You will find that many people consider hops to be a core ingredient in brewing beer. But if you are one who does not fancy the flavor of hops, you must have asked yourself, “Can one brew beer without hops?”
Can you brew beer without hops? Well, we have an answer that might interest you.
You can brew beer without hops. While many people consider hops as a core ingredient in beer, you can actually replace them. Hops function primarily as a flavoring and bittering agent. So, if you take hops out and replace them with other herbs that perform similar functions, you will still get beer.
You are probably asking yourself more questions, like “What does beer taste like without hops?” and “Which herbs can substitute for hops in beer?” Well, if you read this article to the end, you will get the answer to these questions and more.
Table of Contents
Can You Brew Beer Without Hops?
You can brew beer without hops. The primary ingredients in beer are water, yeast, and malted grains. So, as long as these three are present in your brew, you will get beer.
Since hops add a bitter and sometimes citrusy flavor to beer, some people do not consider beer made without hops as beer. Beer without hops is just a fermented malt brew to some people.
If you are trying to prepare beer without hops but do not want “a fermented malt brew,” you can make things work as you desire.
When you prepare beer with other herbs besides hops, you get what is called “gruit ale.“ Many sources say gruit ales offer a different experience than beer made with hops. They say gruit ales are livelier than beer made from hops.
Which Herbs Can Substitute for Hops in Beer?
If you decide not to use hops in brewing your beer, there are many other herbs you can work with. But you will find that some herbs only offer either bitterness or aroma, not both.
So, sometimes you may have to combine two or more herbs to replace hops.
Below are some herbs you can use in place of hops while brewing beer:
Mugwort offers bittering and preservative properties to beer. It is pretty bitter but falls short of wormwood – another species from the same genus as mugwort.
Besides its bittering and preservative properties, mugwort is medicinal. In folk medicine, it works as an antidepressant and expectorant. It may also work to relieve flatulence and induce perspiration.
St. John’s Wort
Due to its established role in brewing, St. John’s wort got its name from the word “wort,” which means unfermented beer.
St. John’s wort typically works as a bittering agent. But it also adds a hint of woody flavor to beer. Beyond the woody taste and bitterness, St. John’s wort can also give beer a reddish tint.
St. John’s wort is also medicinal. It may have antidepressant, sedative, digestive, and diuretic properties.
There are also records of its use as a contraceptive and abortifacient (induces abortion). So, St. John’s wort or any beer containing St. John’s wort is off-limits for pregnant women.
Yarrow is one of the common substitutes for hops. Its use is typically in the form of a blend alongside other herbs, particularly rosemary and bog myrtle.
Yarrow offers mild bitterness to beer. But besides that, it may also give a floral hint to the flavor. Yarrow has possible medicinal benefits as it may stop diarrhea, relieve flatulence, and induce sweating.
More Bittering Agents
Some other herbs you can use as bittering agents in place of hops include:
- Labrador Tea
- Sweet Gale
While alehoof has bittering properties, the effects of its bitterness are mild. So, it is primarily used as a flavoring agent.
Alehoof contains many aromatic compounds. When crushed, it gives off a parsley-like, peppery flavor. So, its use as a flavoring agent is not surprising.
Alehoof goes by many names, including creeping charlie, ground ivy, and catsfoot. It can help with digestion issues and diarrhea. Alehoof can also induce menstruation, so avoid it if you are pregnant.
Due to their aromatic properties, you may use the leaves and flowers of meadowsweet as a flavoring agent in your beer.
While meadowsweet flowers are more aromatic than the leaves, both are useful for brewing beer.
Like the other herbs we discussed, meadowsweet has potential medicinal properties. For one, it can help reduce fever and diarrhea. Meadowsweet may also help with indigestion.
More Flavoring Agents
Some other herbs you can add to beer for flavor include:
- Caraway seed
- Juniper berries
- Orange peel
Substituting Hops When Brewing Beer
Substituting hops while brewing beer is not so straightforward. Depending on what you are trying to achieve, timing is essential.
When preparing beer with hops, adding the hops at the start of the boiling phase enhances bitterness. On the flip side, you will get more flavor and less bitterness if you add the hops late in the boiling stage.
The phenomenon described above applies to hops’ substitutes. Add flavoring substitutes for hops late in the boil, while the bittering substitutes should come in at the start of the boil.
What Does Beer Taste Like Without Hops?
What beer tastes like without hops depends on the ingredients. As we hinted before, beer that contains no hops or herbs will taste like a fermented malted beverage.
Without hops (or substitute herbs), the bitterness typical of beer would be absent. So, all you will have is the fermentation product of the malted grain.
Beer with a lot of yarrow may have a floral hint to its taste and flavor. Then those beers with a lot of bog myrtle will have a sticky, astringent taste.
Why Do People Choose Not to Add Hops to Their Brew?
One of the primary reasons some brewers choose not to add hops to their homebrew is their hops allergy. People who are allergic to hops cannot tolerate beer with hops. So, understandably, they do without it.
Besides allergies, some people just do not like the taste of hops in beer. They do not get the enjoyment they desire with hops-flavored beer.
Is Beer Without Hops Still Alcoholic?
Beer without hops is still alcoholic. As long as your brew contains yeast and malted grain, fermentation will continue. Of course, alcohol formation is a product of fermentation.
It is common to use hops in beer brewing. However, hops are not an essential ingredient.
You can replace them with other herbs with similar properties. So, if you are allergic to hops or would rather not have them in your beer, you can do without them.