Grow your own beer

Growing A Beer Garden: Planting Beer Ingredients In The Garden

If you are a beer lover, brewing your own batch may be a dream that can be achieved in your own garden. Hops are a key ingredient to that perfect glass of suds, and they may an attractive addition to the landscape too. Knowing what plants are in beer and how to create a signature brew is the first step. Beer garden plants may be the perfect complement to an existing garden or to a completely new landscape concept. We’ll offer some tips on how to grow a beer garden and integrate the necessary ingredients into your outdoor living space.

Growing a Beer Garden

Home beer brewing has taken off as a personal hobby and enthusiasts everywhere have developed their own take on this classic alcoholic beverage. Producing your own beer ingredients in the garden gives easy access and allows you to control your personal blend. Selecting the right hops variety is the first step, as each cultivar has specified zonal requirements and flavors. Then you can experiment with different spices and fruits as you find your way to the most pleasing palate sensation.

Beer is a hallmark of barbecues, sporting events and the end of the week happy hour. It is such a commonplace beverage that a Harris poll found 38 percent of regular American drinkers preferred beer as their beverage of choice. The numbers are consistent in many other major European countries as well. Craft beer breweries are on the rise and home brewers are a niche market that is also experiencing increases in numbers. So if you want to try your hand at brewing your own blend, growing a beer garden is a good start.

Beer Garden Plants

Hop along to brewing success with the most important of beer ingredients in the garden – hops. These grow from bines, which are similar to vines and can be purchased as rhizomes. These fast growing plants can achieve 15 to 20 feet (4.5 to 6 m.) in one season and typically die back in winter, only to rise again the following spring.

Each hop cultivar has a different flavor, noted by its designation as either a bittering or aromatic plant. Bittering hops give the dense, dark notes of high acid levels. Aromatic hops brighten beer and brings both the scent and flavor to the brew. Some suggestions might be:

  • Willamette – Aroma
  • Centennial – Aroma
  • Cascade – Aroma
  • Nugget – Bitter
  • Newport – Bitter

Beer garden plants encompass much more than just hops, although the beverage is consistently dependent upon a good hop blend. You also need to personalize your brew with items like juniper berries, citrus, coriander, sweet gale, heather, and woodruff, which lend classic notes to your personal blend. Many common herbs are used to “bitter” or flavor the beer and also to add aromatic tones. These may include:

Bittering Herbs

  • Sage
  • Milk Thistle
  • Horehound
  • Yarrow
  • Clary Sage

Aromatic Herbs

  • Bee Balm
  • Elder Flower
  • Chamomile
  • Lavender
  • Rosemary
  • Mint

Flavoring Herbs

  • Borage
  • Hyssop
  • Marjoram
  • Lemon Balm
  • Thyme
  • Lemongrass

How to Grow a Beer Garden

Now that you know what plants are in beer, a few tips on hops growing can help send you on your way. Hops grow from stem cuttings or rhizomes. Rhizomes will establish quickly but due to their rapid growth, they need a sturdy structure over which to grow. Hop bines wrap around a support as they develop.

The plants prefer well drained soil, especially slightly sandy sites. Choose a sunny location and plant in spring with each rhizome 24 to 36 inches (60-91 cm.) apart. By mid to late spring, choose three sturdy bines from each plant and prune the others. Train the three bines using baling twine or other strong cord.

Once they reach the top of your structure, they will produce side bines which will bear the cones. Remove the lower 2 to 3 feet (60-91 cm.) of foliage to promote air circulation and prevent the spread of disease. During the first year, few cones are produced, as the plant is busy developing a good root and crown system.

Established plants need 1 ½ inches (2.5 to 3.8 cm.) of water per week, preferably from the base. Remove cones, dry them and store them in sealed bags until ready to use.

Group additional plants in the beer garden based on their specific growing conditions and harvest as needed.

Grow Your Own: Beer Ingredients in the Backyard

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

By Laura Schwarz

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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Growing Beer in Your Backyard

Grow Your Own Beer Garden in Houston

How to Grow Hops for Beer

How to Grow Barley for Beer

Money may not grow on trees, but growing beer in your garden is almost as good! Okay, okay, you have to brew and ferment it first, but growing beer ingredients for your own personal homebrew is way easier than you think. Plus, it’s pretty fun being the one at dinner parties who shows up with a few bottles of garden-grown ale. Here are the basics of growing beer ingredients in your own backyard:

Grow Your Own Beer Garden in Houston

The two main components of beer that you can grow at home are grains and hops. While you can use a whole variety of different grains for beer brewing, like wheat, or even rice, barley is definitely the most popular option. While the grains provide a base flavor for the beer, hops are what give beer that distinctive, complex taste that’s just the right amount of bitter. Plus, it acts as a natural preservative, which was actually the main reason it was added to beer in the first place. There are loads of different varieties of hops, all with different flavors and aromas that can give your beer all those “sparkling top notes” and “strong, malty finishes” that we always hear sommeliers and beer snobs talking about. I swear, sometimes they sound just like the ladies behind the perfume counter!

