit will remain one of their flagship ales.


Born and raised in Vermont, Ellyn Gaydos is currently freelance writing while raising pigs and vegetables.

 

Today, hopped beer has all but supplanted this ancient ale, but a few dedicated brewers have revived old recipes and in the process are rediscovering the taste and healthful qualities of native herbs and weeds of New England.

I was invited to sit in on a February meeting with the Zero Gravity craft brewers and Jeff Philie, of Hallow Herb Farm in the Intervale, and learn more about their efforts. The Burlington brewery has been making gruit since 2005. Brewer Paul Sayler got his original recipe from friend Tom Baker of Heavyweight Brewery in Pennsylvania. Baker uses gruit herbs like yarrow, sweet gale and woodruff in his Two Druids ale. Zero Gravity’s own version includes those herbs as well as Labrador tea, mugwort and nettles.

According to Paul Sayler, it only takes 8 to 12 ounces of herbs to spice the beer like hops would. “However, they have additional characteristics including soporific, medicinal and psychic qualities,” he says. “[Gruit] had a sort of enlivening quality, so the Church kind of put a kibosh on these herbs. Aside from being fascinated by beer traditions on a whole (all those beers came from gruit), we’re interested in gruit because it gives us a chance to use indigenous ingredients.” Paul has been buying antique herbalism books for research, such as a Native American taxonomy of herbs. “They used everything!” Certain plants like yarrow and mugwort grow wild in both Europe and North America and complement the brewery’s focus on rare German, Belgian and English beers, as well as local ingredients.

Destiny Saxon, also of Zero Gravity, is dreaming up new incantations of the ale. “I want to develop more varieties. I was hoping to get an aphrodisiac gruit brewed for Valentine’s Day. Seasonal ones like immune booster and S.A.D. beer, ready for March when everyone’s down in the dumps.” Currently the brewery makes a winter and a summer solstice gruit. The summer gruit is a favorite. Fresh-picked herbs bursting with essential oils impart more flavor, with a lower 5.5% alcohol content, and provide an extra boost of calcium and vitamin A from fresh nettles. Last summer they brewed “garden party carrot gruit,” a light beer made with carrots hearth-roasted in maple syrup.

Currently the gruit is available, on tap or by the growler, at American Flatbread as well as from Zero Gravity’s taproom and beer garden at their new #716 Pine Street brewhouse.

During the meeting, Jeff and the brewers fantasized about the herbs to come. “Early spring I can wild craft those and it’s top quality, ridiculously nice,” Jeff says of young nettle shoots, as they flip through seed catalogs. Blood-purifying nettles were once a standard tonic in beer for spring in New England. The group brainstorms with a resourceful eye on available plants. Jeff recommends a stand of sumac that could be used as an alternative to citrus and give the beer a nice red hue. “He’s so inspired about the lore of herbs,” Paul says of working with Jeff.

Coordinating harvest time and brew dates to ensure tank space and freshness of herbs is an important part of their seasonal production. The list of herbs Destiny is interested in using overlaps surprisingly well with what Jeff will grow for Urban Moonshine’s tinctures, prompting this author to ask the question, “How would you rather take your medicine?” Sweet gale, a native citrus-scented shrub, and yarrow are both used to make ale more intoxicating and act as digestive-aiding bitters. Labrador tea is soothing and mildly narcotic. Mugwort, most popular for its flavoring properties, is great for female reproductive health and has been known to produce vivid dreams.

You may think these beers have begun to sound more like medicine than refreshing drink, but Zero Gravity puts a high premium on drinkability in their brewery as they collaborate with American Flatbread to create food pairings. The solstice gruit is pleasantly herbal in flavor and not at all bitter, like other gruits can become. For fermented foods, it seems the sky’s the limit, evidenced by old recipes for cock ale broth beer. Earth Eagle Brewery of New Hampshire has even used boiled moose head in one of their more adventuresome brews. Destiny and Paul conduct infusion experiments plant by plant, mainly for taste. Some traditional gruit herbs like woodruff are healthful but intensely bitter and therefore left out. They also pay attention to effects because alcoholic infusions can alter the strength of an herb. Most herbs are boiled in a three-foot nylon bag with the wort and then removed before the fermentation process begins.

Tonight we are drinking “A Beer Named Sue,” heavy with Artemisia annua, or sweet Annie. Cousin to the infamously psychoactive wormwood, sweet Annie has a milder effect that aids in neurological function. “It brought me right back to being out in the fields,” Jeff says of the Sue beer, for which he grew the Artemisia. “Basically the exact opposite of hops, it’s bringing you up, increasing your sexual drives, libidinal and enlivening,” says Paul cheerfully. “Saisons are good for herbs, and because it’s a farmhouse beer, it’s expected that the brewer utilizes what is around,” Destiny adds.

Local breweries can also increase land fertility. Zero Gravity’s spent grain is fed to soil-enriching chickens and pigs. (The temptation to provide this wholesome ale to thirsty swine, probably the greatest unsung beer connoisseurs out there, remains large.) Many herbs double as cover crops and have the potential to be restorative for both soil and body, creating an opportunity for farmers to grow and sell nitrogen-fixing crops to brewers to enhance the local flavor and nutritional content of their beer.

In the 1800s, the St. Paul Street home of Zero Gravity and American Flatbread was a patent medicine factory. Today, with its emphasis on nourishing food and ales, it has perhaps returned to its apothecary roots. As the brewery expands to a second location, gruit will remain one of their flagship ales.

 

 

Article from Edible Green Mountains at http://ediblegreenmountains.ediblecommunities.com/drink/tonic-inebriation
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