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Herbs in Beer

Posted in Beer on April 27th, 2011 by Chris

We’ve nearly all had a good root beer, or ginger ale … but did you know herbal beer used to be common and touted as healthy? It’s true. In researching unique beer recipes I found out there were a lot more herbal beers than I could have imagined. So, where did they all go and why did hops take hold as the main flavoring ingredient in beer? Before hops became the herb of choice there were many different herbal mixtures used to flavor and bitter beers. The main mixture was called gruit. Guit was a mixture of herbs including horehound, yarrow, ground ivy, mugwort, and more. Some of the ingredients are thought to have medicinal purposes. Hops included, since it has the herbal effect of being a sedative. But, whether known or not … the biggest benefit to herbs in beer is their preservative properties. Of all the herbs used in beer, hops is one of the best preservatives and a good reason why it started to take hold. Another reason hops is used in beer more than any other herb is Reinheitsgebot. Reinheitsgebot, also known as the Bavarian purity law, was first enacted in the 15th century in Germany and stated that only barley, hops, and water were to be used in the making of beer. So, with the Reinheitsgebot in place and improved preservative properties …. the use of hops slowly replaced gruit from the 1300s through the 1500-1600s when they were first grown in England and soon after in America.

Why do I bring all this up? Well, because I want to make some gruit ale of course! With the ability to grown all of the herbs needed here in Ohio, I say “Why not?” Which is why I’ll be starting by planting some horehound this spring.

Quick side note: Hops preservative properties are why IPA has such a hoppy flavor. Originally, it was highly hopped to preserve the beer on the long trip from England to India …. hence, India Pale Ale.

Here is what I plan to try and grow (or find) for my herbal beer and some of the herbal action they are thought to have. I think some might be growing as weeds already … just need to properly identify them and enjoy!

Horehound: Digestive Aid and sore throat soothing
Mugwort: Anthelmintic
Wormwood: Digestive Aid
Yarrow: Astringent and Anti-allergen
Bog Myrtle: Bug repellent, maybe not good for beer but great for the back yard!
Ground Ivy: Anti-inflammatory, among other things, good for sinitus
Stinging Nettle: Dietetic, Anti-allergen

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New Plantings

Posted in Beer, Wine on April 23rd, 2011 by Chris

I broke down when I saw the plants at Lowes. I just couldn’t resist. So, we now have kiwis, blueberries, raspberries, and freshly replanted strawberries. All of which I’m sure will be eaten before I even get a chance to brew anything with the fruit. Regardless, you’ve got to start somewhere, right?

For the blueberries, I know they need acidic soil. So I planted them in the front yard by a big old pine tree. Pine needles help to increase the acidity of the soil. Other plants have failed to do well in the vicinity. I split some daises and planted a couple bunches under the pine but they have struggled to do anything while the rest spread like weeds. I’m hoping this is a sign of the acidity of the soil. If so, it’s a free place to grow my blueberries without having to add anything to the soil. The only thing better than organic is completely natural!

The kiwi’s came in two pots. One male plant and one female plant. The fruits only form on the female plant but without a pollinator we would get none! So two plants it is … and if they turn out well I can go get another female or two to plant nearby. I planted the kiwi in line with the grapes in our back yard and will need to build something new for them to grow on. Since they’re all in a nice line I’m hoping to build a wire trellis for both the grapes and kiwi to grow along.

The raspberry plant isn’t in the ground yet due to the rain today. We decided to plant it near the strawberries (which badly needed spread out). So, I prepared two spots to move the strawberries by digging out the sod and mixing in a load of composted manure from our manure machines (a pair of mostly retired horses). When I dug up the strawberries they were starting to get overgrown with grass so I couldn’t tell exactly how many would be in there until I started digging them up. There were a lot more than I expected. We got two strawberry plants two years ago and have approximately 30 little plants this spring. They really do spread like crazy. I would highly recommend strawberries to anyone even if you aren’t planning on staying put because they fruit in the first year and within a couple years should spread out and really start producing.

With the rain dying down, I’m hoping to add more compost to the cleared out strawberry patch and plant the raspberries in their place.

So, what to do with all that fruit? I’m not expecting to get an overabundance of any of them this year. The blueberries and raspberries will likely end up for eating only because I don’t expect to get much from one bush each. The kiwi though can produce more than enough fruit from one vine for our family to eat. So, with kiwi are what I’m really banking on for kiwi-wine. And, with some luck, maybe I’ll have some blueberries and raspberries for flavor!

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Brewing Updates

Posted in Beer, Wine on April 20th, 2011 by Chris

It’s been a while since I posted. Life has been busy but good. Here are a few updates into my brewing activities.