If you really want to get fancy with your homebrew, you can even add fresh garden herbs, fruits, and other edibles to create delicious flavor infusions. Barley beers are pretty versatile in their flavor profiles and often have subtle caramelly notes, but wheat beers tend to taste particularly good with tart fruit infusions like raspberry or citrus juices.

You can buy a beer growing kit that comes with the basic tools and instructions for growing beer ingredients, brewing, and bottling, but we’ll give you the basic rundown of how beer brewing works. It’s really not as complicated as you might think!

First, you heat up the grains, so they dry out and crack. Next, you make your mash, which requires you to steep the cracked grains in hot (not boiling) water for an hour to create a beer tea. This causes the grains to release sugars into the water. Strain it, and now you’ve got your wort!

Next, you boil the wort for around an hour, adding in all the hops and other spices or flavors you’d like to include. After boiling, you cool it down, strain and filter it, then pour it into a fermenting container and add yeast. All that sugar that was released in the mash will act as food for the yeast, who will pretty much just eat it up and then burp out CO2 and alcohol over the course of the next few weeks. After fermentation, you can bottle it up and let it sit for longer to develop natural carbonation, or you can artificially carbonate it to enjoy it sooner.

How to Grow Hops for Beer

So, hops grow on a vine called a bine (which is weird, right? Like, just call yourself a vine). Anyways, you’ll need a trellis, or something installed in your garden for the vine to grow along. Lots of people prefer to hang a thick rope from the side of their home or garage, and the bine will naturally creep up it. Green pinecone-y looking things will pop up all along the bines, and those are what you harvest to add into your beer.

Hops are grown from a rhizome that needs to be planted in the spring, in super well-draining soil, with a healthy dose of fertilizer or some extra compost mixed in. The bright sunshine in Houston is perfect for bringing out the best flavors from your hops, but you should make sure to water it frequently, so the sun doesn’t dry out the soil too much.

You’ll know when your hops are ready to harvest once they’re dry and spongy, bouncing back to their original shape when you squish them between your thumb and forefinger. If they don’t bounce back and stay dented, they’re still too moist and need to dry out more. Dried hops will also have an interesting smell that’s kind of like a cross between cut grass and onions, and if you crack it open it’ll be full of yellow powder. Wear protective gloves when you harvest your hops, because they’re covered in tiny hairs that are notoriously prickly, and some people will actually develop a skin rash after touching them.

After harvesting, you still need to dry them out a bit more, so you can either pop them in a food dehydrator if you have one handy, or you can sprinkle the hops across an air filter screen, lay a black cloth overtop, stick it in a warm spot in the house with decent air circulation, and give ‘em a little shake once in a while. Don’t leave them out to dry for over 72 hours. You’ll know they’re sufficiently dry when you can snap them in two. Try to use them as soon as they’re ready, but if you want to use them later just seal them up in an airtight bag and toss them in the freezer— really make sure there’s as little air in the bag as possible.

How to Grow Barley for Beer

Barley is surprisingly easy to grow, and it develops a lot faster than other grains, so it’s a good option if you’re a bit of an impatient gardener. While you may never have considered growing grain for beer since it’s usually done commercially, it’s actually kind of pretty and can add some texture and movement to the landscape. You just need to have a decent amount of space to devote to it. A 6×6 foot plot full of barley will produce anywhere from 3-8 pounds of barley, which is a decent amount to start, but if you plan on doing a lot of beer flavor experimentation, or just want a good backup in case your trial-and-error brewing is heavy on the error, you’ll probably want to double up in size.

There are two types of barley—six-row and two-row—and these names refer to the number of grain rows on the head of each barley stem. Two-row is used in malt beers, but six-row is the more popular kind used in most American beers. Find a barley seed supplier and get one of the experts to help you pick out a cultivar that’s suited to grow here in Texas.

Barley grows well in loamy soil that hasn’t been treated by much fertilizer. It needs to have some potassium and phosphorus in the soil, but too much nitrogen is a no-no–it will make the seeds too high in protein, which will affect the way they malt. Barley grows best in pH neutral or slightly alkaline soil, so do a soil test to make sure it isn’t too acidic and amend it accordingly if need be. Sprinkle the seeds across the soil in early spring and press them in lightly, aiming for about one seed per inch. Water them well, and then be on the lookout for any weeds that pop up. Seriously, weeds are the sworn enemy of grain plants, and even though barley is one of the tougher of the grains, you still need to be on your A-game for weed control.

