Forget farm to table – go from garden to glass!
That is the theme of the book, “Gardening For The Homebrewer“, which reveals how to grow and process plants to create new and different flavors for home brewing. Read on for an interview with the book’s co-authors, Wendy Tweten and Debbie Deashon, as well as a “hopportunity” to win a copy of the book, courtesy of Quarto Publishing Group!
1) When some people see the title of your book they may wrongfully assume that it is strictly about growing hops, grapes and apple trees for beer, wine and cider, respectively. But, it’s much more than that – there are many plants that can be grown to give a home brew a flavorful boost and your book features a plethora of plant options. I imagine the scope of possible plant choices extends way beyond those in your book. How did you decide what plants to feature in your book?
Wendy: If it can be grown in a garden, chances are it can be fermented or infused into alcohol. Eucalyptus liqueur, anyone? Or pea pod wine? Although these libations are perfectly possible, the challenge of Gardening for the Homebrewer was to narrow down the choices to those most palatable and practical for the greatest number of gardeners and brewers in a variety of temperate zones. The plants chosen for inclusion cover a wide range of flavors and uses from sweet cherry wine to yarrow for gruit beer to vintage cider apples for scrumpy. Home brewers, fermenters, and cider-masters alike will find something within these pages to tempt them into the garden and help make their liquid creations even more their own.
Debbie: I am always on the hunt for unusual or rare plants for my garden, be it an ornamental plant or an edible, to trial. Always experimenting with new ways to grow something, it was natural for me to look beyond the usual brew ingredients and explore the realm of creative ones for inspired brews. Around the turn of the century, (I love using that phrase!) I planted a dwarf spruce tree (Picea ‘Pappoose’) for an unusual beer recipe. Although I grow two varieties of hops, exploring the world of herbs for brewing, was naturally appealing. Growing vegetables for the glass, took edible gardening to a new realm.
2) While you may not necessarily need a garden to succeed as a home brewer, what are some of the reasons or advantages to doing so?
Wendy: Of course, freshness and quality of ingredients can be guaranteed by the home gardener. But the greatest advantage of growing what goes into your vat is access to varieties of hops, apples, and other produce that simply aren’t available commercially. Perry pears are a good example. Astringent, old-world perry pears make all the difference between an insipid pear cider (as it is sometimes labeled) and exquisite true perry – a drink the feudal landholders kept for themselves while passing the cider along to the serfs. The only way for most of us to acquire this fruit is to plant a tree. The same is true of cider apples or hops cultivars that may not yield enough for the big growers to bother with. Many varieties that add excellent flavors and undertones to our homemade libations are available only in our own backyards. And let’s not forget that once the brewing is done, the garden is a great place to enjoy the labors of your fruits!
Debbie: You have more room! With more room, you can try more ingredients – the more you grow, the more ways you can experiment.
3) I have to admit, I start to feel overwhelmed just thinking about home brewing and your book offers a wealth of plant choices. How does your book ease someone new into cultivating for home brewing – how does it help them narrow down the plant field?
Wendy: Experienced brew masters can dive right in with new, homegrown flavors to augment their standby brews. Beginning brewers may want to sip slowly of the plant choices contained within Gardening for Homebrewers. The first step, of course, is to choose your libation. Infusions are an easy start: a summer herb garden or harvest of berries can yield a bounty of holiday gifts. Those interested in cider, perry, wine, or beer can start with the basics, by choosing a tree, vine, or bine to get in the ground. As your specialty plants grow, so can your familiarity with fermentation in the form of a few beginning batches, perhaps augmented by some of books fast-growing annuals. Plants appropriate to each type of drink are listed within the corresponding chapter.
Debbie: I don’t know if it helps narrow down the plant field, when we are trying to expand it for homebrewers. We both advocate starting small with a few plants. Then a person can build on the successes, and learn from the disasters — much like brewing! What makes a person eventually have the proverbial green thumb is simply experience.
4) As I was reading your book I was very surprised at the things that can be grown to be incorporated into a home brew. Some of the plants may already be in a person’s backyard – such as lavender, ground ivy and yarrow. To your knowledge what are some of the strangest plants ever used as an additive in a home brew? What words of advice would you have for someone wanting to experiment with plants outside of the tried, true and tested in your book?
Wendy: Those crazy beer brewers! What won’t they try? I mean, you don’t see vintners or cider and perry makers popping hot peppers and spruce buds into their bottles (although a nice crisp perry with a bit of lemon verbena or rosemary might be refreshing).
Debbie: The strangest plant I heard used for making beer was yeast taken from a person’s beard. Technically yeast is a plant classified with molds and mushrooms, so it is in the plant kingdom. I love to experiment, but cultivating a beard and harvesting the yeast from it just doesn’t fit my idea of edible gardening. On the other hand, there are no weeds to pull.
Make sure the plant is not poisonous! It’s advisable to know the botanical name of a plant you wish to experiment with. A plant can have a common name that is shared with another plant. Be sure you identify it correctly. Case in point – cow parsley, which is one of the common names for Anthriscus sylvestris, and sometimes used as another common name for yarrow (Achillea species). Not only do you want to know exactly what herb you are brewing with, you want to be sure you haven’t mistaken the plant for the highly poisonous water hemlock (Cicuta douglasii). A happy brewer is a live brewer!
I say go for the gusto, be creative, and don’t be afraid to have failures! Some of the best success, comes after the disasters. Use your tried and true plants for those times you need to be sure a batch is going to turn out, but be open to create something new.
5) What plants have you incorporated into some of your favorite brews? Can you give us some personal recommendations?
Debbie: Right now, I am on an herb kick. Mint being easy to grow (it wants to take over the garden world) can be used for beer, and liqueurs. Peppermint extracts tend to have a bit of a bite to it, whereas fresh mint from the garden is smooth with a cool palate. I recently tried a recipe for a cucumber/mint liqueur, that had a wonderful refreshing taste that surprised the taste buds with the first sip. The same combo might make for an interesting beer. It’s tough for me to recommend a few plants, as I want to try everything, and believe everyone should experiment with their brews and go beyond the typical concoctions. That’s half of the fun of growing and crafting your own brews!
“What plant would you like to try in a homebrew?”
The winner will be drawn at random from all qualified entrants, and notified via e-mail. (See Rules for more information.)
UPDATE 1/3/2016: Congratulations to Chris Voytek, the winner of the Gardening for the Homebrewer book giveaway!