hist-brewing: Sweet gale?

Spencer W. Thomas spencer at umich.edu
Mon Oct 23 08:32:06 PDT 2000

adam larsen wrote:

>     Myrica gale has been used commercially recent in the United States to
> produce a couple commercial ales with no apparent concern.  I understand that an
> American home brew magazine had a little article about gruits, using Myrica
> gale, and that plenty of  folks already made the drink based upon the recipe
> without concern.  In sweden and Norway it's called "Pors" and used in various
> distilled drinks with no concern.  I no nothing about wormwood other then that i
> am told it's  a good anti-bacterial agent so i can't comment.

Here is a copy of a posting I wrote in 1993 about bog myrtle / myrica gale / sweet
gale / pors, with some Norwegian "word of mouth" about beer made with the herb.
Remarks in [] are mine, as are (probably) any spelling or other transcription

Since I wrote this, I have found sweet gale *leaves* from various suppliers, and
this seems to be what is commonly used. A friend recently made a pumpkin ale spiced
with several ounces of sweet gale.  It had a strong "pine" like scent and flavor.  I
didn't drink enough to determine whether there was any other effect. :-)


Posting 1: Extracted from file:  1230
Date: Mon, 20 Sep 93 12:29:21 EDT
From: Spencer.W.Thomas at med.umich.edu
Subject: Sweet Gale (Bog Myrtle)

Today, I was reviewing some books on brewing before taking them
back to the library, to see what I might want to copy for my files,
and re-encountered this passage from Odd Nordland's _Brewing and Beer
Tradition on Norway_  I should note that the quotations come from
questionaires filled out by Norwegians about their knowledge and
recollection of old brewing practices.

    The important part played by the grut of Central Europe ... has
    already been discussed  From the fourteenth to the seventeenth
    century, the most important ingredient of this mixture of dried leaves
    and spices was bog myrtle, Myrica gale, which will here also be
    referred to as pors [presumably the Norwegian name].

    The bot myrtle was an important plant in medieval Norway, being
    mentioned as early as in fourteenth-century laws. ... rent for
    farms could be paid in bog myrtle ...

    ... bog myrtle occurs as one of the plants that could be used
    for flavouring ale: `To add a strong flavour to the ale, and to
    make it heady, pors was put into it.  ... It was gathered in
    autumn, and the leaves were also taken.' `When this plant was
    used, the ale was strong.  It went to one's head.  They spoke of
    having a "Christmas head".'

    ... In northern Hordaland, small quantities of pors were added to
    the Christmas ale until the turn of the century.

    ... `The ale was flavoured with hops mixed with pors.  It was
    slightly yellowish, and had a fresh, sweet taste.  It was said
    locally that when one drank much of it, it was strongly
    intoxicating, with unpleasant after-effects.'


    That bog myrtle produces a special effect when added to ale is
    ... well documented in our material, and in earlier sources ...
    Linnaeus ... mention[s] the especially intoxicating effects ...

    ... Does bog myrtle possess the properties that were once ascribed
    to it...? ... chemical analysis has revealed no such properties.
    [One writer] is inclined to believe that there must be some
    substance in the bog myrtle that has the effect described.  But he
    is also open to the suggestion that the belief in a special effect
    gave rise to an increased consumption [that] produced effects of
    the kind described. ... The solution of these problems would ...
    require a compleicated analysis, and as it is of little practical
    value to find the cause of the alleged headaches of bygone ages,
    the question will probably remain unsolved.

It is not clear from this material what part(s) of the plant were
used, except for the mention that "the leaves were also taken."  He
does refer at one point to the shape of the fruit of the plant, so we
might assume that this is what was used.  Certainly, Rajotte refers to
the seeds as the flavoring agent in his Santa's Magic Potion.  In the
American herbal, the most closely related plant is the bayberry, from
which the twigs and roots seem to be used (at least, that's what I can
find in herb shops around here).


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