As the temperatures warm and gardens are planned, home brewers and other DIY beverage enthusiasts might consider taking a swing at growing ingredients for their concoctions from home, rather than purchasing them.
Most people do not know anybody who has grown hops, barley, grapes, or other useful beverage ingredients in their home gardens, so it might appear to be a difficult task.
In fact, these plants are not terribly difficult to grow, harvest, and prepare on your own. The comeback of home craft beverage making has recently increased the popularity of raising these plants in backyard gardens.
You know the feeling of accomplishment, and the extra level of tastiness, involved with enjoying a beer or wine that you made from scratch. That feelin will be raised even higher when you make a beverage from scratch, using ingredients that you tended over the course of a summer and harvested from your own yard.
In the search to learn more about enhancing our home brewing through the garden we came across a very useful resource by Wendy Tweten and Debbie Teashon, appropriately titled “Gardening for the Homebrewer.”
What the Book Accomplishes
The authors of this book make sure to clearly state that they are first gardeners and then homebrewers. Their specialty is the typical brewer’s weakness – gardening – but they have enough knowledge about making beer, wine, cider, and other craft beverages to provide a useful resource for leveraging the garden to produce these drinks.
The book gives basic information about the process of brewing, fermenting, or otherwise preparing each type of beverage, but only enough to make sure that you know where each garden ingredient fits into the process.
The authors generally assume that you know what you are doing to the point that you can, for example, brew a batch of beer and feel comfortable making small adaptations to a recipe to work with the plants that you are growing.
Topics Discussed in the Book
The book covers the topics of gardening for making beer, wine, cider, perry, and liqueurs.
In general, each chapter talks about the various plants that can be grown for use in these beverages and provides the basic background about each plant, how much is needed for brewing, the regions where it grows best, and tips for growing it (such as space, soil, light, and water requirements, as well as management and harvesting tips).
In many cases, there is also a recipe included to illustrate how the plant can be incorporated into a brew.
As far as the beverages go, here is a little detail about what each section covers:
The growing, harvesting, and processing hops and barley is covered in detail, including the malting of barley. Neither of these are as difficult as they sound. Hops are especially reasonable for the novice gardener to start growing in many different climates.
Different plants and herbs that can be used to flavor beer are introduced, and considerations are discussed for planting a garden based on what you want to accomplish with your beer.
While much space is dedicated to the discussion of raising wine grapes, for obvious reasons, this book also discusses fruit wines and the pairing of various fruits and herbs for wine. The fruits that make great wine, and their growing properties, are explained in detail.
Although beer and wine making is going to be the most relevant for most readers, this book is really unique because of the information it gives about other drinks.
For the avid home brewer or vintner cider may seem like the cop-out chosen by those who can’t appreciate or handle a well-crafted beer or wine. If this is you, the chapter on cider making in this book will completely change your perspective and have you longing for the autumn apple harvest.
Did you know that hard cider was once a very prevalent beverage across North America due to the ease with which apples grow and the minimal equipment needed to produce the cider?
The diversity of cider apple trees across the United States was destroyed with the onset of Prohibition, when growers began to favor dessert varieties for eating, making it harder to find good cider apple trees these days.
In just the last few years there has been a reawakening of craft cider making and cider apple varieties are finally on the rebound.
This section of the book discusses the selection of apple varieties, finding the best site on your property for the trees, planting, grafting, and pruning trees, and harvesting, preparing, and fermenting the apples.
It is possible to grow some varieties of apples almost anywhere in the United States, so after reading about growing apples for hard cider at home you may well find yourself investing in the trees for this simple and delicious DIY beverage.
Perry is not as familiar as beer, wine, or cider, though it is quite similar to cider. It is in fact made in the same way as cider, only using perry pears (as opposed to “dessert” varieties of pears).
Perry is like a fancy cider, historically enjoyed by those on the higher rungs of the societal ladder.
Like cider apples, true perry pear trees fell out of favor and have become hard to find. Perry is a beverage that has never had a large profile in the United States, but with the rise of craft beverages lately it has started to grow in popularity.
Just like with cider, this book discusses the selection of perry pear varieties, the grafting, pruning, and harvesting processes for the pear trees, and the process for preparing and fermenting the pears into perry (which has some slight differences from cider and takes a little longer).
The book ends on a slightly different style of beverage, one that is not fermented at home but rather uses ready-made alcohol mixed with various ingredients from the garden to produce a fantastic result.
Liqueurs, sometimes called cordials, are mixtures of fruits and/or herbs with alcohol to which a simple syrup is added for sweetening. Infused spirits are the same, but without the syrup. Examples of these that you may recognize are Benedictine and Chartreuse.
If you have never made liqueurs or infusions before you will be capable after simply reading this section of the book. This is the only section of “Gardening for the Homebrewer” where you would not need to seek more informational resources in order to be equipped to start out in the hobby with no prior experience.
With beer, wine, cider, and perry it is advisable to either have knowledge of the process already or seek more fundamental instruction on how to carry out these processes before moving forward with the information in this book.
The great thing about liqueurs is that they are quick and easy to make. One or more herbs and fruits from the garden are added to vodka or some other liquor with at least 40% alcohol content, and the mixture is left to sit in a sealed container for hours or days and then strained off to provide the flavored liqueur.
With no fermentation to wait for, and herbs being some of the simplest and fastest plants to grow in the garden (or in a pot in your house), this is a great option for trying new flavors without a big investment in time and resources.
The book walks you through the selection and growing of the relevant herbs and provides some simple recipes that you can use to be enjoying your own liqueur within the next few days.
Overall Thoughts on the Book
Without a doubt, this book gets two thumbs up. It is written to be engaging and approachable for the average home brewer who may not have deep knowledge of gardening. The authors know what you need to know, and they give that to you without bogging the book down with extra information that is not necessary.
As was said earlier, this book is not the best resource to teach you how to make beer, wine, cider, or perry (though it will get you started on liqueurs pretty well). You will want to learn those hobbies through other means.
If you would like to take these hobbies to the next level by growing your own ingredients, however, “Gardening for the Homebrewer” is a must-have resource.
If you like to make you own beer, wine, cider, perry, or liqueur and would like to start growing some of your own ingredients at home to supplement the hobby, you need to take a look at this book.