If the season hasn’t been too rainy, water your barley occasionally, but for the most part, if we get a few good rain showers in there, it should grow just fine. Usually, the barley is ready to harvest in about three months, maturing to a nice golden-brown color. Your best bet is to purchase a grain sickle for harvesting the barley, but they can be kind of hard to find, so you might just need to settle for garden shears. When you cut off the grain heads, bundle them up into groups of 8 or 10, tie them up and dry them out for a couple of weeks in a warm spot with continuous airflow. Once they’re dry, you need to pretty much bash off all the grains from the stems by “threshing.” This is one of the more fun parts of making beer, and there are a few different ways to do it—some methods a little less graceful than others.

Growing beer ingredients in Houston is totally possible and, you have to admit, totally badass. Have fun experimenting with different unique flavor infusions and exotic varieties of hops—who knows, maybe you’ll be the next Alexander Keith! Visit Plants for All Seasons and our experts will help get you started on your beer-brewing journey.

Drinking beers outside never goes out of style. Beer gardens, or biergartens, are outdoor areas where beer and food are served in a communal setting. Often attached to a brewery or tavern, they have been popular in Germany since the the 1800s (some argue the 1500s). Today, from Bavaria to Brooklyn to Beijing, outdoor beer gardens are still popular spots to eat, drink, and be very merry.

According to a recent trend report from Pinterest, search for beer garden parties leaped an astounding 638 percent year-over-year. Those not fortunate enough to live near such world-class beer gardens as Hofbrauhaus in Munich, or even a stateside replica like Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden in Queens, N.Y., can take matters into their own hands. All it takes is some picnic tables, pretzels, beer-braised brats, and a few other bier-friendly accessories.

With summer hanging on for another few weeks and Oktoberfest fast approaching, we’ve created this handy guide to getting your Frühschoppen on, beer garden style. There’s just one thing — please invite us when you do it.

Communal Tables

Picnic tables are key to the beer garden aesthetic. Ideally, you’ll have long, communal centerfold (ahem, beer pong) tables of some kind. The communal nature is essential to the beer garden vibe: In Germany as well as here in the U.S., beer gardens were established as family-friendly community gathering places.

To complete the look, use tablecloths made to look like wood, or go with a white-and-blue diamond (or checkered) pattern, as a nod to the Bavarian flag.

Repurposing beer bottles or growlers as flower vases upgrades any table setting. Photo credit: Pinterest.com

Beer Jug Vases

One of our favorite things to do with unused growlers is use them as flower vases. A DIY beer garden is the perfect place to put this practice into action. Note: You can also do this with regular beer bottles, or use beer cans as succulent holders.

And if you can find and style your vessels with cornflower, the national flower of Germany, good on you.

Bottle cap wind chimes. Bonus if they capped German beers. Photo credit: Pinterest.com

More Decor

Upcycling beer paraphernalia (i.e., garbage most people throw away) is an excellent way to amplify homegrown biergarten vibes. Specifics will depend on your access to a local brewery, homebrew shop, homebrewer friend, or run-of-the-mill hoarder. Repurpose bottle caps into wind chimes, make coaster collages, or decorate tables with beer labels. Hanging up empty malt sacks on a fence or clothesline looks cool and crafty; and chances are, you’ll be able to find German malt brands.

Another kitschy, cute idea is propping up a chalkboard menu so your guests know what they’re getting.

The (German) Beer

If you’re serious about creating an authentic beer garden, you must stock your party with German beer. Traditional biergartens are all about lager, from Munich Helles to Märzen (Märzens are also known as Oktoberfest or festbiers). Look for classic German brands like Spaten, Paulaner, or Augustiner. For some extra heft, hefeweizens, Bavarian-style wheat beers, are another popular choice; our favorite is Weihenstephaner. Another option for refreshing and flavorful all-day drinking is Gaffel Kölsch, traditionally served in a circular tray of narrow stange glasses.

If you’re set on supporting local, plenty of American craft brewers are releasing tasty interpretations of German-style or German-inspired beers. Some of our favorite craft lagers and pilsners come from German-inspired brewers like Victory, Troegs, and Slyfox. You might even spread your horizons with tart and light Berliner-style weisse or salty, sour gose.

Nicht Bier

You might have some patrons — sorry, “friends” — who don’t drink beer. For wine drinkers, go for German whites like Riesling or Gewürztraminer. (Although the latter originates in the Alsace region of France, the wine capital once belonged to Germany.) Spirits fans might appreciate Jägermeister shots, or the lesser-known Rumple Minze, a peppermint schnapps.

