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Dave from our UK site recently decided it would be a good idea to brew a beer without hops… Repeat, WITHOUT HOPS! “Ridiculous idea” I hear you say. Probably, but maybe not. Read below to find out what he learnt when brewing a ‘Gruit’.

Hops to many, are one of the four fundamental ingredients of making a beer. However, this was not always the case. Up until the 16th Century, popular styles of beer were brewed without hops and instead used a mixture of herbs and spices to produce the aromas and bitterness that hops provide in most modern beers. These no hop beers are known as Gruit Ales. I wanted to try and create my own version of a beer that was brewed without the use of hops, as I was curious to see if it was possible to get that balanced bitterness and great aroma using herbs and spices. I decided to go for a simple, dark-ish ale that I felt would carry the herbs and spices well. It’s a bit of a mish-mash of grains as I wasn’t really aiming for any particular style but a bit of reading suggested that a good amount of dark malts helped to add bitterness to the beer that would typically come from the hop addition;

4.9 kg Munich
0.70 kg Carafa III
0.42 kg Dark Crystal
0.31 kg Carawheat

For my spice mixture I decided to add;

28 g juniper berries to bitter @ 60 minutes
5 g tarragon, 13 g mint and 27 g rosemary for flavour and aroma @ 0 minutes

After the herb and spice additions, there was a strong aroma akin to a lamb roast dinner emanating from the Grainfather so I was quite worried about what the final beer was going to taste like.

There are some pictures from the brew day below;

The fermentation was extremely vigorous, dropping from 1.060 to 1.026 in 2 days and blowing through the airlock;


Tasting the beer was interesting. The smell wasn’t bad, quite herby but with a little bit of coffee aroma coming through and the colour was great; deep black with a tan head that was quick to dissipate.

Unfortunately, the flavour was unbalanced and confused. The mint was massively overpowering and the combination of herbs made it taste almost like a sour beer. The flavours just did not work well together. That said, there were no faults (apart from being overly herbed) with the underlying beer and there was a bitterness that I wasn’t expecting to get without hops in the beer. I think the major issue was that I was a bit too aggressive with my flavour additions and hadn’t really thought about how they would work in a beer, but I like to do things to extremes in my experiments to see what’s possible.

So the conclusion is that it is possible to make a beer without hops but the key to making one successfully is subtlety and a good knowledge of flavour combinations.

If you really want to try making an authentic ‘Gruit’ there are great resources available at:” – David

Have you / would you ever try brewing without using hops!?

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