First, the most exciting for me, is that the grapes I propagated while I was pruning seem to be doing good. There are two that I am experimenting with different techniques. The first, I had laying on the ground for a year so that it could put roots down. I cut it loose from the main plant. Second, I pushed a small piece of cut vine into the ground and a few buds in the dirt and a few above ground. Fortunately, both seem to have worked because the buds are swelling and should burst open with some leaves. I snapped a quick pictures while I was checking up on them.

Next, the maple wine is past due for another racking but it’s looking good. The color is staying and it’s starting to clear. I’ll probably rack it Saturday and give it a quick taste. It should be nearly completely fermented at this point and aging for flavor. Last year the flavor was harsh this early and so it had to age nearly a year. This batch seemed to be doing better for some reason or another so I’m hoping it’s keeping along those lines when I go to rack it again. Best case, I’ll only have to age it a few months. Worst case, it’ll age a year same as the 2010 wine.

Lastly, Ii was camping with some friends last weekend. We shared home-brews, stories, and new ideas. I picked up a free cooler I plan to make into a mash tun for trying my hand at all grain brewing.I’ll be sure to document the process for you guys as I make that transition. Also came home with enough ideas to keep my brain busy for quite a while.

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Mini-hugelkultur Hops Planted

Posted in Beer on April 10th, 2011 by Chris

My hop rhizomes arrived this week, so I did some research into growing hops. Most places recommend the usual: rich, well drained soil. This got me to thinking …. just this week I had heard about a system of growing called hugelkultur. If you want to see more check out Paul Wheaton’s article here. In short, with hugelkultur you are making a raised bed by laying down rotting wood and piling dirt on top. What you end up with is a raised bed with slowly composting wood under it to feed the bed for years to come.

This seemed to fit well with the requirements for hops so I decided to experiment with small scale hugelkultur for my hops. First, I dug a hole about 2 foot in diameter and 1 foot deep. The soil was loose and gravely already so I shouldn’t need to worry about raising the bed much for drainage. Next, I filled the bottom with old twigs and stick that I broke into small pieces so they will fit completely inside the hole. On top of the twigs, I piled wet leaves that we just raked out of our flower beds from last fall. I stepped on the leaves to press them down into the hole and try to make sure there isn’t a huge pocket of air down there. Lastly, I put the dirt back on top of the leaves to complete the mini-hugelkultur bed.

Once the mini-hugelkultur bed was ready I planted the hops as instructed. I dug a trench 3-4″ deep. Planted the hops with roots down and shoots up. Covered them with dirt and watered well.

Only time will tell if this method is a success but as nicely as the needs of the hops tie into what the hugelkultur method provides I am fairly optimistic that we’ll have success. I’ll keep you posted with updates.

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Hops Growing

Posted in Beer on April 3rd, 2011 by Chris

I home brewing there are a number of steps from beginner to master brewer. Brewing from kits is likely the first place most people start. They are simple; all the ingredients are included as well as comprehensive instructions. From there, you can start playing around with your own recipes using malt extracts, add specialty grains, switch to all grain brewing, etc. I’m sure adding home grown hops isn’t typically the first step out of the box … so why am I planting hops?

Two reasons:
1) It’s something I can do. I have the space, and gardening know-how to pull it off without spending much time.
2) I know it’s where I want to end up and want fresh hops ready when I’m ready to start brewing with them.

So, with that in mind … I ordered two rhizomes as a start. The plan is to grow them up the south face of our barn where none of the animals will get to them and should get plenty of sun. It’s also probably the best drained area near the barn. The barn is also the tallest vertical space we have …. and since hops apparently grow pretty tall (say 25′) it’ll be quite a sight once they fill up the full height of the barn.

The first variety I purchased is cascade hops. Not sure what needs to be said about it … cascade almost ubiquitous among American craft brewing. With a flowery citrus aroma it compliments the type of beers I enjoy and hope to brew. Cascade hops had a rather low alpha acid content though … so if I wanted to get something to compliment it.

The second variety I purchased is centennial hops. Centennial hops is central to a good number of American pale ales and IPAs. It has a similar flowery citrus aroma to Cascade but a much higher alpha acid content. So, between the two, even though they have similar aroma, I should have a wide enough variety for the central beers I want to brew and can always buy or trade for other varieties as needed.

Since the goal of Black Mutt is to brew with locally grown goods. The first thing I did was to research American hop varieties. To the best of my knowledge (and feel free to correct me) none of the varieties of hops used in brewing are native to North America. The cascade and centennial hops are bred from different strains with the intent of making hop varieties which grow well in America. Cascade was bred in Oregon and released in the 1970s. Centennial was bred in Washington and released in the 1990s. So, both are newer varieties but …. finally, I’m comfortable with the fact that they are both American varieties bred here, grown all over the US, and best of all … suited for growing in my back yard.