The Westlake-area brewery Strange Land has been playing around with uncommon beer styles since opening late last year, and one of its newest offerings is no different.
Available only at the taproom behind the Hat Creek Burger Co. off Loop 360, the Gruit is Strange Land Brewery’s take on the beers of old that didn’t have hops as a bittering agent. Before hops became one of the crucial ingredients in beer, herb mixtures (“gruit” is German for herb) were used instead; that word has now become the name of the beer style that hearkens back to those ancient hop-less ales.
Other modern breweries have also released their takes on the style over the years, including New Belgium Brewing, whose Gruit Ale has horehound, bog myrtle (also known as gale), yarrow, wormwood and elderflowers mixed with rich malts “to create a bitter, dry, velvet-like sweetness worth revering,” according to New Belgium’s website. But while Strange Land’s beer doesn’t have any hops in it at all, the New Belgium brewers do throw a handful of hops into their Gruit — otherwise, according to the website, the Gruit wouldn’t be considered a beer.
Does that mean Strange Land Brewery’s Gruit, which contains yarrow, rosemary and gale in place of hops, is not technically a beer?
After all, beer as brewed by small craft breweries is now generally defined as being made with at least water, malt, yeast and hops, four necessary ingredients without which we wouldn’t have the ales and lagers we’ve come to love so much. But a Gruit isn’t so much a lack of hops as a substitution of bittering or flavoring agents. Hops just so happen to be the most common, widely accepted ones.
Try Strange Land’s Gruit during the brewery’s taproom hours on weekends and decide how you feel about herbs instead of hops in your beer. The Gruit, which is basically Strange Land’s saison sans hops, is striking — a slightly sweeter version of the Ploughshare Saison, with spice-filled, herbaceous overtones. The hops in the Ploughshare don’t dominate the light, dry brew, but their absence is certainly noticeable in the Gruit, in a surprisingly good way. The Gruit is packed with flavor in a different way than its hopped counterpart.
That’s not to say, of course, that all beers should feature these other botanicals in lieu of hops. The Gruit is simply one more example of how experimental Strange Land’s brewers like to be. They don’t tend to favor the common American styles of IPAs and pale ales, choosing instead to play around with Old World beers like dubbels and braggots.
Strange Land Brewery’s taproom at 5904 Bee Cave Rd., which carries a lot of beers available only there, is open from 5 to 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Bottles and kegs of the brewery’s mainstay beers and a couple smaller batch ones are also at local bars and stores like HEB.