If the fact that the first day of February is International Gruit Day — a celebration of gruit beer — comes as a complete surprise to you, you’re probably not alone. Of the dozens of breweries in New Hampshire, only two brew this particular type of beer, which is made with little or no hops in it.
“[We] have six taps ... and half are always gruits,” said Butch Heilshorn, co-owner and one of three brewers at Earth Eagle Brewings. “[Other breweries] will do a gruit now and then, including the Portsmouth Brewery, but that’s two or three times a year for them. I can come in here anytime and there’s going to be at least two or three.”
Gruit is a variety of beer that uses herbs and botanicals instead of hops, Heilshorn said, and for Earth Eagle, all of the ingredients come from within an hour’s radius of Portsmouth.
“We actually have a forager who works for us; she kicks in around mid April and supplies [us] with goodies up to October,” he said. “She literally goes out in the woods and seacoast.”
Sweetfern, yarrow and even invasive species like Japanese knotweed all make their way into the brews, the latter of which Heilshorn said makes a great sour beer. At the time of the interview, the gruits Earth Eagle had on tap were Blackadder, a dark, milk stout with sweet gale, Labrador tea and anise seeds; Kumbaya, a smoke beer or rauchbier with mugwort, lungwort, California poppy and Oregon grape root; and White Light, made with skullcap yarrow and sweetfern.
“Hops is one plant, and granted there [are] a bazillion types of hops, but when you look outside of that the combinations are endless,” Heilshorn continued. “There are thousands of herbs and roots and barks and berries.”
For the third year, Earth Eagle Brewings will celebrate International Gruit Day on Monday, Feb. 1, a day dedicated to honor the unique style of beer, started by Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company in Ontario.
“I think the cool thing is it’s going on all over the world. … I get some goosebumps when I think of that,” he said. “Even though there aren’t other New Hampshire breweries, [there are] probably about a dozen across the U.S. and then another maybe dozen around Europe and Canada.”
Earth Eagle will celebrate with discounts on the gruits they have on tap that day, plus a gruit keg swap with Cambridge Brewing Co. from Cambridge, Mass., Mystic Brewery from Chelsea, Mass., and potentially the Portsmouth Brewery. They’ll also have live music from The Bog Standard.
“You can really sort of represent your local terroir, to borrow a wine term,” Heilshorn said.
He particularly loves the creativity and seemingly endless opportunities the gruit style brings to the brewing process.
“These herbs we use grow around here … and that’s the part that’s really exciting is making use of what’s in your backyard,” he said. “[The] sky’s the limit with these.”