Humans have been drinking beer for at least 8,000 years—and, for almost all that time, beer looked nothing like the industrial lager or hop-heavy craft brews popular now.
Though today’s brewers consider hops a crucial ingredient in beer, it wasn’t until medieval Europe that the bitter plant became a popular addition. Gruit ales were flavored with a mix of herbs, the old-fashioned way to bitter a brew before hops surpassed it between the 11th and 16th centuries. Until then, hops were just “one of the bazillion things you could put in a beer,” brewer Butch Heilshorn told Gastropod. Heilshorn is one of the few brewers in America experimenting with “gruits,” as hop-free beers are called.
For this episode, Gastropod visited Earth Eagle Brewings, the Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based brewery Heilshorn co-founded in 2012, to learn how the future of beer might lie in its long-forgotten past.