8 Best Alternatives to Hops for Homebrew Beer
Hops are one of the main ingredients of homebrewing beer. However, some people are allergic to hops, while others don’t have access to them. Hops weren’t the primary bittering ingredient in beer for the first several hundred years of brewing, so what did people do before brewing with them?
The best alternatives to hops for homebrew beer are mugwort, chamomile, juniper berries, and tea. You can also use yarrow, heather, spruce tips, and various herbs to flavor your beer. The main purpose of using hops is to balance the brew’s sweetness, making these ingredients excellent substitutes.
Throughout this article, you’ll learn all about various alternatives to hops for homebrew beer, as well as whether or not hops and other bittering ingredients are necessary for beer.
Mugwort has been used in medicinal practices for many centuries, but it’s also an excellent hop substitute for homebrewing beer. This herb is grown in all parts of the world, including Asia, the United States, and more. Mugwort is known for being quite bitter with a little bit of a sweet aftertaste.
If you want to homebrew with mugwort, you can use eight grams of the herb per gallon of water. Many homebrewing recipes call for 0.5 to 1 ounce of mugwort. The strong aroma can be overwhelming if you brew too much mugwort, so test a few batches to see what suits your pallet.
Chamomile is used in tea, medication, and other supplements for its calming effects. However, chamomile adds a balancing flavor to homebrewed beer. It dulls the excessive sweetness of the beer, making it one of the most effective hop replacements. Furthermore, chamomile is one of the most affordable substitutes.
If you want to homebrew with chamomile, stick to using between one to three ounces per gallon of water. While chamomile has a mild flavor in tea, it can quickly overwhelm your tastebuds after being brewed in beer. Many people find that one ounce per gallon is more than enough. Much like mugwort, trial and error is the best way to find out which measurement works for you.
Many popular brewing companies use juniper berries in gin and beer. You can replace your hops with juniper berries while homebrewing, too. Keep in mind that you should use dried juniper berries to homebrew your beer.
Those homebrewing with juniper berries should stick to 50 grams per 20 liters of water. Juniper berries have a unique floral, earthy taste. They’ll undoubtedly taste a bit different than hops. However, some homebrewer mix hops and juniper berries to create a uniquely balanced flavor.
Juniper berries have been used to brew beer for quite some time, so they’re a popular choice for those sticking to ancient and modern traditions.
There are many ways to homebrew beer as cheaply as possible. Some of these methods include using citrus rinds and various herbs to balance the flavor. Herbal additives can also be used in higher doses to replace hops. Make sure you use semi-bitter herbs since most homebrew beer batches will be quite sweet without hops.
Here’s a quick list of herbs you can use to replace hops in your homebrewed beer:
- Ginger root
- Rosemary petals
Gruit was used long before hops in the brewing process. Gruit is a mixture of various herbs, such as the ones found above. You can mix and match the herbs mentioned above to find out which ones create the desired flavor profile.
Tea leaves are used in countless recipes, including homebrewing beer. Almost all green tea and black tea come from the same plant, known as Camellia sinensis. Since tea is quite bitter, it’s perfect for homebrewing beer.
While tea is often known for being calming or having mild energizing effects, you can also increase a homebrew’s alcohol content to pack a punch. Much like most other herbs on the list, you should only use about one ounce of dried tea leaves per gallon of water. Doubling the tea will drastically increase its flavor profile and aroma.
According to the Brewers of PA, Yarrow is one of the most common and flavorful ways to replace hops in a beer brew. Half an ounce of yarrow is enough for most brews. It’s quite a strong flavor that adds a natural preservative to your beer. Furthermore, it drastically reduces the excessive sweetness you’ll find in beer without hops.
Interestingly enough, yarrow was used to brew beer long before hops. It was one of the primary ingredients in gruit, though it can also be used without other herbs. Yarrow brews very well with brown sugar and molasses to create a semi-sweet, semi-bitter beer that you’re sure to enjoy.
Much like yarrow, heather tips were used to brew beer many centuries before hops were the mainstream ingredient. While some companies continue to brew with heather tips, you can incorporate them in your homebrewed beer with one ounce per gallon of water.
Heather tips make your homebrew taste similar to various mild teas, including lavender and chamomile. You can also mix these herbs with honey, brown sugar, and other natural sweetening ingredients.
Some people prefer making gruit with heather, ginger, and mint. This combination makes a unique beer flavor that’s unlike any store-bought brew.
Spruce tips are a popular beer flavor and hop replacement for those seeking an earthy flavor. Spruce also possesses a powerful aroma that permeates the beer. You can add spruce tips throughout the brewing process to replace the bitterness added by hops. The more tips you put in, the strong the aroma will be.
Keep in mind that adding too many spruce tips, hops, and other bittering ingredients can have adverse effects. Rather than being too sweet, your homebrewed beer will taste too bitter. The good news is that there are several ways to counterbalance the bitterness.
Check out our video about how you can fix the bitterness of your homebrewed beer below.
