What do you get when you replace beer’s hopps with herbs and botanical blends? Gruit. Nope, I’m not talking about the little tree-guy from Guardians of the Galaxy, gruit is a type of beer created from a variety of flowers, roots, weeds and spices.
Inspired by his herbalist wife, Butch Heilshorn cofounded Earth Eagle Brewings in Portsmouth, NH five years ago. The company is now one of the country’s foremost brewers of botanical beers.
Earth Eagle does brew its share of “hoppy” beers, but Heilshorn leaves those up to his brother-in-law and business partner, Alex McDonald.
Gruits, have been brewed throughout the world for centuries. In order to find the natural ingredients botanical beers require – such as sweet fern and mugwort – Heilshorn gets his hands dirty, searching New Hampshire’s fields and forests.
“There’s an amazing array of goodies out there in everyone’s back yard or an abandoned lot,’’ Heilshorn told The Boston Globe. “You of course have to be careful about where you’re sourcing from.’’
When it comes to those plentiful sweet fern and mugwort plants he fishes from unkept yards and vacant lots, Heilshorn says:
“They’re basically ditch weeds, the ones you’re pulling out next to the foundation in your house. I get a real thrill out of that.’’
Heilshorn is so passionate about botanical beer that he has even authored a new book on the subject entitled, “Against All Hops: Techniques and Philosophy for Creating Extraordinary Botanical Beers.’’
It includes recipes for some customer favorites like Birthday Boy – a Belgian pilsner that includes mugwort, motherwort, spruce flowers, and burdock root. According to Heilshorn, Birthday Boy “has a long history in herbalism primarily to help with female issues.’’
Since opening in 2012, Earth Eagle has registered 275 unique recipes with the state, including several blends that Heilshorn has collaborated on with his wife, the herbalist. Despite his prolificity, a few blends have gone right back down the pipes.
“As you can imagine these herbs vary tremendously in strength,’’ he says. “It’s funny what kind of folks some of these beers will bring out of the woodwork. We made this absinthe beer that was horribly bitter. We released a little, and there was a small cadre of people who said it was the best beer ever.’’
Earth Eagle Brewings is open Sunday through Thursday from 11:30am – 10pm, and Friday and Saturday from 11:30am – Midnight. The brewery and gastropub offer a wide variety of their freshest concoctions to sample in house or take with you by the growler.
They feature weekly specials, as well as “Empyreal Ales, Wonder Gruits, Lunch , Dinner, & Beyond!”
H/T to The Boston Globe