Beer, homebrewed or not, is typically made with hops. There are many different kinds to choose from, but do you absolutely need to use hops when brewing beer?
You don’t need hops to make beer. If you don’t have any hops or are looking for some new flavors and aromas, there are a myriad of alternatives that you can use instead of hops to make beer. Instead of hops, you can try brewing with rosemary, juniper, heather, chamomile, and more. Each substitute will bring its own unique character to your brew.
Read on to find out more about some very popular herbs and other non-hop plants used in the seemingly limitless world of homebrewing, plus some Brewer’s Notes on when to add them to the brewing process.
Alternatives and substitutes for hops to make homebrew beer
Hoppy beers aren’t for everyone, and that’s okay. Or maybe you’ve always used hops in homebrewing and are curious what other kinds of brews you can make with different ingredients.
Either way, you need to know the best substitutes for hops in homebrewing. Let’s take a look at what you can use instead of hops to make beer.
Some of the best hops substitutes to use in your home brewing are:
- Sweet gale
- Orange peel
- Spruce Tips
Although each beer has its limits regarding what can be added, it’s always fun to experiment with different ingredients and combinations.
A mildly bitter herb, rosemary can be added to your beer for a subtle, piney flavor and aroma.
Rosemary pairs well with citrusy flavors, so try adding it to a brew with some orange peels or some lemon.
Brewer’s Notes: As for when you’ll want to add rosemary during the brewing process, that’s up to you. Add it later or early in the boil depending on if you’re using this evergreen herb for bitterness, flavor, or aroma.
This classic addition to your homebrewed beer will give it a beautiful, oily aroma.
Using either juniper berries or juniper branches, add it to your homebrew for a forest-y taste native to Finland and Northern Europe.
Yarrow is an aromatic flower that has been used in brewing for millennia. Its flowers and leaves provide beers with an almost-fiery aroma.
The leaves and stems also give bitterness to the beer, making it a great alternative to hops.
Brewer’s Notes: Add Yarrow flowers to the wort just before fermenting for that natural, fiery aroma we talked about.
A plant native to Europe and parts of Asia and Africa before it started growing in America, mugwort is used in traditional systems of medicine. Mugwort root can be taken as a “tonic” and to boost energy.
Mugwort was used to flavor beer even before the introduction of hops.
Brewer’s Notes: For this particular usage, in place of hops and due to the potency of mugwort, I recommend adding a ½ ounce toward the end of the boil for an earthy and herby aroma. This plant does great as a hop substitute and pairs well with other piney aromas.
Sweet gale is an herb and, like many other herbs, can be used to make medicine. The foliage is used as an insect repellent. Its leaves can be used to make tea and seasoning — quite the versatile plant here.
Sweet gale has been used in beer since the Middle Ages and is often claimed to be one of the most popular ingredients in brewing before the takeover of hops.
Brewer’s Notes: With a gentle, spicy aroma and taste, a bit of this in your next holiday brew will make a perfectly rounded beer.
Another popular additive in the Middle Ages, heather, was and still is, mixed with malt and the occasional hops to make heather ale.
Heather has a subtle, fresh scent that resembles something close to an earthy and more musky lavender.
Brewer’s Notes: This additive goes particularly well with honey and is a key ingredient in some meads. Toss some in when your wort is finishing up for an incredibly soft and pleasing aroma.
A very popular additive, orange peel is a great addition to a light or flavorful brew.
Bitter orange peels are going to provide — you guessed it — less of an orange but more bitter taste to your beer.
On the other hand, a sweeter orange will give you a much more pronounced flavor in your beer. Sweet orange peels are commonly paired with coriander when making wheat beers.
Spruce tips are another popular additive.
They’re common in place of hops and offer deep, dank, and mountainous notes to your beer.
They’re easily harvested during May and June (sometimes into July), and they offer a ton of versatility.
Brewer’s Notes: Spruce tips can have as big of an impact on your brew as you want them to. The desirable aroma is most present at about 15 minutes left during the boil. Add them then for a distinct piney and resinous scent.
Fennel has been used culinarily for some time now, from its flowers down to its roots.
Originally used in Absinthe, this plant has secured a spot as an additive in homebrewing, particularly in place of hops.
Brewer’s Notes: Fennel is highly aromatic and will add a minty, licorice scent to your beer. Since it’s so potent, I recommend using it like salt in a cooking dish: start with a little and add as you need.
This plant’s flowers are traditionally used for brewing tea and for things like candles and soaps.
However, the whole plant can be added to your list of hop alternatives for either bittering or aromatic qualities.
Brewer’s Notes: Chamomile can become bitter in boiling and lose its precious citrusy, floral, and honey-like notes. Add a little at flameout to preserve those flavors. On the other hand, you can certainly add it early on for its bittering qualities.