Many of us at Fifth Season enjoy multidisciplinary hobbies, and few hobbies integrate better than brewing and gardening! While growing, harvesting, and malting your own grains may not be for everyone, there are numerous plants, berries, and herbs that the homebrewer can add to their garden and, later, to their beer.
Hops are the obvious first choice, and much has been written about the cultivation of hops, including on this very blog. Properly cultivated, hops can have extremely high yields, and as high climbers they make a dramatic and attractive addition to your landscape. As a final bonus, the ripening cones produce a wonderful, pungent aroma.
Consider adding spruce to your garden as well. Beer made with spruce tips has a long tradition – longer than hops, in fact! Harvest the new spruce tips that grow in during the spring. These are typically added during the final few minutes of your boil, or as a whirlpool addition, as boiling them for too long can produce excess bitterness. Be conservative with your first batch, and ramp up as desired in future batches, as some people are very sensitive to the piney flavor. White Spruce, Blue Spruce, or Norway Spruce grow well in Virginia and North Carolina.
Pumpkin, for better or worse, is a consistent brewer favorite during the autumn. Be sure to plant them with plenty of space to grow. Each hill will need at least 25 square feet to grow, and some varieties thrive with even more. In a pinch, you can plant them on the edge of your garden and train the vines to grow into your yard. Plant a pie pumpkin variety for brewing. On brew day, prepare eight to ten pounds of pumpkin(s) by cleaning out the pulp and seeds, then cutting them into chunks. Roast these at 325°F until they are soft all the way through – typically 60-90 minutes. Clean the pumpkin flesh from the skin and add this to your mash. For an even stronger “pumpkin” flavor, try using butternut squash the same way!
Fruit trees and berry bushes can be incorporated into your beer as well. Apples, peaches, blackberries, raspberries, and more can make excellent additions to a late summer witbier. Freeze the fruit before use to help break down the cell walls and add it after fermentation is complete. Be sure to clean the fruit thoroughly; if infection is a concern, you can wash the fruit with a potassium metabisulfite solution before freezing.
If you like a little heat in your beer, there are many varieties of chili peppers from which you can choose. Be careful when planting peppers in Virginia and North Carolina – they can be devastated by a late cold snap. Start them inside until there is no longer any danger of frost, then plant in full sun with good drainage. Chili peppers can be used in nearly any step of the brewing process. Add them late in the boil or as a whirlpool addition for heat, but little flavor. Ferment on chili peppers to attain both heat and a fruity fermented flavor. Whole peppers or cut slices can be added directly to bottles if you want the heat and chili flavor to increase over time. Peppers can be roasted or smoked to alter the flavor as well.
Come into Fifth Season and talk to one of our master gardeners about how to plant, grow and harvest any of the brew additions mentioned here. Then chat with one of our brew experts on how to incorporate your brewing adjunct of choice. If you already have favorite garden adjuncts, let us know in the comments!