From a perennial vine grown by rhizomes, hops give beer its bitterness. For the best results, grow several varieties of hops in a sunny spot with something to climb on—the aggressive vines can grow over 25 feet tall and weigh more than 20 pounds. Harvest in late summer and dry in a dark place with low humidity.
Plan ahead, because each plant produces up to 2 pounds of dried hops, and a barrel of beer usually requires 1 to 3 pounds of hops. Try Cascade, with citrus and grapefruit tones, or Golding, which has a mild, bitter flavor.
The essential component of beer, grains provide fermentable sugars used by yeast to make alcohol. Barley is the most popular choice for home brewers, but other grains, such as wheat, rice, corn, rye, oats and sorghum, can be used. These are easy to grow in your garden if you have the space, but note that using them for beer takes some time. The grains need to be malted—or steeped and germinated over several days—to extract the sugars needed for brewing. A home brew resource can provide information on malting.
For best results, plant at least two kinds of grains. You need about 25 to 40 pounds of malted barley for a barrel of beer.
Sweeten the brew with homegrown peaches, apples, pears, cherries, raspberries, blackberries or blueberries. For seasonal home brews, try pumpkin. Add the fresh fruit to the mash (recommended for pumpkin ales), or steep cut-up fruit in hot wort or add mashed fruit during the secondary fermentation (recommended for other fruit beers). Depending on the fruit you use and the desired flavor, you’ll need 3 to 7 pounds of fruit per 5-gallon batch.
Instead of or in addition to hops, consider using herbs to spice up a home brew. Typically, herbs are added during the boil or after the secondary fermentation (depending on the flavor profile you’re after). Use about 1 ounce or less per 5-gallon batch.
These herbs will enhance home brews:
- Coriander: sweet, peppery, orangelike scent and flavor.
- Ginger: spicy flavors and aromas.
- Woodruff: cinnamon or vanilla flavors.
- Juniper: bittersweet flavors and aromas.
- Rosehips: sweetness to tartness, depending on taste.
- Yarrow: bitterness.
Home Brew Glossary
- Hops: cone-shaped flowers that add flavor and bitterness to wort.
- Malt: grain that has been soaked, germinated and dried.
- Mash: crushed malt mixed with hot water.
- Wort: unfermented beer.