Brewing ale with medicinal plants and botanicals is our future and our past.
Thousands of moons ago this earth blessed humans with beer, and we are still giving thanks. At the end of the work day thousands are going to preform the ritual of cracking open a cold one. But what many do not know is, for thousands of years gruit ales were in the center of many human rituals; a fermented beverage consisting of a blend of plant material, spring water, sugar, and yeast. Notice the lack of hops and the presence of earth in that equation.
Ancient and herbal ales dwindled in a big way during the 15th - 16th century. Many factors went into their disappearance, but I'm giving some serious side eye to the passing of the German beer purity act, part of the Protestant reformation. The act stated that water, barley, and hops were the only ingredients to be used in the brewing process. This written decree was made wide spread by the power of the printing press and the loss of traditions passed on through ritual. And, since many of the flavoring and medicinal herbs used were known to be slightly psychotropic or aphrodisiac, its really no surprise that a religious-driven law would favor an ale brewed with hops to induce drowsiness. If there are any hop heads reading, I’m sorry to disappoint but hops are first and foremost a sedative. And, I’ll take a stand here and say, the religious orders of Europe circa the Protestant Reformation certainly would have preferred you to be feeling all sleepy rather than feeling all sexy.
Oh, I guess I should mention that brewing was also almost entirely a woman’s profession and primarily executed by women from ancient Mesopotamia to the Middle Ages. As the wise women and healers in their communities, these women had not only a great knowledge of plant medicine, but a connection with the Earth and responsibility to steward it. They knew which plants were good for curing ailments, cooking, brewing, and sometimes witchcraft (this is not a word to be afraid of)! After the passing of Germany’s Beer Purity Laws, brewing underwent substantial changes making the process both commercial and industrial—no longer women controlled. As patriarchal structures of power, including religious and governmental, took action to takeover the regulation of beer it was nearly impossible for women to engage in the brewing and selling of beer in legitimate marketplaces. Overtime it became an industry dominated by men and beer took on different characteristics and roles in people’s lives.
Let me take a breath and come back to the herbs—my happy place. The herbs being used before the addition of hops were a range of plants with medicinal qualities - yarrow, sweet gale, wormwood, rosemary, and many others were on the list. This version of beer was often considered sacred and was used not only to nourish and relax those who drank it, but as apart of ceremony and health. In fact, gruit was notorious for its ability to aid in shifting consciousness, promote well-being, and increase sex drive. I believe the true essence of the plants is released during fermentation, making them so very potent and alive with energy. Writer Mikal Aasved explains this dance of the plants and fermentation so beautifully -
Just as the life force of an animal is contained in its blood, so are fermented beverages infused with the life force of the plants from which they are made. Those plants that are more important to the survival of man, or which have stimulating psychological effects upon him, are, in tribal and early Western societies, thought to incorporate a particularly powerful force. Thus, throughout the ancient Mediterranean regions, alcoholic beverages "assumed a mythological and sacred character, being, as it were, the very life essence of the cereal god." When the spirits of these plants are personified by a patron diety, the beverage then becomes the "blood" or "milk" of that god or goddess which embodies all of the life-giving, stimulating, and other supernatural and magical virtues of these most sacred of substances.
- Mikal Aasved, 1988
Our tagline is “Progressively Traditional Plant Based Ales.” We are working actively to bring the magic of those gruit ales back. We believe that the Earth awakening has begun. We want to supply you with fortification for the journey. We want to make some progress by bringing back a beautiful tradition. We want everyone drinking their plants again.
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