What Happens if You Don’t Add Hops or Substitutes to Beer?
If you don’t add hops or substitutes to beer, you end up with a beer that’s too sweet, flat, or low in alcohol. You can replace hops with numerous herbs or an herb mash called gruit. Failure to add a bittering ingredient to your beer will make it so sweet that you might not even want to bottle the brew.
Here’s a quick breakdown of each of the reasons above:
- Hops and hop alternatives help you reduce the excessive sweetness in your homebrewed beer. Beer tastes sweet without hops, but it’s not a good, desirable kind of sweet. Instead, you’ll find yourself gagging from the candy-sweet aroma and flavor. The main reason brewers use hops is to balance the flavor.
- These ingredients increase the carbonation in the beer. The fermentation process adds CO2 via hops and other herbs. If you don’t use hobs or herbal alternatives, your beer will likely be a bit too flat. It’s important to let the herbs work their magic for several days before checking the brew’s carbonation.
- Without hops or hop substitutes, your beer will have a lot less alcohol. Fermenting the bittering ingredients (hops, gruit, and other herbs) will make your brew much more alcoholic. It’s hard to get a high-alcohol brew without these additives. Hops, yarrow, and other herbs let you control the alcohol much easier.
- You’ll need something else to balance the aroma. While hops are usually added for flavor balancing and carbonation, they also improve a beer’s sweet aroma. A brew’s scent can completely alter the flavor in the long run. Fermentation without hops or bitter herbs will make your brew smell rotten.
While you shouldn’t brew without hops or a hop substitute, people brewed with many other ingredients for several centuries. Read on to learn how you can incorporate ancient brewing methods in place of hops.
What Did They Use to Homebrew Before Hops?
People used gruit to homebrew before hops. Gruit is a combination of fermented herbs and sometimes fruit. Hops are more convenient because they don’t require numerous types of herbs, but traditional brewers can continue using gruit for unique flavors.
Smithsonian Mag claims gruit was the popular choice for brewing throughout Europe for many centuries before hops were used. German brewers quickly switched to hops, which is why the country is one of the most popular destinations for hoppy beers.
Unfortunately, potent gruit can shift the flavor profile to a bitter taste. You can add plenty of malts to sweeten a homebrew if you made it too bitter with gruit, herbs, or hops.
The simple fact of hops being easier to grow and ferment than mixing a bunch of herbs is the primary reason people switched from gruit to hops. However, hops also have the added benefit of being perfectly bitter, balancing brewed alcoholic drinks, unlike most gruit combinations.
If you want to make gruit for your homebrew instead of using hops, consider these factors:
- Gruit is much more floral than hops, so your homebrewed beer won’t taste the same.
- You can grow the herbs needed for fruit in your yard.
- Gruit is typically used in modern times as a way to pay homage to traditional brewing techniques.
- Using gruit will let you combine various herbs to create beers you couldn’t achieve with hops.
- Different gruit herbs can provide unique health benefits.
Why Do Some Homebrewers Use Hop Substitutes?
Some homebrewers use hop substitutes because they’re cheaper, more readily available, and they add unique flavors to the brewing process. Additionally, hop substitutes smell floral and are much different than hops. Experimenting with different herbs in your homebrewed beer can provide a brand-new flavor profile.
Homebrewing with hop alternatives is a fun way to create new beer formulas. Let’s analyze what you can expect.
- You can brew several different flavors with herbs. There are many ingredients you can add to flavor your beer. Most homebrewers opt for citrus rinds and hops for flavor-boosting, but you can use almost any edible herb to alter your beer. Try various herb combinations to find which ones pique your interest.
- Some herbs are easier to find than others. If you don’t have access to hops where you live, you can grow many other herbs in your garden for homebrewing. For example, mint grows extremely fast in many environments. You can also grow and ferment ginger and a variety of peppers from your garden.
- Many homebrewers prefer traditional methods of brewing. Hops weren’t used for brewing until the past thousand years or so. Brewing alcohol has been popular for much longer. If you want to brew as people did in ancient times, you can reach for mugwort, yarrow, and juniper berries.
- You can find chamomile, mint, ginger, and other herbs cheaper than hops. Whether you’re looking for affordability or availability, these herbs should be at the top of your list. Dried herbs are always the best options. Many herbs are sold for tea, so you can get them much cheaper than hops (alcohol ingredients tend to cost more).
- Mixing herbs can give your homebrew unique scents. If you want to cover the sweetness or bitterness of your beer, try using floral herbs and fruits. Make sure to stick to half an hour of each herb if you only want to use it for the aroma.
There are many ways to make beer without hops. Whether you prefer traditional methods or unique flavors, it’s more than worth trying these alternatives every now and then. Consider brewing with whichever flavors make your favorite tea brews. You’ll have similar aromas and flavors with the added alcohol.
While hops work very well for homebrewing beer, there are many other plants at your disposal. People brewed with all sorts of herbs long before hops were a part of the brewing process. It’s up to you to decide which flavors, textures, and aromas you want to add to your homebrew beer.