Dish of the Day: Brew your own beer? Not so hopping mad…
This weekend I began preparations to grow my own hops. The first crucial step to making my own beer. The rather unattractive, dark green, vine-like plant produces flowers (these are the hops), which contribute a bitter flavour to the brewing mix and offset the sweetness of the malts. You wouldn’t want to use them for anything else, however, they taste absolutely disgusting.
When it comes to planting hops for leisure, I’m a little late in the game. There is an ever increasing interest in the provenance of the things we consume and beer is no different. Like city-dwellers with their allotments, an increasing number of beer-lovers are choosing to grow their own. Then using them to brew themselves or selling them to their local micro-brewery. Usually hops are brewed when dry. By recruiting people such as myself to plant hops in their gardens, local craft and real ale brewers can enjoy the opportunity to brew using fresh hops.
I spoke with Rachel De Thample, food editor for Abel and Cole, and someone who has helped prove that the urban garden can be just as good as any farmyard, given the proper care and attention. She’s set up a ‘Tipsy Garden’ in the back of her local CAMRA pub, The Grape and Grain in South London, and with the help of fellow locals has planted five hop plants.
“We want to show drinkers how the drinks grow,” she says. “I’m really passionate about connecting people with the whole food chain and it’s really great way to engage people with that process. If we had a load of cabbages in the garden no one would be interested, but hops are quite engaging!”
The Tipsy Garden is linked to the Brixton Beer Project – a community-led scheme which creates collective brews using hops grown in local parks and gardens. Last year they managed to produce around 1,000 pints this way. In case you were wondering, one hop plant can produce around 25 pints of beer, so you don’t need to plough your entire lawn up just to get a few drinks.
When it’s time to harvest the Tipsy Garden, Rachel and her fellow city farmers will walk the hops down the road to the Brixton Brewery – “we’ll carry them in baskets or something dramatic like that” – and soon after will be able to enjoy a pint that couldn’t possibly get any more local.
Recently, Meantime Brewing took this concept up a notch, inviting Londoners to help them plant hundreds of crops across the capital. They’ve set some up in Regents and St James’s Park as well as other landmark locations such as the Natural History Museum and Battersea Power Station. They are giving away mini hop growing kits in pubs and shops in the hope that by September they will be able to harvest the lot – and make a ‘crowd-sourced’ beer that will give the ‘true flavour of London’. The True Brew of London will be ready to drink by the end of the year, but not unless you’re prepared to get your hands dirty. So you better hop to it.
Follow Will at @will_coldwellTagged in: beer, brewery, Brixton Beer Project, Meantime Brewing
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