Friday, May 14, 2010

Putting in the Guy Line

So it's time to complete my growing environment for my hops. They've thrived up to this point and now it's time to grow their way up the guy line. My Cascade hop started to lean -this is a good indicator that it's ready to grow up (pun intended...) The Zeus and Centennial are just behind it in growth, while my Willamette is still trying to surface.

The first thing I did was attach four screw hooks (easy to find at a local hardware store) into my tent pole. Then I strung the twine I got through the loop holes and down to the tent stakes. I inserted the tent stakes just to the right of the hop plant; being sure not to puncture the root but close enough for it to attach. I then just took the hop plant and kinda circled it around the guy line. The hops attached really easy to the twine and after just a few days, it's continuing the same circular pattern right up the guy line. This is a very simple/quick process, and up to this point I am amazed at how easy it has been to get a hop garden started. I planted them, gave them great soil, watered about every other day and they are growing very fast. I highly recommend growing hops -even if you don't home brew.
You can use hops for garden aesthetics, for use in oils or lotions -they have even been linked to helping with anxiety or insomnia. This must explain why I am so de-stressed and pass out when I have a lot of IPA...Now that the hop garden is planted, it is now just a waiting game until they produce. Most likely it won't be until next spring/summer that I will actually be able to pick, dry and use them for my home brew. Until then, it's just taking care of them.

Enough of the gardening, IT'S TIME TO START BREWING!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Hops have Surfaced

It's always exciting to see your hard work pay off. After only planting my hops three weeks ago, 2 of the 4 hop trees have surfaced -the Cascade and the Zeus. It doesn't surprise me that the Cascade has made the quickest progress. Everything I read says that the Cascade has high yield in this Southern California climate. It also gets the most sun out of the four I planted. It also surprises me that the Zeus is off to such a great start because it has the least amount of sun our of the four I planted.

As for the Centennial and Willamette, it looks like I planted them a little too deep. I dug both of them up to see if I could find any shoots. Sure enough, the Centennial was trying to surface, and the Willamette was planted way too deep. It still looks good, just not getting enough heat/sun, so I just cut the hill I had in about half. Hopefully we'll see some surfacing here in the next month.

As far as watering goes, we've been getting rain about once or twice a week lately so I've only watered maybe four times over the last three weeks. As it gets hotter, I will have to tend to them much more often. I plan on getting a drip system eventually which will save me time, water, and money! Be sure to not water directly on the plant because the sun can burn the leaves.

Next thing I will do is buy some stakes and guy line to start training my hops up the trellis. I'm hoping by fall that I can have some healthy hop plants that I can maybe pick off for the year to dry and use in some brew. However, most of my expectations lay in next year when the hops will be in their second year and should produce enough to brew some 5 gallon batches. Also, check out our peach tree -it's starting to bloom as well. I'm thinking a Peach Pale Ale would be pretty tasty come summer time!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Get out of your Beer Bubble!

So if you are reading this blog, then you at least have an appreciation for beer (Or maybe just gardening for that matter). My question to you is, when was the last time you tried a new beer? When was the last time you bought your beer from a NON grocery store? We are all a habit of routine and familiarity - don't make this the case when you buy and consume beer! A grocery store has such limited choices and almost all of your choices are owned by the same two beer companies, Bud (now In-Bev), MillerCoors (Yes, they are joint now). Even though bigger craft breweries like Sam Adams and Stone can make a presence in grocery stores (Even some small local breweries if you're lucky), your local liquor stores is where you can find the greatest selection. Most people hate shopping in liquor stores because that's where you find all the drunks and homeless people right?

Well yea, a lot of times you do (Depending on your location) but you'd be surprised on how knowledgeable the clerks are and how willing they would be to special order certain beers for you. What, customer service? Most importantly, it supports local businesses, supports Micro-Breweries that worked so hard to get their product in there and encourages you to try new beers!

Which brings me to my next point. We already talked about buying outside of your bubble, how about consuming outside of your bubble? A lot of us stick with the same beers. Same IPA, same stout, day in - day out (just made that up -lame). Which is understandable, who wants to risk trying a new beer when it can go for $15 bucks a six pack and you end up not liking it? The thing is, you are missing out! You probably have yet to find your favorite beer! It's time to get out of your comfort zone and find some new favorites. Well thanks to the Internet, there is a way around this. Go to BeerAdvocate sign up for a free account and search away! You can literally type in any beer, brewery or bar that you can think of and you will get hundreds of reviews for it. You like Fat Tire? You can search and find hundreds of beers similar to it! Want to get a feel for what a certain breweries tasting room is like? Punch it in! How about good bars? Sometimes it's hard to find a bar with good, quality beers. BeerAdvocate can help. Whenever I'm going somewhere unfamiliar, I use this site to help me find these great bars that I would have never have found. The forums are great too -as is the magazine if you really want to extend your beer knowledge. Another great site to find great bars and breweries is the Beer Mapping Project. Especially if you are going out of town and have no idea where you can grab a great beer.

