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I recently read Stephen Buhner's "Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers" wherein he claimed that hops were a fairly new way to bitter beer in the renaissance and that in England Henry VIII outlawed them. However, I have not been able to find substantiation of this in the historical record. It makes for a great story, but is it true?

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    Nice question! Though a few months late, welcome to the community, Bradley! :-) – Andrew Cheong Jan 4 '16 at 13:08
  • I believe it was James I that called hops "a wicked and pernicious weed," and as he ruled later- when hops were more likely to be more widespread in brewing- he might be a better candidate for outlawing them. – Cal_Wes Jan 6 '16 at 16:30
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First off, I don't know if this story is in fact true, but I can shed some light on the subject which would indicate that it is certainly plausible.

Hops were first used to flavor beer around 1000 A.D., starting in Germany. Until this time beer was flavored with a mix of herbs and spices called "gruit" which was taxed (generally by either the government or the Roman Catholic Church) and in many cases required by law, so when hops did appear, they appears in regions where the church had less control.

Hops didn't make their way to England until around 1500 A.D., and weren't universally used until around the year 1600. Since Henry VIII reigned from 1509 until 1547, it would have been early in the introduction of hops to the region, and it is certainly within the realm of possibility that he may have outlawed them as a threat to the tax revenue stream provided by the sale of gruit. Eventually though, demand for hops won out, and Henry's own wars with the Catholic Church may have weakened the ability to gruit rights-holders to continue to monopolize the market, and as I mentioned, by fifty years after Henry's death, hops ultimately won the war.

  • Yes, Buhner had quite a bit about gruit in his book. Would be interested to try it, but I'm not sure where to find it. – wogsland Dec 30 '15 at 21:15
  • wogsland, there are a few breweries that I've seen here in the US that are making some styles that use no hops and instead use herbs (one that I tried used Lavender... and the brewer named it "Granny Panties" because the aroma reminded him of a sachet. – CharlieHorse Jan 21 '16 at 20:37
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The short answer is No.

Ian Horney in "A History of Beer and Brewing" makes this claim[0]. But it is not backed up by evidence. Henry VIII's beer brewer John Pope was given special dispensation to hire more than four foreign workers for the household brewery[1]. So at least Henry VIII's court brewed their own beer.

The various laws are being used to differentiate between Ale and Beer. Ale being made with a selection of herbs known as a "gruit" - that must not contain hops. Whereas beer was flavoured with hops (and possibly other herbs). The generic use of hops was never banned[2], but the use of hops in ale was controlled.

[0] http://zythophile.co.uk/false-ale-quotes/myth-two-hops-were-forbidden-by-henry-vi/

[1] Terry Breverton "The Tudor Kitchen: What the Tudors Ate & Drank", Ch 3.

[2] http://www.beerscenemag.com/2010/04/the-short-and-bitter-history-of-hops/

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