I’m a pretty conventional beer drinker – usually I buy whatever’s on special and what is relatively light. But sometimes I like to mix it up and try heavier wheat ales with combinations of sweet flavors, such as raspberries, oranges and lemons.
Herbal combinations can add an interesting flavor-kick to traditional homebrews. Not only will you get added scents and flavors, but also medicinal benefits. For instance, lavender gives an aromatic and relaxing lift to any pint, and rosemary’s sweet flavoring can help sooth your stomach.
Hops are already an herbal staple for any beer recipe, but what about trying a beer brewed with coriander, oats, black currant or coffee? In fact, hops have only been the brewing herb of choice for the last 500 of beer’s more than 4,000-year history.
f you’re daring enough, and have more chemistry skills than me, you can even brew your own herbal beer. Use this recipe as a starting off point and make your own unique blend.
Herbal Beer Recipe:
Nettles and dandelions tend to produce bitter flavors but ginger’s sweetness will help balance the taste.
• 1 handful fresh nettle tops
• 1 handful dandelion flowers
• 1 ½ pounds sugar
• 2 tablespoons ginger, freshly-grated
• 2 lemons, sliced
• ½ ounce yeast
1. Add the nettles to a pan. Cover with about 19 cups water, bring to boil and cook for 10 minutes. Strain into a bowl and set aside.
2. Add dandelion flowers to another pan, cover with 19 cups water and boil for 10 minutes. Strain into same bowl as nettles. Stir in sugar and ginger, and mix well.
3. Transfer to a fermenting bucket, arrange lemon slices and scatter yeast on top. Cover and allow to sit over night; strain liquid, bottle and store in a cool, dark place for at least 3 weeks – then bottoms up!
India Pale Ale, Imperial India Pale Ale, Extra India Pale Ale, Extra Pale Ale, Imperial Stout, Imperial Oak-Aged Barley wine, Imperial Pilsner, Imperial Weizen.
Hops are everywhere. What’s a beer drinker to do who doesn’t want their beer bitter? Well, there’s plenty of beer that puts the focus squarely on the malt: bock, kolsch, rauchbier, biere de garde, just to name a few. There are also beers that put the focus on spices and fruits: wit, framboise, fruited stouts, saison.
But what if you don’t want any hops. Not just low hops. None. Zero. Nada. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nein. Of course, in many countries, you can’t even call your beverage “beer” if it doesn’t have hops.
Some people are allergic to hops. Some people just don’t like the taste. Others like a challenge. In any event, there is at least some demand for a fermented malted barley beverage without hops. And, no, whiskey, bourbon and scotch don’t count.
The problem is hops and beer have been synonymous for centuries. Ron Extract, Director of Sales and Distribution for Shelton Brothers Importers, provides a good history lesson: “Historical records of hop cultivation in Europe go back to the 8th century AD, and the use of wild hops in beer probably goes back much further than that, but their usage didn’t really become popularized throughout Europe until the late 1400s, and even then they remained a rather unpopular addition to beer in certain regions. In 16th and 17th century Britain, many traditional ‘ale’ drinkers eschewed the use of the hops, while ‘beer’ drinkers embraced it.”
As a result, it is often necessary to go back hundreds of years to find beer styles, let alone recipes, that do not call for at least some hops. There are only a few breweries in the world that make a habit of brewing some of these old recipes: Dogfish Head here in the States; Jopen, based in the Netherlands (but temporarily brewing in Belgium); and, Legends Limited, based out of Baltimore, imports a few others, including those from Heather Ales, Ltd such as the Alba Scots Pine, the most popular of these traditional recipes,.
For example, Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch Golden Elixer, a beer that we’ve reviewed on this site before, is a recipe reverse-engineered from traces of liquid found in a chalice in King Midas’ tomb. Even it, a recipe that, in theory, dates back to 700 BC, contains 20 IBU (International Bitting Units – typically, a measure of hop bitterness – does anyone know if this measures bitterness in general, or just from hops?). This beer has pretty decent availability here in Wisconsin.
Jopen makes a couple of gruit-beers based on recipes from the early 1400s. Gruit was a Northern European mixture of spices frequently used in beer in place of hops. Shelton Brothers imports two of Jopen’s gruits: the Adriaan (a beer spiced with yarrow, rosemary, and sweet gale) and the Koyt (brewed primarily with sweet gale). Michel Ordeman, head brewer at Jopen, admits that even these ancient styles had hops in them, and he uses them in brewing the modern versions: “In the days of gruit, hop was seen as a spice and most probably was one of the ingredients of gruit. The amount was very low (so little that is was not tasted). In our Adriaan we use a little hops and in the Jopen Koyt even less. The bitterness in the Koyt is from the gagel we use (Myrica gale) [ed note: myrica gale and gagel are both names for sweet gale] together with other herbs.” From what Ron tell me, the Koyt is available to retailers from Beechwood, and because of this, may be available in the better-stocked beer stores in Madison (Rileys, Steves, Star, etc.) and Milwaukee; the Adriaan will become more available soon.
Finally, the Fraoch Heather Ale and the Alba Scots Pine, both imported by Legends Limited and available fairly readily in Madison, are the only beers I know of to be brewed commercially without any hops whatsoever. Or, at least as far as I know.
Beer, hops, estrogen, sedation of the population