You’re most likely unfamiliar with the Gruit (rhymes with “root”) style. I only have had limited dealings with it myself. So, let’s take a look at what we have in front of us. Gruit is an old style of beer dating back to the 1100’s, and perhaps even farther, that was popular in Continental Europe, and to some degree, the British Isles. It is most notable for the lack of hops used in the brewing. Instead of using hops to add flavor and seasoning, it used whatever herbs and plants locals had available to them. Some of the most common might have been yarrow, bog myrtle (sweet gale), juniper, rosemary, and mugwort.
The first attempt at the style by a Bellingham brewery
Malting grains back in those times was less than an exact science, so colors often varied. It seems that the Scottish examples were often darker colored and a bit sweeter, and might have made use of peat. The Continental versions, generally ran to a lighter color and body, but, due to the imprecise malting process used, I suspect colors ran the gamut. Gruit was often considered, due to the herbs used, to be something of an stimulant, and even an aphrodisiac. Perhaps part of the reason for moving away from using wild herbs and spices, to the more sedativelike hop plant in beer was a strain of Puritainism that sought to keep the lower classes calm, and not as lively and frisky.
This background brings us to what, I believe, is the first attempt at the style by a Bellingham brewery, the good folks over at Aslan. I enjoyed a couple servings one recent evening while with friends, and went back a couple days later with a fresh, clean palate, and the desire to spend some quality alone time with this beer. I Am Gruit! clocks in at 6% ABV, and is served in a flared goblet. The beer poured an attractive gold color that was hazy, to the point that it was just short of opaque. Of the few modern interpretations I’ve tried, most seemed to be much darker in color than this one is. The beer had about an inch of white head that dissipated down in a minutes time, and left no lacing throughout the enjoyment of the glass.
The aromatic portion featured a nicely spicy yeast scent (perhaps a Belgian yeast from the Saison or Tripel families?), a honey-like sweetness, and a very light grain ratio. I didn’t get to learn what herbs and/spices were used in this brew, but the combined effect was very earthy and floral. It almost seemed like there might have been a bit of a Noble hop presence too, but that may be due to the combined effects of the ingredients. The basic grain bill was still a bit buried on the tongue, but did a nice job providing a foundation for the the various yeast, herb, and spice components to approach different parts of the palate. There was a lot going on throughout the taste, with some tingles here, some sweetness there, and hints of yeasty spice seemingly everywhere. While all that was going on, that honeyish flavor was a constant presence.
The body was medium light, not quite crisp, yet far away from full. It stayed even across the tongue, and delivered a finish that was both semisweet, yet tart & dry. As mentioned, I had 3 glasses over a couple visits to the lively tap room, so I clearly found drinkability to be pleasant and enjoyable. If one is more of an adventurous gourmand, you owe it to yourself to swing by and give this a try. If you’re more the curious beer drinker, I think you’ll intrigued enough to give it a shot. If you’re one of those souls who likes to stay safely in their IPA/Stout/Amber/Blonde ale comfort zone, I highly encourage you to try one of these, and see what else beer can be. Perhaps you’ll find yourself saying “I Am Gruit!” too.
Overall, I enjoyed this beer quite a bit, and applaud Aslan for reaching out and trying something different. Without a base of knowledge to know if this a good, bad, or indifferent take on the style, I’m going to go with my instincts for this brew and give it a very solid
2 Almost undrinkable
3 Flawed, needs work
4 OK, but can be improved
5 Solid, pleasant
5.5 Good; typical for its style
6 Above average
7 Well above average
8 Very good