Sometimes it's not all about the hops. Hops are flowers that are used as a stability agent and give beer its bitterness and aromatics. There are hundreds of varieties of hops to choose from. Each hop provides different elements, such as lemon, citrus, pepper, garlic, onion, pine tree, and jolly rancher flavors. Besides hops, brewers have all sorts of different ingredients to source from, providing different flavors such as spices, herbs, fruits, maybe even tree branches. I'll get back to the tree branches in a minute.... 

Beautiful Gruit Ale

Beautiful Gruit Ale

A type of beer style known as Gruit utilizes an herb and spice mixture for bittering and flavoring. Gruit is brewed with a minimum amount of hops, normally in the 8-15ibu range. Gruit is generally not a hoppy beer. This style of beer draws its dominant flavors from whatever herbal spice ingredients that are used in the brewing process.

 

One particular gruit beer introduced by Brian Hunt, Owner and Brew Master of Moonlight Brewing Co., is Captain Cooker brewed by Mussel Inn out of New Zealand.  It is brewed with branches from the manuka tree:

 

Captain Cooker Gruit Ale, Mussel Inn:

Appearance: deep amber red body with a very thin white head.

Aroma: herbal/cherry.

Taste: bitter cherry wood, herbal cranberry, ginger spice, cinnamon, slight honey malt finish.

 

Even with a lot of flavor going on, this beer wasn’t overwhelming. The beer is very balanced, clean, refreshing, and tasty on a hot summer day. Brian was a fan of this particular ale. 


When we first brewed with manuka. We didn’t know how to go about it. So we just threw in the manuka tree branches and flowers right in the boil kettle. Literally tree branches sticking out of the kettle! Our assistant didn’t really enjoy getting the branches out later but the end result was a great tasting gruit beer.
— Brian Hunt

One ingredient I like using is hibiscus flowers. It has an earthy, herbal, dry, bitter and tart cranberry flavor.  When brewing, I recommend 1lb of dehydrated hibiscus flowers per 15gal of finish beer. Or use 15min end of boil or dry hop in fermentation.

If you’re a brewer in the industry or a home brewer try something else out. It’s BEER! Enjoy what you love drinking and brewing!

-Mark