Many of the flavor compounds residing in Reinheitsgebot-approved beers are found elsewhere in nature. A few example: isoamyl acetate in hefeweizen (and bananas), linalool in hops (and coriander), and citronellol in Citra (and lemongrass). While these compounds can have several sources, each imparts additions flavor compounds (as a result, adding lemongrass to your Cascade IPA isn’t a cheap substitute for Citra).
It is a fun way to get ideas though, and for this batch I went high concept. What if I replaced the standard flavors of American hops with spruce tips and grapefruit zest? Knowing that the balance would be different, but still wondering what the result would be! While I am calling this beer a gruit, it bears little resemblance to the medieval European beers flavor with a secret blend of bitter herbs and spices (part seasoning, part tax). It is a gruit only in so much as it does not contain hops.
Appearance – Looks like an IPA. Check! Pale gold, slight haze, with a creamy white head. The foam isn’t as lasting or sticky though, I miss the hops already!
Smell – Smells more soda-pop than IPA. Sweet candied citrus peel and Christmas tree needles. So much so that I'm struggling to pick-up much else. Lacks the deeper herbal, dank, resiny flavors that even “piney” and “citrusy” hops provide. The aromatics are so bright and clean though, unlike any other beer I've tried.
Taste – The grapefruit comes in at the front, morphing into spruce as it crosses the palate. There is certainly some bitterness, the equivalent of maybe 15-20 IBUs. Despite the lack of preservative hops it is very clean, score one for my sanitation process! Mildly toasty malt pokes through occasionally. It also tastes remarkably fresh compared to how a five month old IPA would by this stage.
Mouthfeel – Smooth medium body. It has solid carbonation, firmly effervescent. No tannins or other harshness to distract from the holiday spirit.
Drinkability & Notes – One of the weirder and more exciting beers I’ve brewed recently. I won’t say that I love it, or that I’m planning another iteration anytime soon, but I enjoy this faux-IPA more than I expected to! It would be more drinkable if the spruce and grapefruit were dialed back ~25%, but where would be the fun in that? Next time I’d add 30 IBUs of bittering hops, and maybe a few ounces towards the end of the boil to give it some backbone and depth.