Sugar & Spice: An Intro to Beer Spices

Posted on August 20th, 2010

The history of spices in beer is as old and varied as beer itself. Despite the fact that hops have become the predominant spicing agent used in most contemporary styles, that was not always the case.  In areas where hops are not native or easily grown the role of hops was frequently played by another bitter and/or mildly anti-septic plant, such as marigold, burdock, juniper, or heather. In fact, during the Middle Ages, a substance known as gruit (a mash-up of various herbs and spices) was used to provide the same preservative and flavoring benefits that hops can provide. As recently as the Renaissance, spicing beer was still fairly common all across Europe. Grains of Paradise (a peppery member of the ginger family) was particularly popular and was most likely used to cover over the stale or sour flavors of beer that had been improperly made or stored.

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