Weekend Tap Update: What’s Yarrow Root, And Why Is It In My Beer?

Eavesdrop on enough conversations occurring among a gathering of craft beer fans, and you’re likely to overhear at least a couple history lessons.  (Do this at a beer festival and interestingly, and often hilariously, the history may become a bit more mangled as the day moves along.)  Regardless, tales of times gone by always, of course, pair naturally with beer.  Even the newest craft brewed type of beer, or latest fad in brewing, likely has a root or two in the soil of some old world style and is an interpretation thereof­.  Many times, that story may explain why a particular ingredient is even in beer to begin with, or how a beer “style” got its start.  One often heard lesson revolves around hops, and usually begins with British colonialism and oversea voyages and ends with why every other beer on the shelves at the local beer store is an IPA.  It’s a common story, and understandably so, given the vital role hops play in not just IPAs, but in any beer. It’s still a good one to tell, but most craft curious folks have heard it before.  So much so that upon overhearing it being told – or retold – at any beer related gathering, you’d likely just move on.  A much less familiar story would be about Gruit (or Grut), a practically forgotten beer style using ingredients that were forerunners to hops, and though it might be a very difficult discussion to come across, should you happen to overhear such a tale, consider stopping and listening in.  Sure, the folks telling it likely will still be holding tasting cups full of IPA.  But as far as the story of Gruit goes, likely you haven’t heard it before, and possibly, the craft beer geeks telling it just might trump your own beer geekiness.

Gruit, practically synonymous with the more modern but slightly vague term “ancient ale”, generally refers to a type of beer commonplace during medieval times in which various herbs were used to spice, or perhaps bitter, the beer.  It is common to think of Gruit as a particular style hailing from England or Scotland, in which specific ingredients used were herbs or other flowering plants such as yarrow or heather (basically, a flowering shrub).  Other similar plants were used, with resulting flavors in the beer likely presenting the flavors from them.  True, it’s not likely that most beer drinkers are familiar with the taste of commonly found shrubs, and for some, this might be reason for a little skepticism.  But admit it, some are still getting used to aggressively hopped beers too.  It’s all about the fun in experimenting with different beer styles, a joy that craft brewers provide when recreating such old world beers – even with something such as Gruit.

True, finding craft breweries that attempt to recreate something as medieval as Gruit (pun intended) can be slightly difficult to do, just as it would to come across a conversation about the “style”.  But this weekend, Blue 5 Restaurant takes care of both of those difficulties, as they apparently have put on tap one of Sixpoint Brewing’s (NY) Mad Scientist series – yes, a Gruit beer (or Gruitbier).  The brewery’s website blog refers to original experimentation with the beer being a “mixture made of heather tips, yarrow root, juniper berries and myrtle, resulting in a complex herbal bouquet and a lingering, light bitterness.”  So in case you’re in the mood, as many of us are for something new to taste – and then to talk about – find your way down to Blue 5 this weekend, for a little beer with a side of ancient history.

Just in case the Gruitbier isn’t to your liking, here are some other recent developments in the Roanoke area for new beer on tap, which reads a bit like an invasion from Belgium:

Blue 5 also looks like they’ve put on Avery Brewing’s (CO) “The Reverend”, a Belgian Quadrupel.  Dark Belgian ales, Quads are often sweetish, deeply rich and complex brews.  Also, Abbaye des Rocs Triple Impériale, a Belgian Tripel, and The Breury’s “Mischief”, a Belgian style strong pale ale, have been added.  Local Roots has recently put on Brewery Ommegang’s Three Philosophers, also a standout Quad produced by the New York based brewery.

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~ by thebeerroad on May 31, 2013.

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