If you\u2019ve been brewing your own beer for any length of time, you\u2019ve probably already committed its four staple ingredients to memory: water, grains, yeast, hops.\n\n\n\nThe first three of this Fab Four seem to make total sense. Water makes up about 95% of beer, so no water = no beer. \n\n\n\nWith no grains, there would be no sugars for the yeast to eat and produce alcohol with.\n\n\n\nBut have you ever asked yourself whether it\u2019s possible to brew beer without hops?\n\n\n\nBeing a bit of a history geek, I knew about the reinheitsgebot laws in Germany, but I wanted to find out more about beer before hops.\n\n\n\nThe truth was completely at odds with what I\u2019ve always taken as a given. \n\n\n\nBrewing beer without hops is possible. One 'beer' made without hops is called gruit. It is made with a range of botanicals as bittering agents, preservatives, & flavorants. Other hopless beers are spruce beer, using spruce tips instead of hops, and Finnish sahti, spiced with twigs & juniper berries. \n\n\n\nWhile you may be utterly devoted to hopped beer (I know I am!), it\u2019s totally normal to be curious about the hopless versions:\n\n\n\nWhat do they taste like? How do you even make them, and why would you want to?\n\n\n\nI\u2019ve got you covered on these questions and more, so read on! \n\n\n\n\n\n\n\nHow to substitute hops in brewing beer?\n\n\n\n\nhttps:\/\/youtu.be\/nHiiWTh9A0s\n\n\n\n\nFirstly, perhaps you're in the very beginning phases of researching how beer is brewed. \n\n\n\nIf that's the case, let's start off on the same page and discuss how hops are used in commercial and homebrewing and what happens if you remove them from your recipe.\n\n\n\nIn very straightforward terms, hops are used for both bittering and flavoring beer. This is achieved by using the alpha acid content within them which is released by boiling up the hops.\n\n\n\nWhen added at the beginning of the boiling phase of brewing, the hops will release more alpha acids and add to a beer's bitterness.\n\n\n\nWhen added later in the boil, the hops don't add so much bitterness (measured as IBUs) but rather give the beer aroma and hops flavor.\n\n\n\nDry hopping, another method of using hops in brewing, also adds more flavor that bitterness to a beer.\n\n\n\nSo, simply, a brewer can substitute hops with another ingredient, often a herb, which will do much the same thing as hops; adding bitterness and\/or aroma and flavor.\n\n\n\nCommon hops substitutes\n\n\n\n\nhttps:\/\/youtu.be\/rEwXvQ_-mb4\n\n\n\n\nBeer is reported to have been made as early as 5,000 BC (or BCE if you prefer!), but likely it goes back to the very beginnings of our species.\n\n\n\nHops probably started to be added to beer around the 9th century according to Hildegard of Bingen but it was certainly one of many ingredients brewers were putting into their beer at the time.\n\n\n\nHere are some commonly used alternatives to hops which have been used in the past and are seeing renewed use today:\n\n\n\nFor bittering*For Aroma**Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)Rosemary Mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris)Chamomile Wormwood (Artemesia absinthia)Juniper BerriesTea (Camellia sinensis)GingerSweet Gale (Myrica gale)Caraway seedHeather (Calluna vulgaris)AniseedLabrador Tea (Rhododendron tomentosum)CorianderOrange PeelCinnamonCostmaryHorehoundFennelNutmeg Saffron Sage\n\n\n\n* added at the start of the boil\n\n\n\n**added at the\/ towards the end of the boil\n\n\n\nsource\n\n\n\nWhat does hopless beer taste like?\n\n\n\nAs you may imagine, the taste of hopless beer depends on what ingredients are used instead of hops. \n\n\n\nAs with any beer you brew, the balance between the sweetness of the malt character and the bitterness of the hops (or other bittering agents in this case) character is key to the overall finished product. In this mix, you also have your yeast at play of course.\n\n\n\nSo, if anything, as brewers we are rather limited in the flavors we can get because we generally only rely on one plant.\n\n\n\nOur fore-brewers weren't that restricted and the drinks they made are a testament to that!\n\n\n\nIf you want to get a flavor for what people were drinking before hops even came onto the scene, I can really recommend the collaborative book by Patrick E. McGovern and Sam Calagione (of Dogfish Head brewing fame) called "Ancient Brews" (available on Amazon).\n\n\n\nWhat does gruit ale taste like?