Dish of the Day: Brew your own beer? Not so hopping mad…

Will Coldwell
beer hops 300x225 Dish of the Day: Brew your own beer? Not so hopping mad…

A handful of beer hops (Getty Images)

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_coldwell

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  • Lingyai

    The name of Rachel De Thample local CAMRA award winning pub in Crystal Palace, South London is the Grape and Grain, not the Grape and Vine.

    It is a jolly good pub too, with a fine selection of ales.

  • Henri Roquas

    Hopshoots are delicious, and eaten them is considered a culinary spring tradition in Belgian Flanders around he village of Poperinge, centre of hop growing know-how.

  • harleymc

    Hops are not the only option for home grown bitterants. Cannibis heads make for a nice drop too.

  • mitzi303

    I’ve drunk some of that. tasted horrible. made me feel a bit funny !!

  • Ashley Tyas

    My friend and I, both Londoners, have recently been loaned a small patch of land down in Kent to grow our own hops in. Neither of us really know what we’re doing, but you can keep up with our adventures here:

    Ashley & Henry

  • Jack M

    I’m starting to brew old style gruit ale without hops soon. The hops cause too much sleepiness. You can use herbs such as Yarrow and Juniper and actually get a bit of a buzz from the beer. Here’s an interesting article on why hops are now widely used in beer making

  • Will Coldwell

    Nice blog! Keep me posted…

  • Will Coldwell

    Really interesting article – cheers for linking. Hope the gruit ale goes well!

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