I took a work buddy of mine to the local homebrew shop the other day at lunch. The dude working at the shop had a long pony tail and a calm, relaxed demeanor that makes you think he probably listens to the Grateful Dead and might have at one time enjoyed some herbal self-medication on occasion. Who among us hasn’t?
On the way back to the office, he remarked, “There seems to be a similarity between home brewers and home growers.” This, of course, incited me to begin a conversation about the hops I grew this summer. I am not sure if he was talking about hops, but I know there are a lot of brewers growing their own hops this year.
I wanted a hedge against a lack of Centennial hops, with a fun dose of Willamette and Saaz for extra insurance. The Willamette came out best, yielding maybe an ounce of whole hops. The Centennial came in second with a few grams of hops. The Saaz never broke ground. That’s OK – it turns out that I don’t really like Saaz that much, anyway. Next year I’ll plant Amarillo and something like Chinook or Columbus or Newport or Summit.
I have harvested all the hops from this first year and dried them out best I can. But I have not used them yet. I’m not sure they came out OK. The smell is a bit grassy, or something. They don’t quite smell like hops. But maybe I’m being paranoid. Still, I am going to wait and use them in one special (if small) brew.
In addition to these homegrown hops, I also seem to have some Yarrow growing at my house. That is supposed to be a classic Gruit herb with some sort of highly inebriating effects when fermented. I think using these in the experimental homegrown hop beer will be the perfect way to have a good time. Either I’ll get high and drunk at the same time without using anything illegal, or I’ll die from using some random poisoned weed growing in my garden. No matter what, it’s all in the name of science and beer love.
I have some bittersweet nightshade growing around my house, too, but I don’t think I’ll use that quite yet. And there’s always local honey. I also have a few books on herbal beers without hops, including one that will send me seeds to make their herbal beer recipes. One day I’ll get myself organized enough to order these seeds and plant them and then make the beer-like substances using their leaves and stuff.
But until then, I’ll settle for homegrown hops on a not-too-crazy homegrown homebrew.
Today’s beer as we know it uses hops for spicing. Hops provide bitterness, flavor, and aroma to beer. Hops balance out malt character to improve beer drinkability. Hops act as a preservative, helping to maintain flavor stability in beer as it is aged, transported, and stored. But did you know that hops have only really been used in beer for about the last 500 years. It wasn’t until the 16th century that hops in beer was the standard.