For those abstaining from alcohol altogether, offer safte, or juice — orangensaft (orange juice), apfelsaft (apple juice), and traubensaft (grape juice) are German favorites. Or you can make a schorle, a mixture of fruit juice and mineral water that is popular in summertime.

Pretend these beers are German. Photo credit: Pinterest.com

Über Cool

To take your beer garden refrigeration game to the next level, get creative with cooler options. One trend we love is using a wagon or wheelbarrow — otherwise known as a beer barrow! — to stash brews in an outdoorsy way. Metal buckets also work.

More Than Mugs

Mugs or steins are the quintessential German beer-drinking vessel. However, most people don’t have (or want) a stash of mugs on hand. For classy glassware you’ll actually use in the future, you might consider Spiegelau glasses, which come in several varieties for pilsners, lagers, and hefeweizens.

Although we don’t often condone demoting drinks to disposable cups, paper cups keep cleanup simple, and there are some pretty cute Oktoberfest-friendly options out there.

Pretzels are the best.

Don’t Be the Wurst

Food is a very important component to sustaining any day-drinking party. Snacks are especially essential at beer gardens, because the gardens historically are places for spending time with family and friends, where fresh beer complements local food.

Beer and brats is one of the most classic pairings on planet Earth, mainly because they are delicious together. Wurst, or sausage, comes in several varieties — bratwurst, weisswurst, knockwurst, and even vegan options. Be sure to have plenty of sauerkraut, red cabbage, and grainy mustard on hand. German potato salad, which is a lot like American potato salad, but with vinegar instead of mayo, also makes a great side dish.

If you’re averse to cooking, snacking can be as simple as soft pretzels and mustard. You can even go full Pinterest by making pretzel garlands and hanging them throughout your yard.

Another great pretzel pairing is beer cheese. Technically, beer cheese is more American than German; it originated in Kentucky, home of the annual Beer Cheese Festival. But we’re inclusive in our beer garden and will put cheese on anything. There’s also a traditional Bavarian cheese spread called obatzda that’s made for beer drinking.

Finishing Touches

Overachievers can try their hands at classic German confections like bratapfel (baked apples), gebrannte mandeln (almonds cooked in sugar), goetterspeise (basically Jell-O with sweet woodruff), or a German-inspired Black Forest cake.

Now all you need to do is turn up your polka playlist and enjoy. Prost!

photo

“The term “beer garden” (Biergarten),” says Wikipedia, “has become a generic term for open-air establishments where beer is served. Many countries have them. The characteristics include trees (no sun umbrellas), wooden benches (no plastic garden chairs), gravel bed (no street pavement), and solid meals (no fast food).”

The largest traditional beer garden in the world is the Hirschgarten in Munich, which seats 8,000, and dates back to 1791.

Here in the U.S., one of the earliest, and most popular, beer gardens was Castle Garden at the southern tip of Manhattan, which, today, is a national monument.

Some U.S. beer gardens hosted shooting galleries, bowling alleys, and live classical music along with beer drinking. This tradition lives on today, as many modern beer gardens feature outdoor games, as well as board games.

Turning your backyard, sideyard, sundeck, porch or patio into a beer garden is fairly easy…and trendy.

1. Start by browsing the Internet for pictures. They’ll put you in the mood, and serve as visual templates.

2. Next, ponder how and why beer gardens sprouted up — in 19th century Bavaria. GardenGates.com tells us that “the concept started when cellars were dug into riverbank sides to keep the beer cooled. Trees were planted to add more cooling shade.”

3. Determine a location that would be convenient to the kitchen so you have easy access to food and dishware.

4. Then look for a flat area that would be good for relaxing and entertaining. You can use a patio or barbecue area that is already in place or create a new area. Use flooring that is easy to clean – patio stone, cement, gravel or decomposed granite, for example.

5. If you have a shady tree available, that might help you decide on placement. Remember shady trees were a basic for the traditional beer garden. If you don’t have trees, plant large shrubs and trees around your beer garden. Or you can also construct a permanent or temporary shade cover instead.

6. Rustic wooden outdoor seating in the form of tables, chairs, benches or stools will all help create the ambiance. Try using trestle tables to give that German tavern beer garden effect. You can also carry through the theme with half-barrels filled with soil and spilling trailing flowers. Or use whole casks for small tables.

7. Finishing touches include a wooden frame around a cooler that lets you store ice, beer and other cold materials outside. Consider hanging old beer posters on fences and walls to complete the look, and place antique signs and decorative German beer steins as accents.

Lots of great furniture can be found at www.beergardenfurniture.net. Or, for higher end stuff check out Terrain, online.

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