\n\n\n\n\nhttps:\/\/youtu.be\/3W9Jgiv4fXM\n\n\n\n\nGruit technically is the umbrella term for the mixture of herbs used as flavorants and preservatives in beer before the days of hops. \n\n\n\nThe most common gruit mixture included bog myrtle, yarrow, and rosemary. However, ratios can vary, and the brewer can add other herbs as preferred, like ginger, caraway, or heather. \n\n\n\nSome common descriptions of gruit ale\u2019s flavor include floral, herbal, earthy, malty, Saison-like (minus yeast character), and there was even one vote for bong water (wow!)\n\n\n\nIn other words, it really comes down to what kind of gruit was used in the ale. If it\u2019s heavier on the yarrow, it\u2019ll be more floral. More bog myrtle, and it\u2019ll have a more astringent, resinous taste.\n\n\n\nBong water? I don\u2019t know what would yield that particular note. \n\n\n\nWhat does spruce beer taste like?\n\n\n\nSpruce beer uses the tips from spruce trees (buds, needles, or essence) in place of (or even in addition to) hops. \n\n\n\nAgain, though, the exact flavor depends on what species of spruce is used, how much, and which part(s). \n\n\n\nSome spruce beer recipes are said to yield very piney results, almost like drinking Pine-Sol. Other common descriptions are refreshing and cooling. \n\n\n\nIt sounds like the perfect beer for a hot afternoon!\n\n\n\nDepending on the recipe, there may also be sweeter components to the flavor, including molasses, dates, and caramel. \n\n\n\nWhat does sahti taste like?\n\n\n\n\nhttps:\/\/youtu.be\/Op9vMQHeSDk\n\n\n\n\nSahti is a traditional Finnish beer which is often hopless. \n\n\n\nWhat makes sahti so unique is that the mash is filtered through juniper twigs into a trough-like container, so a key flavor in the resulting product is juniper.\n\n\n\nThe bitterness of this juniper tends to nicely balance the other key flavor in sahti, which is banana. \n\n\n\nThe banana flavor comes not from actual bananas but from isoamyl acetate via the use of baking yeast rather than ale yeast (though some sahti styles do use ale yeast).\n\n\n\nCheck out my article on using regular bread yeast to brew beer if you are interested in finding out more.\n\n\n\nDoes beer without hops still have alcohol?\n\n\n\nAbsolutely. The exclusion of hops doesn\u2019t impact the ABV of the beer at all. There\u2019s still malt, and there\u2019s still yeast.\n\n\n\nIn fact, some hopless beers styles can be on the higher end of the ABV beer spectrum. \n\n\n\nOne prime example is commercial Finnish sahti, which is usually about 8.0% but can range from 6.0 to 12%.\n\n\n\nGruit ales typically run from 4.0 to 6.0%. \n\n\n\nCommercial spruce beers appear to typically run between 6.0-7.0%.\n\n\n\nOne note about spruce beer, though: soft drinks called \u201cspruce beers\u201d exist in some regions where spruce was historically used as a beverage flavorant, notably Newfoundland and Quebec. \n\n\n\n\u201cSpruce beer\u201d in these regions could mean the non-alcoholic drink or traditional alcoholic spruce beer. \n\n\n\nSo if you ever find yourself up north and you want to try a spruce beer, be careful to ask for the right thing!\n\n\n\n\nhttps:\/\/youtu.be\/_js9jETEUNs\n\n\n\n\nDo any modern breweries sell hopless beer?\n\n\n\nHopless beers have seen a resurgence in popularity in the last twenty years, and microbreweries have been churning out some interesting hopless brews\u2014on a much less regular schedule than hopped beers, though.\n\n\n\nThey\u2019re much harder to find than regular hopped beers because most beer drinkers aren\u2019t looking for them, which means a lot of vendors aren\u2019t noticing, purchasing, and selling them. \n\n\n\nTo illustrate, the Beer Advocate database includes 32,576 IPAs and only 273 gruits.\n\n\n\nThat doesn\u2019t mean low\/no hops beers aren\u2019t out there, though! You\u2019ll find a lot of microbreweries have them in their collection but that they\u2019re \u201cnot currently available.\u201d\n\n\n\nIt\u2019s one of those things where you just have to keep your eyes open and your Google search fresh.\n\n\n\nTo be honest though, most commercially sold beers in the USA will always have some hops in them due to the State and Federal laws brewers have to abide by. So, for the true hopless experience, you'd better brew your own.