Well, now you have some tools! Check them out, share them with your family and friends and get out of your Beer Bubble!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Planting Hops

Spring is here and it's the perfect time to plant your Hop Rhizomes. Although you won't get much yield out of them the first year, you can still pair what you grow with some hop pellets and give your home brew a little extra freshness.  Hop Rhizomes can be found at your local home brew shop or you can get them shipped online from a Hop supplier. Either way, they most likely came from Oregon or Washington which is where the majority of the hop supply comes from in the US. I actually ordered mine online from the Thyme Garden (based out of Oregon). So what the heck is a Hop Rhizome? It's just the root cutting from an already established hop vine. As you can see from the pictures I am planting four different varieties: Cascade, Zeus, Centinnel and Williamette. Cascade is very popular among hop growers because it has a high yield and usually fairs well in most climates. For brewing, it will have a floral, minty/spicy element and it can be used for bittering and/or aromatic purposes. I originally wanted to plant Chinook rhizomes (inspired by Stone Brewery's crop), but the Thyme garden was sold out. They said that Zeus would be a great substitute and he assured me that it should do ok in my growing conditions (we'll see!). Zeus hops are normally used for aroma (usually Pale Ales). The second pair I planted was Centinnel and Williamette. Both are to be used as a bittering and/or aromatic hop. Centinnel is a lot of times used for Stouts (which is my wife's favorite type of beer). So I received my Hop Rhizomes in the mail, stuck them in the fridge (keeps them fresh) and over the weekend I prepared my little hop garden. My wife and I moved here last October and since it was a short sale, the last owner...let's just say he trashed the back yard.So we have had our hands full.
The first thing I had to do was dig up the soil and remove any rocks/debris that was in the area. I added three huge bags of gardening soil and mixed the two together. Now I have a nice, clean, solid foundation to plant my hops. Hops need adequate sunlight (6-8 hrs a day), good drainage, regular watering (especially the first year) and blockage from the wind.
Since Temecula can sometimes get nasty winds, I decided to plant near our wall. Hops can reach up to 30 ft in height if you give them the right environment. In my case, I do not want my hops to grow that high. So what I did was planted a 7 foot tent pole trellis ( right in the middle of the hops). I am going to attach four galvanized ring bolts through the top of the pole to secure the guy lines. I will then tie the guy lines to the ring bolt and tape the ends with waterproof tape. The other ends of the guy lines will be tied directly to the stakes and driven into the ground. I will then train each of the hops up the guy lines which should give me approximately 13 ft to grow the hop vines. Hop Rhizomes should be planted horizontally, the the white shoots pointing up and the rootlets leading down and to the sides. They are also supposed to be planted on a hill (for proper drainage). So I dug a small trench about 6 inches deep in the top of the hill, placed the rhizome in it and covered it over with about 2 inches of soil. Now as you can see, the Cascade Rhizome they gave me already had a bit of growth to it, so you can see the vine already popping out of the soil. I planted each of the Rhizomes about 3 ft from each other and about 3 ft from the pole. This will give the roots plenty of room so they won't get mixed up with the other varieties.
Now, it's just a waiting game until we get to enjoy some fresh hops! I will update on the progress.


Any Questions? Comments?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Getting Started

When a lot of people think about getting into Home Brewing they usually think it is going to be too hard or that it's going to come easy. There's really no answer to that. However, there is ONE thing that you must possess to ensure that each of your brew comes out tasty...and that is Passion. Like anything else, if you don't have a passion for what you are doing - you probably should find a different hobby (or job for that matter). It drives you to want to be better at what you do and modivates you to work at it. To fuel that passion, you of course have to have some equipment to get you started. Instead of me listing out each item, just go over and visit They have a great checklist along with a lot of helpful info for both beginner and advanced home brewers alike. Homebrew Checklist

Over the weekend I planted some more herbs. Basil and Coriander (aka Cilantro). Although they really don't sound like something you would find in a beer, you would be suprised by the flavors and aromas they can give off when using them for beer (not necessarily together). Basil can add a bitter, spicey flavor and a clean balsam scent to your beer when added towards the end of the boil. Coriander is used in a lot of seasonal holiday ales (one of my favorite types of beer). They have a sweet, clovelike flavor and is usually used in the beginning of the boil as a flavoring herb. 

The great thing about growing herbs for your beer is you can experiment and find out what works for certain beer types and what combinations you like best. If you end up not liking a particular one, you can always use the herbs for cooking meals instead. If and when you do decide to plant some, be sure to pick the plants up at a local nursery or farmers market. Not only will you help the local economy thrive but the plants will most likely do better when purchased locally becuase they have already adapted to the climate.

Remember, when you are brewing a new batch or planting out in the garden, be sure to pour yourself one of your favorite beers. Every sip you take is a reminder of why you work so hard and do what you do. For me, it actually seems like the beer actually tastes better and makes the process a little more fun. And yes, that is a purple gardening glove that is wrapped around that Russian River Blind Pig IPA! Cheers to good beer, fresh local ingredients and Hop Rhizomes!

