Stories | Mad Scientists

Mad Scientists Series #13: Gruitbeer

Published On
March 29, 2013

For charm of powerful trouble, like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

Grete Herball

For hundreds of years in Europe, the pub drink was gruitbeer, a beer bittered and spiced with a mixture of herbs rather than hops. Rather suddenly, beginning in the 1600s, along with the rise of the Protestant Church, gruitbeer was phased out and hopped beer became the near-ubiquitous norm. But hopped beers weren’t preferred by the populace, who enjoyed the herbal brew and believed that hops caused drowsiness. Gruitbeers, on the other hand, were wildly popular and believed by many to provide a host of benefits— narcotic, antidotal, psychotropic and aphrodisiac effects were documented.


Rather than a matter of public preference, it appears that the shift was largely a result of religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants. The Catholic Church gained significant revenue from tax on gruit, and the Protestants felt that the effects of gruitbeer were another example of too much allowance for worldly pleasures. It was a hop revolution of sorts for the Protestants, who could undercut Catholic taxation and eliminate the less-than-pious effects of gruitbeer simultaneously. So brewing gruitbeer was condemned as tantamount to witchcraft and beer history was made.

Mad Scientist at Work

Centuries later, Sixpoint is investigating the appeal of the ancient brew.  In the weeks following Hurricane Sandy, the Red Hook brewery was largely incapacitated for weeks, with one notable exception. The Mad Scientists continued to operate a small, five-gallon pilot brewer, hard at work testing various herbal mixes and grain lineups. It finally culminated in a long afternoon spent with pitchers and graduated cylinders, pouring, measuring and tasting the various brews—a classic Mad Scientists session.


With a small percentage of wheat and rye, along with a touch of smoked malt, the grain bill is unique and muddled. Ancient brewers would not have access to 100% barley, and could not fire-malt their grain without leaving a touch of smoke. The result is a hearty ale with significant dimension.  The final gruit mixture is made of heather tips, yarrow root, juniper berries and myrtle, resulting in a complex herbal bouquet and a lingering, light bitterness.

The Brewers Brew

Undeterred by old sectarian disputes, Sixpoint presents this forbidden and alluring brew of yore; Mad Scientists’ Series #13, now available on draft.