Styles of beer that don't use hops?

Someone I know is somewhat interested in making their own beer but mentioned that they are not particularly fond of hops.

I didn’t probe further to determine what aspect of hops they found unappealing (maybe the bitterness found in such styles as IPA). I’m a big fan of hops in beer myself (as well as a homebrewer) so I can’t really relate but I was trying to think if any examples of the commonly made styles of beer are made without any hops at all.

I could think of two, but neither is exactly common.

  1. The Sumerian beer made by the Anchor Brewing company a few years back didn’t use hops, and rightfully so because it was based on a nearly 4,000 year old recipe, long before hops was used in beermaking. One of Charlie Papazian’s books goes into some detail on how to make this beer at home, so I might recommend it to my friend.

  2. I have had hop-less beer flavored with heather at the Cambridge Brewing Company in Cambridge MA. It is very good but my impression is that it isn’t really sold commercially anywhere, except maybe by other micros that make a batch now and then. Again, this is supposedly based on an antique style of beer from before hops was used.

I also know some more modern types of beer (bock, English mild, some of the Belgian Ales) have very little hops characteristics, but AFAIK none are totally hops-free.

So are there any modern styles of beer that are ever made entirely without hops?

I made ‘Gale Beer’ once - a traditional brew that has been made here since before the introduction of hops as a flavouring.

It is flavoured with the leaves of myrica gale - Sweet Gale; less appetisingly known as Bog Myrtle - it grows in damp heathland all over the UK.

It’s the only time I’ve ever made beer at home, and it was damn fine; it was a pale brown, crystal clear and sparkling beer that had a slightly resinous flavour on the palate and was nicely thirst-quenching.

It seems to me that I was wrong on this thing before and will probably be corrected, but isn’t beer (in our sense of the drink) without hops just malt liquor?

Nope. “Malt Liquor” is a tax designation for high alcohol beer.

As for “hopless” beer…I think your friend’s quest is “hopeless.” :smiley:

We tried to brew a spiced ale one year with our beer club, following an old English recipe, sorta. Tasted like crap, which means we did a good job!

What is beer? Malted grain, hops, water and yeast. Without the hops it is malted grain, water and yeast or, in my book, malt liquor.

Malt liquor defined.

Spruce beer. Made from spruce nettles and you can buy an extract for a homebrewing shop. Chuck Papazian talked about it in the Joy of Homebrewing. Spruce was used instead of hops as a preservative and bittering agent. My one attempt with extract was a dismal undrinkable failure and I never tried again.

Spruce beer
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Spruce beer is a fermented liquor, made from the leaves and small branches of the spruce (Picea), or from the essence of spruce, boiled with sugar or molasses and fermented with yeast. There are two kinds, brown (molasses) and white (refined sugar). Some consider the latter to be better, but other aficionados prefer the complexity that molasses gives to the former. Spruce beer forms an agreeable and wholesome beverage and is also used as a herbal medicine. In Canada, it is also a herbal taste soft drink.

‘Spruce beer’ may also refer to beer - composed of the traditional ingredients of malted barley, hops, yeast, and water - that has been flavored, or spiced, with spruce. This flavoring can be added with spruce essence or by including spruce twigs or needles with the wort during the boiling stage of brewing.

Spruce beer was popular in the colonial United States.

Spit beer:

Fraoch is brewed with heather, following an ancient recipe.

Oh, I meant to add that all beer in Britain was made without hops until about the 13th Century when hops were introduced from Flanders.

Heather beer. Here’s a link from Michael Jackson:

I had a bottle of this in Hong Kong. Made in England (wales?). Not bad but prefer hops

Judging by the review passed on by the tour guide at the Anchor Brewing Company - I’d think twice about inflicting this on your friend. :wink:

I’m not a fan of hops per se in that IPAs are typically too strong for me (though I’ve found Goose Island’s IPA to be hoppy enough to please an IPA-fan friend yet well-balanced enough to be good going down for me), so does this have to be an all-or-nothing deal with your friend? Is he that averse to hops? How about low-bitterness styles like, say, the Belgian witbeer or German weisse?

:smiley: I too enjoy bad puns.

Was your spiced ale completely without hops? I’ve made beers with hops and spices. Some have turned out alright but I’ve decided it isn’t my favorite style.

You are correct in that the modern definition of beer requires hops as an ingredient.

I thought about this as I wrote the OP and thread title but I figured my question would be clearer and I would get more responses if I just said “beer without hops” rather than “fermented malt beverage”.

I made this once too. I also used spruce extract from the homebrew store. I think my recipe had hops in it as well.

It also turned out pretty much undrinkable. The spruce extract I used conveyed an unpleasant soapy aspect to the beer. If I were going to make it again (unlikely) I would use vastly less of the stuff, maybe only a drop or two.

Thanks! I think I’ll, er, pass though. You can have mine! :stuck_out_tongue:

That sounds very similar to what I had. Like China Guy I enjoyed it but prefer beer with hops, personally. That brewery you linked to actually has several interesting hop-less brews. Unfortunately I don’t think we have heather over here.

Really? Papazian describes it as mild tasting, low alcohol, fruity-winelike. Doesn’t sound too bad, but then he liked the spruce beer too so what does he know?

I need to explore this further. I’ve seen him drink beer that had hops in it so it can’t be all or nothing. I think he means he doesn’t appreciate a really strong hops bitterness and if it is going to be a beer he makes himself he wants it to be something he really likes, which I can understand.

We may well end up making a style that is traditionally lightly hopped instead of completely hops free. I just wanted to be ready in case it was a more extreme requirement. Plus I am at the point in my homebrewing where I enjoy a challenge and love messing around with unusual ingredients.

If anyone comes across any recipes for homebrews that fit this category and use ingredients I can easily come by in North America (sadly I don’t think I can get heather or sweet gale here) please post a link, and thanks for all the replies.

Brew him up a dunkel-weissen or a doppelbock. :smiley:

Be aware that hops are used for two completely different purposes in two completely different parts of the brewing process.

The bittering effect comes from hops that are introduced early in the boil. The essential oils in those bittering hops are gone in a matter of a couple of minutes. The bittering effect is needed to offset the sweetness you’d otherwise get from any unconverted sugars.

The hops aroma that you get from something like a good IPA comes from hops that are added very late in the brewing. They add little bittering effect, but a lot of flavor and aroma.

You can change the flavor dramatically by leaving out the late hops and just staying with the bittering hops.

I’ve also brewed an undrinkable beer using the “spruce essence” that you can buy in homebrew stores. I think results might be better if you use fresh spruce needles, but that’s only a guess.

I believe the name for beer made with non-hop spices is gruit

It’s probably correct that hops were intoroduced into British beer about then, but hops were actually introduced into Britain much earlier than that date; the Romans brought them, although not for use in beer; the Romans used hops as a vegetable - eating the young shoots a bit like asparagus.

Your friend may not like hops because it makes them sleepy. It has that effect on some people. And yes, I do have a cite for that.

This was what I had in Hong Kong. It was good but the type of beer you’d order once every blue moon and enjoy it before moving on to something else.