Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

The earliest brewers probably added herbs and spices to beer, both to give it flavor and to delay the development of offflavors from oxidation and the growth of spoilage microbes. In early Europe this mixture, called gruit in German, included bog-myrtle, rosemary, yarrow, and other herbs. Coriander was also sometimes used, juniper in Norway, and sweet gale (Myrica gale) especially in Denmark and Scandinavia. It was around 900 that hops, the resinous cones of the vine Humulus lupulus, a relative of marijuana, came into use in Bavaria. Thanks to its pleasant taste and effectiveness in delaying spoilage, it had largely replaced gruit and other herbs by the end of the 14th century. In 1574, Reginald Scot noted in A Perfite Platforme of a Hoppe Garden that the advantages of hops were overwhelming: “If your ale may endure a fortnight, your beer through the benefit of the hops, shall continue a month, and what grace it yieldeth to the taste, all men may judge that have sense in their mouths.” Still, it was not until about 1700 that English ale was hopped as a matter of course.