I recently came across a great little article about Ben Richards, a beer enthusiast from East Devon who has set himself the challenge of growing all the ingredients to make his own beer on his tiny allotment. It sounds like a great project and something that I’m sure many people would like to have a pop at but how easy is it really to produce good quality home-brew when you’re growing the ingredients yourself?
At the brewery we try to be as sustainable as we can, and of course we would love to be able to say that we grow all of our very own ingredients right here on our farm, but that’s not quite true or possible.
Beer consists of four key ingredients: Water, Malt, Hops and Yeast. How easy is it for us to grow them all on site?
I can safely say that our water is ‘home grown’, we have a natural spring water source which filters down from the Preseli Mountains into a well on our land. This water is pure, Welsh, spring water that requires no additional filtering (other than the necessary UV) or added chemicals. We also send waste water back out through a reed bed filtration system, pretty nifty right?
So, the water is easy … but what about the three other ingredients?
Malt. Our location in West Wales does mean that we are not always the luckiest with the weather. We tend to have a few more damp days than most and this doesn’t lend itself well to growing Barley. It is also impossible to plant crops on a hill farm, the steep slopes make machinery difficult and dangerous to use and poor soil quality does not allow for the growth of quality crops . Even if we had the ideal landscape & climate, the next process is very difficult: The Malting Process. Growing our own Barley would also mean Malting the crop. This takes around 7 days and requires a lot of equipment, manpower and energy!
Hops. Now hops is something that we can (and do!) grow here at the Brewery.
The plant part used in brewing beer is the hop flower, a delicate, pale green, papery cone full of perishable resins. They give a beer bitterness when used early in the brewing process, and aroma when added at the end. As a bonus, hops are a preservative, and extend the life of beer. – All About Beer magazine
Hop growing in the UK can often present a bit of a challenge. This time it is not the climate, or landscape that is so important; many hop varieties thrive in our lovely British weather. There are some great UK-grown hops available; many of which go into our traditional bitters here at the brewery. However, the more hoppy and radical beers which are becoming increasingly popular require a different variety of hop which is not grown in the UK, there is a remarkable thirst for southern-hemisphere hops, which bring exotic flavors of tropical fruit, lemon, pepper, and berries to the table. The other problem that we face in using our own hops is the process of drying them. Large spaces, along with heating equipment, are needed in order to dry the hops to a point where they are ready for brewing. Similar to the malt, this would require time, energy and space that we don’t currently have.
Once a year we do, however, get the opportunity to play around and make a special Green Hop beer. Around October, there is a four week window to harvest the green hops that we grow on the wall of the brewery. An article from the Guardian reads, ‘Speed is crucial when brewing a green-hopped beer and the hops need to get from field to brewery in the shortest time possible to capture all of those delicate volatile oils before they begin to oxidise.’ Although we don’t grow many hops here, it is important that we are quick to harvest and brew the ones that we do because they really do make some of the best beers around.
Yeast is the last ingredient to be added to our beer, it gives us the bi-product of alcohol (the important bit!) and carbon dioxide. We don’t quite cultivate our own yeast but when we are brewing every day we are able to cultivate yeast from a previous brew. We only use this method when we are brewing daily, to make sure that we only use the best quality yeast whilst it is at its freshest. We do also use dried yeast for certain recipes and a special Belgian yeast for our Pierre Bleu Saison.
So, it’s not as easy as it may seem. For small home brewers, it’s definitely worth a go … how satisfying to say that you grew and brewed a pint entirely by yourself! For micro breweries, like us, it’s maybe just a stretch too far at the moment to grow all of our own ingredients in order to meet the demand for the quantity that we brew. Quality ingredients make quality beer and it is important not to stretch ourselves too far and jeopardize the quality of our products.
If we want to keep up with demand for hoppy, exotic tasting beers then we need to continue to source some of our hops from outside of the UK and if we want to focus our efforts on sales, marketing, events, making fantastic beers … all the things needed to grow our business to where we want it to be then unfortunately we can’t devote our time to malting barley or drying hops! For now, we’ll do our best to grow what we can but leave the fancy hops and malted barley to the big boys!
Hats off to one Brewer who is successfully growing all of his own ingredients, read his story here.
If you fancy growing any of your own ingredients, you can do some extra reading here:
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