Next up: Planting Cascade, Centennial, Williamete and Zeus Hop Rhizomes                                                                                                    

Friday, March 19, 2010

Planting Lavender and Rosemary

So last weekend I planted some Lavender and Rosemary in our front yard. Actually, it's more like a front entry way then it is a yard. I decided to plant them here because they are aesthetically pleasing (did you expect me to say pretty?) and they give off a nice scent as you make your way to the front door. Herbs have a lot of history with beer. Lavender goes all the way back the 1600's where brewers used herbs to flavor ale before hops were discovered. Planting herbs for brewing is a great way to incorporate bittering and aroma agents to your home brew. You can also use them to flavor food as well, so it's a win, win situation! For brewing, they can be used a lot like hops. Some will be more powerful then others (like hops), so it's important to match the right herbs with the right home brew recipe to ensure you get the taste you are looking for.

When I think of breweries that are utilizing herbs in some really tasty beer, I think of Sam Caglione from Dogfish Head Brewery. He has written many books including Brewing up a Business and another one- Extreme Brewing which offers some "Extreme" home brew recipes including experimenting with herbs. Dogfish Head (based out of Delaware) has finally made it's way out to California, make sure you pick up some Palo Santo Marron one of my all time favorite beers. Don't expect to pay little for it though. Start buying beer like you do when you buy fine wine. There is a big difference between a $5 bottle of wine and a $50 bottle. Likewise with beer - buy a $5 six pack you get yourself some "corn beer" (more on that later) get yourself a 4 pack of Dogfish Head for $15 and you're in bliss.

Back to planting the herbs. Lavender and Rosemary are harder to grow from seeds, so try getting some plants from a local nursery if possible. Dig a deep enough hole, use some mulch from your compost (preferably) and place the plants in. Make sure you water the herbs as soon as you plant them so they can soak in with the new soil. For harvesting the Lavender, cut the leaves and flowers 6 inches below the flower spikes just as the blooms open. One thing to note, Lavender does not taste like it smells. It adds a complex bitterness to your beer that you'll find to be quite satisfying. . As for the Rosemary, harvesting can be done throughout the season. However, harvest no more then 20% of the total growth at one time. One you harvest, it is time to prep them for your beer! You can use a dehydrator or a paper bag to dry them out. Once dry, you can add them during your boil or use them to dry hop your beer-which can give it a heavy aroma. NOTE: Practice on the side of caution when using herbs in your brew for the first time (you can always add more next time!). You don't want all of that hard work to be ruined by some seriously bitter Lavendery? flavor.

So why Lavender and Rosemary? Well Rosemary, I have no initial plans yet, I just like it's potential. Lavender however, I have a plan for. Once it is ready, I am going to use it in a "Honey-Lemon IPA." The honey is going to come from the Temecula Valley Honey Company a local honey farmer. The Lemon's are going to come from our own Lemon tree and the Lavender will be coming from my newly planted Lavender plants. However, I'm not the first to think of this concoction, you'll find a lot of the same ingredients in Gin. I really believe with these ingredients mixed with A LOT of hops, I will have a very refreshing IPA with strong aromas, strong bitterness, tanginess from the lemons, and just enough sweetness from the honey to have a really bold, tasty IPA. I'm getting thirsty just thinking about it! Once the Lavender is ready to harvest, I will document the brewing process and show you step by step on how to do it yourself. In the meantime, raise your pint to a healthy garden and a tasty brew! Cheers-

Next up: Homebrewer's checklist

Thursday, March 11, 2010

So it begins...

My wife and I bought our first home last year in Temecula and so far we absolutely love it. Temecula is a great mix of the city and country while only being about an hour away from both the beach and the snow. Although it's known as wine country, there is still a very heavy influence of craft beer here. When most grocery and liquor stores stock your average BMC (Bud, Miller, Coors), Temecula proudly carries world renown craft beers with a heavy San Diego Micro-Brew arsenal both in stores and restaurants. Local places like Barley & Hops and the Pub House are usually packed with beer enthusiasts. At this point there is only one local brewery, Black Market -but I have a hunch more are to come even with the famous "Beer Highway" 78 (Stone, Lost Abbey, Green Flash, Pizza Port...) only 30 minutes away.

We purchased a small 3 BR 2 BA home in the suburbs of Temecula. It has a very small backyard, but big enough to entertain the kids and grow some ingredients! It's not the nice big property we both grew up with in San Diego - but who can afford that these days? We grew up in San Diego surrounded by mothers that love to garden and taught us the trade. Amy (my wife) eventually worked at different nurseries throughout San Diego perfecting her skills and I, well, I started drinking good beer and making it.

So we asked ourselves, what can I do and others do to perfect their Home Brewing skills? What can we do to make sure the ingredients are the best, the beer is the best and do it with sustainability in mind? The answer is the Urban Beer Gardener! I am going to walk YOU through the different stages of planting hops, herbs, grains, vegetables and fruit trees (with only beer in mind) in your own backyard. I'll teach you how to harvest them, brew with them and finally the best part - consume it the right way (not as simple as you think!). -Cheers!

NEXT: Herbs. Planting Lavender and Rosemary with a special IPA in mind.

NOTE: Please be sure to leave any questions or comments you may have. That's what will make this blog! And for those of you viewing this in Facebook, be sure to visit my actual site at You can follow me on twitter too--