with the occasional rant about tin openers...

The Home Brew Challenge!

Can I grow my own brewing ingredients?

This is something I've been trying over the last few years, with varying degrees of success.  

Hops, the second most common organic ingredient in beer, is quite easy. They practically grow themselves. Getting them to crop and then drying the crop is proving a little more difficult. See gyohops.

Barley, the staple ingredient in beer, is a little trickier. Sown in spring when the soil is dry, in slightly crap soil, then once harvested it needs to be threshed. Got all that? Then how about malting! More information below.

Gruit Herbs. Other, more interesting ingredients are available. I've been growing some Gruit herbs (Yarrow, Wormwood, Sage, Lemonbalm and so on) with a better success rate, so hopefully will be brewing some Tudor-style beer later this year. A brown ale type recipe will be used with various quantities of the above botanicals. All trial and error, at this stage.

And finally, yeast. What a can of worms this could turn out to be! Some experimenting is required here, as collecting yeast can be hit or miss, and you wouldn't want five gallons of miss. See Yeast by Jamil Zainasheff for some less vague information. 

Below is the original challenge I set myself, some years ago.

Challenge Postponed (OK, lost):

I think, this year, the Goodwife of Antiquity has won. On the third attempt at sowing barley I successfully warded off all the birds, only to find that in my greed and frustration, I planted too much barley, too close together, and now it's all flopped back on itself, highlighting another rookie mistake to all the gardeners who care to look past my wonderful beetroot and courgettes towards my epic fail of a barley patch. NEVER MIND... next year I'm going to succeed. So what if there's no beer this year? There's the apple collections in October, Mead making at about the same time, and all sorts of delightful wine making possibilities to come over the summer months, which will bring me nicely to next spring, when I'll be ready for birds, wheather and, frankly inexperience! Till then, though, thank the good lord (or in this case Shane at
thehomebrewcompany.ie) and his winged messenger (Sorry, that's Fastway Couriers), I've a two stone parcel of malt waiting for me when I get back. There WILL be beer after all!

The allotment plot, barley at the front.
Thanks for showing an interest in my little experiment. Check back in spring 2012 for the second round against my fictional nemesis, where hopefully I'll claw back some dignity as a gardener, and prove my worth as a maltster, Hopdryer and brewer extraordinaire!

To read about the challenge, and to spot the myriad mistakes, read on!:

The Challenge!

It's not like most beer related challenges. This is more wholesome, and it goes like this:

I agree, it's a little 'River Cottage', but with a Monty Python budget.

I've been reading 'The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England' by Ian Mortimer (a Medieval name if ever there was one!) and it made several references to the house wife brewing beer on a regular basis, and there being a third of the acrage on an average plot given over to barley etc. for food and beer. And I though to myself, only last night, that if a medieval housewife could do it hundreds of years ago, surely I could do it now, with my wealth of experience.

So, to that end, I'm going to grow my own barley, malt it, toast it and make ale out of it, to which I'll add hops from the garden, and hopefully some other adjuncts that I can make myself. I'll document it, here, and also in the posts as I go along. There'll be none of that 'finding yourself' nonsense that challenges inevitably induce, just a darned good pint at the end of it.

Step 1: Growing Barley

Firstly, I'll need some barley seed. I live in a rural area, and I know one of the farmers in Muff [sic] grows 6-row, so I should at least be able to find some 2-row from somewhere around here two and 6 row barley are the types most commonly used for malting. And second, I'll need a plot of land. I'm hankering after a plot in the allotments in the town, but failing that, I can dig up some of the pretty plants in our small but servicable garden, and turn it over to crop.

I'm researching (Googling, sorry) crop sowing and yield per sq. yard. I don't imagine it'll cost much, and apparently the price of barley dropped over the weekend, so it just goes to show there is a god. It'll probably mean a saving of 6c with the minimal quantities I'll be buying. And yes, it would be easier to not plant the barley, and just malt it anyway, but where's the adventure in that?

So, phase one, the planting stage, is in the planning process. The Hop plant (Nugget) is over a foot tall already (16" on 21st March 2011), and someone will know something about where I can get my hands on some grain, and think about taking pictures of everything.

Problem 1: Sums and spaces

It wasn't long before I got tripped up by the first set of problems. Barley seed at the co-op comes in 50kg bags. I need 125grams of seed...  I wonder if they'll split.
I got this number by doing some hard sums. Firstly, the seed rate for one acre is 120lb/acre, and the yield is 2500lb/acre, or in square yards that's 11g seed rate, and .25kg yield. So for one 5 gallon batch, I'll need an area the size of my house (12 square yards) to yield my 3kg or 6-7lb of malt, and that's dried malt, so I'll probably need an even larger yield to get that dried weight. I might not even get an allotment this year, but if I did, will I get away with a whole bed given over to Barley?
Anyway, I think that pretty much sums up my first problem.

Reading up:

I've been glancing through some forums, and it would appear that (as well as being an American hybrid) Nugget hop is becoming quite popular in American IPAs. The Yanks, in their increasingly mental quest for a face crunchingly hoppy beer, are quite keen on using Nugget hops. Indeed, I gather a Nugget only IPA is a wonder to behold. So, providing I don't overcook the malt that I've yet to make or grow or even get hold of, it looks like I'll be making an IPA come the summer. I wasn't going to plan that far ahead, but I think given the circumstances, a Nugget IPA seems likely. Now, a few hours on photoshop and I'll have a label mocked up!

Having been up to the Co-op, and scoured the internet, the two types of barley available to me are Snakebite and Quench. Both, as far as I know, are 2-row, have done very well in trials, and are available to me in 50kg bags. Now, I just need to find that farmer...

I'm also only €20 away from getting my hands on a bed in the allotments. Similarly, I've managed to hint at the right people, and they've kindly donated a patch of their field/veg patch/lawn to the barley growing purpose.

Off (in) the ground

Finally, on the third attempt, and at the same time as others are near harvesting theirs, my barley is poking its many heads up above the soil! Those pesky birds really didn't leave me one seedling! Nevertheless, fellow community gardeners came to the rescue and left me some netting and some sticks, and now it's birdproof (though as I'm sure we'll come to see, not idiot-proof). So, how long does it take to grow?

Following a bout of poor weather, everything green looks like it's on its way to autumn. Trees, hedges, plants (not lawns) look brown and shrivelled, and unfortunately, the hop plant suffered too. I thought all was lost, but with typical American hybrid zeal, it's still doing its best, though instead of 3 bines wrapped neatly about 3 bits of string, there's about 40 going hell for leather up each other. Well! I'll worry about getting it down in the autumn (fall, sorry). For now, GO GET 'EM! And judging by the quantity of barley I'm likely to harvest, I'll need 14 cones, weighing in at 0.07 oz to make my 1/2 pint of beer.

No comments:

Post a Comment