Grow Your Own: Beer Ingredients in the Backyard

There’s still time to get growing on your own Homebrewer’s Garden.

By Laura Schwarz

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Simple gardening is kind of a gateway drug. You start by planting a few flowers to improve your mood after winter. You add vegetables and herbs. Next, you find yourself interested in fruit trees and shrubs. Pretty soon, you have more produce than you know what to do with, which leads to cooking, preserving, baking, canning, and freezing. You might start composting, beekeeping, fence building, or chicken-hatching. If you’re not careful, you could have a regular farmstead on your hands, all because of a few pansies from the garden center.

At the end of a long day laboring on your farm, you’re going to want a cold beer. Homebrewing is a logical next step, so why not go back to the beginning where this whole mess started?  And what could be more full-circle than growing the ingredients to brew your own beer?

Maybe this hypothetical scenario is a bit of a stretch. But there are lots of reasons why homebrewing and gardening are complementary. Growing your own ingredients can expand your brewing options and give you even more ownership over your beers.

Why grow your own ingredients?

Doesn’t homegrown food usually seem to taste better?  A tomato from the garden always trumps one from the grocery store. The same goes for brewing ingredients—increased freshness equals improved quality. And when you can harvest grains and fruits right before using them, imagine how amplified the flavors and aromas will be.

The variety of things that you can grow to use for brewing is vast. This is especially exciting because you’ll have access to countless flavors that aren’t often used in homebrewing. Spruce, rosehips, hazelnuts, and jasmine flowers are just a few examples. Plus, if you’re currently a gardener, you might already be growing common plants that can double as brewing ingredients, such as berries, herbs, or pumpkins.

Over time, you can also decrease your brewing input costs. Plants are an upfront investment that matures quickly. Hops vines can grow up to twenty feet in a single season, and once they start producing hops, they are quite prolific. If you decide to grow and malt your own barley, you’ll be able to save money on malts as well.

For eco- and health-conscious homebrewers, growing your own ingredients is the most effective way to control what actually goes into your beer. You can make your brews completely organic or eliminate the pesticides and synthetic fertilizers that might be contained in prepackaged brewing ingredients. You can also pat yourself on the back for making your brews more sustainable if you compost your brewing residues and use them to fertilize your gardens!

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