\n\n\n\nHere are a few of the most consistently available no\/low hops beer on the market: \n\n\n\nFor their Historic Ales series, Williams Brothers Brewing Company of Scotland produces a heather ale dating back to 2000 BC called Fraoch. \n\n\n\nThere\u2019s still hops in it (and in their other Historic Ale offerings) but much less than in a contemporary brew. And most importantly, these ales are all made with botanicals gathered by the brewery itself.\n\n\n\nGarrison Brewing Company of Nova Scotia produces a spruce beer on a rotating\/seasonal basis that\u2019s a real crowd pleaser.\n\n\n\nTraditional hopless sahti is best (and most easily) experienced in Finland itself, but you\u2019ll find plenty of breweries putting their own spins on the drink, including Dogfish Head\u2019s Sah'Tea.\n\n\n\nHow do you make beer without hops?\n\n\n\nLuckily for curious homebrewers like myself, it\u2019s easy to get our hands on recipes for low\/ no hops beers!\n\n\n\nGregg Smith\u2019s \u201cBeer in America\u201d (available on Amazon here ) includes the spruce beer recipe of Ben Franklin himself. \n\n\n\nThis recipe for Smoky Walls Gruit Ale is pretty authentic and tasty.\n\n\n\nI good beginner book which also has a spruce beer recipe (though it does have hops in it) is Greg Hughes' "Home Brew Beer".\n\n\n\nMaking sahti\n\n\n\nWhen it comes to making your own sahti, you\u2019ll have to get your head in a different \u201cbrew space\u201d than you\u2019re used to. \n\n\n\nSahti is the oldest beer style on earth, and brewing an authentic version of it is very process dependent. That means some of the processes involved in making this unique beer are going to feel totally wrong to you if you\u2019ve ever made modern beer, but you need to stick with them.\n\n\n\nOn the other hand, most modern brewing equipment will work for making a sahti (Thankfully! It\u2019d be hard to get a wooden vat and a kuurna).\n\n\n\nThe ingredients list also doesn\u2019t need to match precisely with that of a Finnish sahti-maker, either. Again, it\u2019s the process that\u2019s key to getting sahti.\n\n\n\nBrewing Nordic has an excellent comprehensive sahti recipe. While it\u2019s not something a total beginner might want to attempt, it doesn\u2019t seem too daunting to brew for someone with a few more kegs under their belt. \n\n\n\nWhy would you choose to make beer without hops?\n\n\n\nYou and I may love the taste of hoppy beer, but not everyone does. For those people, sometimes the only thing holding them back from beer enjoyment is the presence of hops.\n\n\n\nSome people are also allergic to hops, so beer is normally off the menu for them for health reasons. Present them with a hopless brew, though, and they can get in on the fun. \n\n\n\nSpeaking of fun, maybe the only thing more fun than homebrewing your own beer is homebrewing something totally new. Going no\/low hops can make it feel like your first time brewing again!\n\n\n\nIs it technically \u201cbeer\u201d if it doesn\u2019t have hops? \n\n\n\nWhy wouldn\u2019t it be? If hops were integral to beer, wouldn\u2019t that make an IPA more \u201cbeery\u201d than a lager? \n\n\n\nWhen it comes to the modern beer market though, some laws require the presence of hops in a beverage in order to market it as \u201cbeer.\u201d\n\n\n\nThis is reminiscent of the 1516 Bavarian law Reinheitsgebot (\u201cpurity order\u201d) that restricted the ingredients of beer to no more or less than water, barley, and hops.\n\n\n\nYeast was present too, but it wasn't until the 19th century that scientist first understood what it was, then told us brewers I suppose. \n\n\n\nA great book about this and how to brew beer which adhere to this 500 year law, check out Dave Carpenter's book 'Lager' which is a great read. (link to Amazon).\n\n\n\nAnyway, in general 'down the pub' terms, I think we can still call it beer even even if no hops are added.\n\n\n\nWhen did people first add hops to beer, anyway?\n\n\n\n\nhttps:\/\/youtu.be\/T2MHLuINZGM\n\n\n\n\nThe first recorded use of hops dates back to the 9th century. Prior to that, gruit was king (or queen, considering it was usually made by women).\n\n\n\nOnly in the 1200s did hops really start to compete with gruit when\u2014in some parts of Europe\u2014if the nobility taxed hops, brewers switched to gruit. If gruit was taxed, they hopped back over to hops. \n\n\n\nLike most things, when hop farming began to make profit for land owners, laws came into effect, like the Reinheitsgebot in Germany and other laws in other countries, which shifted the entire industry onto a distinct hops footing.\n\n\n\nIt's up to use homebrewers to experiment and keep the old pre-9th century beer styles alive and well.