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What Is A Gruit Beer? A History and Recipes.

Gruit beer

IMG_20130609_174700Evidence of brewing beer dates back to the 5th millennium BC.  Believe it or not, prior to the 16th century, hops were rarely used in the brewing process.  Bittering and flavoring consisted of herbs and botanical creations.  From the Egyptians to the Knights of the Round Table, gruit beer is recorded in their history.   

When the Reinheitsgebot purity law was established in Bavaria, it became illegal to brew beer with anything other than water, malt, and hops.  If a brewer was caught violating the purity law, his/her beer would be confiscated without compensation.  Gruit beer eventually phased out and hops became the weapon of choice. 

There are a few breweries creating traditional gruit style ales today such as Dogfish Head, New Belgium, Mt. Pleasant, and Midnight Sun to name a few.  These recreations must be appreciated with an open palate and mind.  Go to your local bottle shop and check out their supply for a gruit beer.

 

What kind of herbs, spices, botanicals are traditionally used in a Gruit Beer?

Traditional Herbs:

Sweet Gale (Bog Myrtle)
Yarrow

Wild Rosemary

Other Common Herbs/Additions:

Juniper

Mugwort

Wormwood

Labrador Tea

Heather

Bog Heather
Licorice
Sage

Black Henbane

Ginger
Caraway Seed
Aniseed
Nutmeg
Cinnamon

Brewing gruit ale has unlimited possibilities and each batch can be a blank slate.  The ability to create beer that tingles your lips is also likely.  Here are some gruit ale recipes for those adventurous enough.  These were discovered after trolling through forums/websites.  I cannot guarantee the quality or end result.  Try them or create your own in true Gruit Style.

 RECIPES

Double Gruit
A sweet and earthy beer
Print
Ingredients
  1. 5lbs - US 2-Row
  2. 2lbs - Crystal 60
  3. 1lb - Cara Red
  4. 1lb - Wildflower Honey (add at 30 minutes)
Add to boil
  1. .5oz - Mugwort @ 45 minutes
  2. 1oz - Heather Tips @ 45 minutes
  3. .5oz - Mugwort @ 15 minutes
  4. 1oz - Heather Tips @ 15 minutes
  5. 2 grams - @ 0 minutes
Secondary
  1. 2oz - Labrador Tea
  2. 2oz - Yarrow
  3. Yeast: WY1968
Instructions
  1. Single infusion @ 152 degrees for 60 minutes
Beer Mumbo http://beermumbo.com/
Gruit Ale #1
I rich yet slightly sweet ale with a subtle bitterness
Print
Ingredients
  1. 14 lbs - US 2-Row
  2. 9 oz - Crystal 120
  3. 8 oz - Crystal 40
  4. 6 oz - Munich Malt
  5. 6 oz - Oatmeal Flakes
  6. 5 oz - Roasted Barley
  7. 1 oz - Mugwort @ 60 minutes
  8. 1 oz - Heather Tips @ 60 minutes
  9. .5 oz - Mugwort @ 15 minutes
  10. 1 gram - Heather Tips @ 0 minutes
  11. Yeast - WY1968
Instructions
  1. Do an infusion mash at 151 degrees.
  2. Primary fermentation - 21 days
  3. Secondary fermentation - 14 days
Beer Mumbo http://beermumbo.com/
Gaelic Dreams
No description
Print
Ingredients
  1. 8lbs - US 2-Row
  2. 1lb - Crystal 40
  3. .5lb - Crystal 60
  4. .125lb - Roasted Barley
Add to boil
  1. .75oz - Mugwort @ 60 minutes
  2. .25oz - Mugwort @ 20 minutes
  3. .25oz - Mugwort @ 0 minutes
  4. Yeast: American Ale
Instructions
  1. Single infusion @ 154 for 60 minutes
Beer Mumbo http://beermumbo.com/
Pog Mo Thoin Gruit Ale III
medium dark amber/yellow and had an herb-like flavor that mellowed with time
Print
Ingredients
  1. 12lbs - US 2-Row
  2. 2lbs - Crystal 40
  3. 2lbs - Melanoidin Malt
Add to mash
  1. 55 grams - Yarrow
  2. 55 grams - Marsh Rosemary
  3. 2 grams - Myrica Gale
Add to boil
  1. 30 grams - Yarrow @ 60 minutes
  2. 30 grams Marsh Rosemary @ 60 minutes
  3. 2 grams Myrica Gale @ 60 minutes
  4. Yeast: American Ale
Instructions
  1. Single infusion @ 149 for 90 minutes
Beer Mumbo http://beermumbo.com/
Yarrow Ale
Print
Ingredients
  1. 3lbs - Light DME
  2. 3oz - Fresh Yarrow flowers and leaves @ 60 minutes
  3. .8 grams - Sweet Gale @ 60 minutes
  4. 2oz - Fresh Yarrow flowers and leaves @ 5 minutes
  5. Yeast: American Ale
Instructions
  1. No mash
  2. bottle when fermentation is complete
Beer Mumbo http://beermumbo.com/

