Crafting a Beer: Inception – Saint Remo Gruit Ale (2013)


This Saturday, March 9, Nassau Coliseum will be hosting its 7th annual Spring Craft Beer Festival. There will be over 50 brewers from Long Island and across the country in attendance pouring 2 oz. samples of their beers. There are two sessions (12:30 pm-4:00 pm and 5:30 pm-9:00 pm) and tickets are still available though the events website. We attended the event last year and were able to sample brews from many of our favorite commercial breweries, but home brewers are fairly represented as well. LIBME (Long Island Beer and Malt Enthusiasts) will have a table at both sessions where home brewers from the club will be pouring their creations. On tap will be Saint Remo, a modern day gruit that Beer Loves Company brewed in collaboration with our friend Frank of “Big C” brewery.

The idea to brew a gruit developed slowly, as we originally just knew we wanted to do something that would stand out in a sea of hundreds of beers. For those of us who didn’t start drinking craft beer back in the 11th century, a gruit is simply a beer that is brewed without the use of hops, a normally integral ingredient. Instead of hops, various combinations of herbs (bog myrtle, heather, etc.) were used. Since many breweries are producing beers with more and more hops, we thought it would be interesting to go another way with it. Also, Alicia is not the biggest hop fan so this idea had her full support. We actually had come across a gruit on cask at Max’s Taphouse in Baltimore Maryland. This mysterious brew was in fact the widely available William’s Brothers Brewing Company’s Fraoch Heather Ale. It was different than all of the other beers we sampled while visiting Charm City (McNulty’s backyard). The experience of tasting this smooth, sweet, mild and unique ale left a small kernel in the back of our minds, a little itch we scratch here with Saint Remo.

Once we decided on the style, the main question we still needed to answer was what herbs we would use. Traditionally, as in the Fraoch, heather is a main component of the herbal gruit mixture and other herbs (some considered invasive) are used. We took a different approach when thinking about Saint Remo. Basil, rosemary, thyme, along with other popular stovetop herbs were the likely candidates at first. However, Frank came up with the idea of using spruce tips to replicate some of the piney flavors that certain hops (particularly American varieties) can impart. Turns out, spruce tips are not easy to come by, so we turned to the Internet to order a fresh batch. We were able to acquire some through the aptly named Spruce on Tap (dot com). As soon as they arrived, it was time to start experimenting.

We met up with our brewing partner at a shared local favorite Mirabelle Tavern, prepared with brewing magazines (Brew Your Own and All About Beer), recipes (Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewing was a big help) and research. He showed up with “the stuff” aka a pound of spruce tips in a brown paper bag. Though this was probably not the strangest thing we have ever seen in a bar, it was definitely up there. As the recipe began to take shape we decided to make a quick tea using the spruce tips. This was brewed by simply adding hot water to a bit of the spruce and letting it sit for 5-10 minutes. You could strain the tea but in that setting we left the spruce in our mugs. Tasting the tea allowed us to get a feel for the flavor of the spruce and judge if it would fit in our still developing gruit recipe. We thought the piney notes it delivered would be perfect as a hop alternative, and decided to accent it by also adding rosemary and sage. Almost as some sort of divine beer intervention, Alicia happened to take a sip of a lime accented mixed drink while enjoying the rest of the tea. Having herbal, spicy and subtle citrus notes this pulled a different dimension out of the spruce. The lime really balanced and brightened the flavor in the spruce tea, so we added lemon and lime zest and juice to the final Saint Remo recipe as well. For our yeast, we went with a French saison variety from Wyeast (#3711). When it came time to choose malt (from which a beer draws it sugars which the yeast converts to alcohol) we decided to go with pale malt for our base and added a few varieties of specialty malts. One of these was a bit of smoked malt which was thrown in for good measure. These grains (no extract here) were procured from Northern Brewer as well as local venue Karp’s Hardware & Homebrew.

Armed with a recipe our herbs, yeast malt and a shared vision the next step was a brew day…


Written by A+K

March 4th, 2013 at 10:41 pm

Leave a Reply