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George Remus & Death Valley – Prohibition’s Core

Photo credit: http://storify.com/zukejj/george-remus-cincinnati-s-king-of-bootlegging

On January 17, 1920 the Eighteenth Amendment (XVIII) took effect in the United States.  This made the production, transport, and sale of (though not the consumption or private possession of) alcohol illegal.  The Volstead Act was a sidebar that actually defined which intoxicating liquors were prohibited.  It today’s terms, it was the gray area.  This act also brought forth exclusions, such as alcohol for medicinal and religious purposes.

Welcome the kingpin of bootlegging, George Remus. George was a successful lawyer in Chicago who moved to Cincinnati after prohibition started to capitalize on the saturation of distilleries surrounding the area.  Being a lawyer, Remus was obsessed with the loopholes of the Volstead Act and immediately found fortune in the exploitation of the gray undefined areas.

George realized that he could legally sell bonded liquor to himself for medicinal purposes if he simply bought out distilleries and pharmacies in the region.  He bought out many of America’s more famous distilleries and would hire his own employees to hijack the inventory.  It would then be resold for a much higher profit as bootlegged booze.  He is even mentioned multiple times in the show Boardwalk Empire.  This guy made Nucky Thompson look like a amateur.  Over a three year span, Remus made well over 40 million dollars.  He was rumored to be the inspiration for Jay Gatsby of The Great Gatsby.  Brilliant!

George Remus

George Remus also owned one of the most spectacular homes to ever exist in Price Hill.  He threw crazy parties and handed out lavish gifts to those of power in Cincinnati.  This guy gave out cars to the ladies who attended!  In 1919, the southwest section of Price Hill was actually called Elberon Heights.  His Hermosa estate was built by Henry Lackman of the Lackman Brewery.  The home had a carriage house, stable, greenhouse, Grecian swimming pool, and a baseball diamond for the neighborhood kids.  

George remus House
The Hermosa Mansion
Photo credit: Price Hill Historical Society
A Remus dinner party
Photo credit: The Delhi Historical Society

At the same time he acquired the Lackman mansion,  George also bought the Dater Farm in Westwood.  He made this purchase for a strategic reason.  It was off the grid, not visable to traffic, and close to the core of Cincinnati. 

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This is a Google Map view of the approximate location of the Dater Farm aka Death Valley.

It was here that his largest bootlegging operation would take place.  As a matter of fact, the majority of booze that reached Cincinnati came from what he called “Death Valley Farm”.  When his inventory was falsely hijacked, it was brought here for storage and distribution.  George Remus actually hired a small group of 10-12 men to protect the property from hijackers and trespassers.  If you crossed the property line, you would be greeted with a shotgun.

Remus Death Valley
A rare photo of the Death Valley farm looking from Queen City Ave.
Photo credit: Enquirer Archives

Death Valley had a shell that appeared to be a small farm with barns, chickens, and a home on the property.  The truth was far beyond the cookie cutter appearance.  The barns held the majority of the bootlegged liquor and even beer.  The home was a centralized station for distribution logistics throughout the Greater Cincinnati area.   Each barn had a cellar and there were a few tunnels that reached Queen City Ave.  George strictly conducted cash transactions and it is rumored that some of his earnings were buried on the property in the event a raid would ever occur.   It is also rumored that he has a hidden vault built between 1918-1923 to protect his millions of dollars.  The vault could be somewhere in Cincinnati or in Newport, KY.  His business partner Buck Brady, was likely the only other person to know where this safe was located.  Find the property records and you just may find a vault.

The farm sat in a valley that was overlooked by some of his loyal buyers. These homes would keep an eye out for raiders and hijackers at all times.
Photo credit: Enquirer Archives

Eventually, a regular Death Valley customer was flagged down in Indiana, and his fault led to a warrant on the property.  George Remus was aware of the suspicious activity in the Cincinnati area and ordered his men to removed all booze from the farm.  His men failed to remove the liquor in time.  The Death Valley location was shut down due to a surprise Sunday raid.  He was not concerned because his additional halfway houses in Hamilton, Reading, Glendale, Buffalo, Pennsylvania, California, New York, and New York City were thriving. 

Photo credit: PBS

In 1925, George Remus was found guilty on multiple counts and sentenced to 2 years in prison on violations tied to the Volstead Act.  While serving his prison sentence, he met an inmate by the name of Franklin Dodge.  During his time spent with Franklin, he admitted that his wife had full control over his assets.  He was telling this to an undercover agent positioned as a faux inmate. Dodge left prison after hearing this information and started a relationship with George’s wife (Imogene Remus). They liquidated everything leaving a couple hundred dollars to George.

Spring House Gazebo
It is rumored that Imogene Remus still roams the gazebo that overlooks Mirror Lake.

When George Remus was released from prison, his wife immediately filed for divorce.  On the day they were to attend a court hearing, George paid off a cab driver to run Imogene’s car off the road in Eden Park.  It was in front of the Spring House Gazebo where she was fatally shot in the abdomen by George.  It is said she still haunts the gazebo that overlooks the mirror lake.

George Remus was somehow found not guilty by reason of insanity and only served 6 months in an institution.  He lived the remainder of his life in Covington off of the grid and supposedly lived very comfortably.  That raises question about the rumored hidden vault.  He died in 1952.  He was in his seventies.


In Cincinnati, you now have two options to celebrate the legend of George Remus.  There is George Remus Whiskey and Fifty West Death Valley Shootout Imperial Stout.  They also have a version aged in Remus Whiskey barrels!  Check out Fifty West’s other Remus inspired beers throughout the year.

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Old Beer Recipes From The 1800’s

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We often forget about the importance beer played in the foundation of the country we love so much.  In the 1800’s, beer was a huge component to the daily diet for most families, including their children.  As a matter of fact, families kept sacred cookbooks that contained family beer recipes alongside food recipes dating back hundreds of years.  Until modern water treatment surfaced,  it was generally safer to drink beer than water.  American families were a different kind of poor back then. There were no support systems established in 1840, outside of the church. When a family needed nutrition, beer played a crucial role in survival. Even if they were lacking the money to eat well, people drank fairly well.

Beer usually consisted of locally acquired ingredients.   Hop pellets, specialty grains, lab controlled yeasts, and artificial flavorings did not exist.  An open fire with an iron pot is how it went down.  If a cheap beer was desired, local adjunct items were collected and often mixed with molasses.

Anyways, I was recently given permission by the Cincinnati library to view a rare book dating back to 1840.  I had to lock my belongings in a secured room and was not permitted to use any flash photography. This was only to protect the original copy of the book. Fortunately, I was allowed to snap some photos with my phone.  White’s New Cook Book is a collection of family remedies,  recipes, and blueprints distributed to the residents of the growing Cincinnati area.  Check out these awesome old beer recipes.  Try one!  However, I promise they will not match our current selections.

Check these photos out:

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beer gifts

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Grayscale – Cincinnati’s Next Beer Experience

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I had the awesome opportunity of spending my lunch break inside of a forgotten (soon to be revitalized) Cincinnati landmark.  If you have not heard about Grayscale Cincinnati and the amazing endevour that Scott Hand and Dominic Marino have taken on, you are seriously missing out on some amazing news and inspiration.

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Dominic Marino and Scott Hand

Since I am a history nerd,  I think it would only be prudent to start off with some historical information and pictures to get you in the mood.  So what is the brewery history of this building?  I found this information about the brewing history:

  • Sehmeltzer circa 1829-18??
  • Andrew Jackson Brewery (owned by Meinrad & Fridolin Kleiner) 1832-1855
  • Kleiner Brothers (M. & F.). The Jackson Brewery (282 Hamilton Road) 1855-1873
  • George Weber, Jackson Brewery 1873-1877
  • George Weber, Jackson Brewery
  • Addressed to 284 McMicken Avenue (Hamilton renamed) & Elm St 1877-1884
  • George Weber Brewing Co. 1884-1887
  • Jackson Brewing Co. 1887-1919
  • Brewery operations shut down by National Prohibition in 1919-1933
  • Squibb-Pattison Breweries, Inc. 1933-1934
  • Aka: Old Jackson Brewery 1933-1934
  • Jackson Brewing Corp. 1934-1942
  • Closed in 1942 and has been various businesses since.  Last used in the 1980’s

Grayscale will house a brewery bringing back what this amazing building was originally built to do. Brew beer! Apparently, it will primarily be gravity fed and your beer will literally come fresh from the bright (brite) tanks. Who will the brewmaster be? I’ll just say Cincinnati will not be disappointed.

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The building many know as Metal Blast used to be home of the Jackson Brewery and is now home to Grayscale
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A lot of brick restoration underway!

 

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View from the taproom outside to where a possible deck will be built

 

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Looking in from the taproom to the fermentation room. Amazing character. The fermentation room will be gravity fed from upstairs.

 

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Fermentation room. The picture below from 1885 was taken in this room.

 

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Third floor hole in the ceiling to the roof

 

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This room will eventually be available for private parties. The view looks straight down Elm into Downtown. It is beautiful!

 

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Scary! that is all…

 

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Entrance to the lagering tunnels. There are two levels of tunnels underneath this building!

 

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Stairs to the lower lagering tunnels

 

 

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This is the old dumbwaiter

 

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These are old barrel guides. They would roll the barrels of beer down these to be loaded into a cart. The barrels of beer would either be brought to the bottling plant or distributed to local taverns all the way down to the river and outskirts. To the left is an old archway that opened up to the Mcmicken streen level. Its very amazing. There are even sealed off rooms that have not been opened or accessed since the 1800’s.

 
Vintage Jackson…

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Brew A Legendary Ballantine Ale or IPA

Ballantine Sign

Before Ballantine beer came in a shameful 40oz container and shared the shelf with Olde English and Colt 45, it was great beer.  Actually, they brewed some pretty amazing concoctions for back in the day. They were a large scale brewery with craft beer brewing care.  They self distributed locally and brewed seasonal and one time release brews.  Impressive to say the least.

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A Ballantine delivery truck from 1905

The Ballantine Brewing Company dates back to the 1840’s in New Jersey.  A Scottish immigrant named Peter Ballantine decided to commercially produce his well respected recipes. They were brewing quality beers under a few different names until the company closed in 1972.  Miller Coors now brews the beer and the original recipe has been flushed As of 2005.  During their years of brewing Pallantine released ales, lagers, porters, stouts, a dark lager, and a bock.  Their most prized beers were an aromatic IPA that was aged in wood for a year before bottling and the sought after Burton Ale.  This ale was aged for 10-20 years in wood before being gifted.  It was never sold commercially and was only given as a special Christmas gift to distributors and serious VIPs.

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The Elusive Burton Ale. Bottles of this this are still traded and auctioned off. Even today they still hold a nice flavor profile. Good luck finding one!
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A Balantine XXX Ale can
Ballantine IPA
Ballantine Wood Aged IPA

So you now have an idea about the amazing history of the Ballantine Brewery and the awesome legendary beers that USED to hold this name.  Here are two original Ballantine recipes for you to brew up.  However,  if you do the IPA…age it in wood for a year.  It just seems like the right way to finish this beer.

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Aunt Babette’s Beer and Other Receipts – 1889

AuntBabette

I was rummaging through some more old books and came across “Aunt Babette’s Cook Book: Foreign and domestic receipts” c1889.  This is a Jewish cookbook published by The Bloch Publishing and Printing Company which had a location in Cincinnati, OH.  It’s an amazing collection of receipts and is well worth the read.

After reading some of Aunt Babette’s receipts for game,  I will never complain about my options at the dinner table again.  However,  I am intrigued by her Beer Soup, Hot Beer, and Eierbier receipts.  So, I did a little research.

Eierbier and Hot Beer:  This is a receipt that came over to America with the German and Polish immigrants in the 1800’s.  There are many records from the early 1800’s mentioning this odd beer concoction.  It was often described as a cold weather drink that is warm and creamy to enjoy.  Yuck!  I am not planning on trying this anytime soon.

Eierbier
Eierbier Eierbier is a frothy and creamy drink that used to be used a cure all for the flu and common respiratory problems.  Served very warm with a spoon.

Beer SoupBelieve it or not, this dates back to the Carolingian Empire.  Beer soup for breakfast?  Indeed!

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Beer Soup The recipe for beer soup has changed much over the years. This is what a traditional beer soup looks like with cheese added.

Here are some additional receipts that I found interesting:

Raisin Wine

yeast

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Fricasseed rabbit

Oyster Plant

If you would like to read the entire book of receipts,  you can download it here from BeerMumbo.  Cheers and please let us know if you decide to take on one of these receipts.

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Beer History – Yeatmans Tavern

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The original landing spot for travelers in Cincinnati was Yeatmans Cove.  The keelboats would land and the first Cincinnati legend (Mike Fink) and his crew would pull your keelboat to shore.  It was said 20-30 men would be needed to pull the keelboats.  However,  Mike Fink could do this alone (probably totally untrue).  The villagers described him as half man, half horse, half alligator who could out drink,  out fight, and out dance any man who stepped in his way.  The villagers must have drank a lot. Continue reading Beer History – Yeatmans Tavern