Growing Ingredients for Use in Your Homebrew

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For most homebrewers, the process begins and ends in their brewing area, and whatever goes into their beer comes from their friendly neighborhood homebrew supply shop or their favorite online retailer.
While there is nothing wrong with that-- it’s a system that serves countless happy homebrewers every year -– it’s possible (and impossibly fun) to expand your brewing hobby to an unexpected place: your garden.
You don’t have to be a skilled gardener to do it either, nor do you need a lot of space. All you need is the desire to be even more hands-on and creative with the things that go into your beer. If you want to get started, here are some ideas on things you can grow at home for use in your homebrew, as well as how to use them and the kinds of beer you’ll want to brew so these homegrown ingredients will shine.

Cilantro


Cilantro being grown in a small container. The seeds are better known to homebrewers as coriander.
Cilantro is a common herb used in many dishes, but homebrewers know it for its seeds, which are better known as coriander. Used in a wide variety of beers, especially all manner of wheat beers, this fast-growing herb is cool-weather friendly, making it suitable for most regions. Cilantro self-sows, which means that once you have a patch growing in your yard new plants are likely to keep springing up. It’s also suitable for growing indoors in terra cotta pots, making this herb a no-brainer for homebrewers with limited space. Imagine harvesting fresh coriander seed right from your window sill!
Growing Basics: Plant cilantro from seed or starter plants (available at your local garden center) during the cool weather, in either early spring or the start of autumn. If you’re growing indoors, mix your potting soil with some sand to allow for better drainage. The plant is small and bushy, suitable for pots of just a few gallons.Allow the plant to grow until it flowers, after which it will begin to develop seed. Plants “bolt,” or start developing seed, when the weather gets hot. Harvest the seed and then cut it back. Be sure to harvest the seeds as soon as they appear mature, otherwise they will drop to the ground. Once harvested, place upside down in a paper bag for a few days until the husks split, revealing the edible seed inside.
Brewing Basics: You know this already! Coriander seed is typically added at flameout. It adds a nutty, lemon-tinged flavor to beers of all varieties. Especially popular in witbiers, chances are good you’ve already brewed using coriander seed.
Pair with: Lemon, orange peel, lavender
Suggested styles: Witbiers and any other wheat styles, saisons, and some wild ales (Yes, you read that right).

Cucumber


Cucumber Plant in Window Box
Cigar City’s sought after cucumber saison kicked off a minor trend of cucumber craft beers, with breweries like AleSmith, Ballast Point, Mikkeller, and many others throwing their hat into the ring.You can do the same at home, even if you don’t have much room. Cucumbers are relatively hardy plants that grow well in regions that get warm weather. Because they can be grown as climbing, hanging, or crawling plants, they are versatile enough for almost any growing environment – even indoors in a small apartment.
Growing Basics: Sow your seeds when the weather has warmed to the 70s. If you are growing indoors in pots, you can use a container of as little as two gallons, but larger is better. It’s also possible to grow in hanging window boxes. Cucumbers are heavy feeders, so use a slow-release fertilizer and water regularly, especially if planted in pots. They like temperatures between 70 and 95 degrees.
Ideally, you’ll allow your plants to climb a trellis or pole. However, cucumbers can also be successfully grown as hanging plants or even as ground-crawling plants. If grown indoors, setting them up as hanging plants allows you to use minimal space in your home or apartment. Once they start bearing fruit, they grow faster. Harvest as soon as they look edible, because overripe cucumbers become bitter.
Brewing Basics: Using cucumbers in your homebrew is easy. Simply peel, and then chop or cube your cucumbers using a sanitized kitchen knife. Rack your brew onto them in secondary. Be sure not to use the skin, as it can be a touch bitter. Use between 2 to 5 pounds, depending on your taste for cucs, and let the beer sit in secondary for one to two weeks. Begin lightly sampling after the one week mark until you’ve achieved the desired taste. They are perfect for summer drinking!
Pair With: Coriander, rosemary, other light herbs
Suggested Styles: Saison, wheat ale, Gose, session IPA

Raspberries & Blackberries


Ripening blackberry fruit. Photo courtesy of CSIRO
No need to tell you that raspberries and blackberries are wildly popular among those who enjoy fruit beers. There are thousands of beers out there using these fruits, and ten times as many homebrew variations. I've had great success with a light raspberry wheat and with variations on the framboise style of fruit-infused wild ales. No doubt you have some ideas of your own.
These common fruits are considered here together because the approach to both is similar, but you shouldn’t actually grow them together, as raspberries and blackberries don’t play nicely together in the same small spot. Though typically grown outdoors, raspberry cultivars like Maling Jewel and Autumn Bliss are specifically adapted to compact container growing, making them good choices for those with limited space.

Growing Basics:
The easiest way to grow them is to buy starter plants from your local garden center. They are affordable and may even be bearing fruit already when you buy them. Raspberries prefer cooler climates, blackberries moderate ones, both are fine for typical home temperatures. These are thirsty plants. If you’re growing outdoors, mulch generously to hold in moisture and water an inch per week. If you’re growing indoors, water every other day.
Both are fairly low maintenance and will thrive with little attention – some even argue too low maintenance, as both can quickly take over a corner of your yard if you’re not careful. Plant them in the early spring (and keep them far apart from one another). These plants have a tendency to spread, so consider them for a corner of your yard or tucked away next to your porch and let them go wild. In a season or two, you’ll have more fruit than you know what to do with.
Brewing Basics: Use raspberries and blackberries the same way you would most other fruits, which is to say the most common way is to use them in secondary. You can freeze them first, puree them, soak them in vodka, or go nuts and simply rack onto the freshly picked fruit (not recommended!). Be liberal with the amount you use. A pound per gallon is not an extreme amount. One to two weeks in secondary will add pleasant fruit flavor to almost any style. If you’re brewing wild ales, let your batch sit on the fruit for six months to a year. You’ll be astonished by the results.
Pair With: Cocoa, coriander
Suggested Styles: Wheat beers, sour/wild ales, chocolate stouts, Pale Ales

Lavender


A potted lavender plant, perfect for growing indoors in limited space. Photo by Petr Kratochvil
This floral, fragrant herb may get fairly limited use for most homebrewers, but it’s so easy to grow and so pleasant to look at. Something with visual appeal is a natural choice for someone who wants to start growing their own ingredients. Lavender is perennial, hardy, and able to withstand fierce heatwaves and droughts, so it’s a great choice for homebrewers in warm regions. Because lavender is actually an attractive plant -- producing long, light purple flowers-- many businesses use these plants in their decorative landscaping. They can serve double duty for creative homebrewers, enhancing your beer while also beautifying your home.
Growing Basics: Begin with a starter plant from your local garden supply center. Be sure to plant in well-draining, somewhat sandy soil, as lavender does not like excess moisture. If necessary, add sand to your plot. You can successfully grow lavender indoors too, in something as small as a paint bucket-sized pot. Line the bottom of your pot with an inch of stone, and mix your potting soil with sand. This will provide the plant with the drainage it needs. If you’re growing indoors, make sure the plant gets a lot of natural light.
Once planted, lavender doesn’t need much care. Water occasionally during droughts, but otherwise you can safely let it do its thing. Harvest the stems whenever you need some lavender. Simply clip off what you need. The plant will be fine. Before winter, add phosphorous-rich fertilizer. This will help your plants survive winter and bloom again in spring.
Brewing Basics: As with any herbs, a little goes a long way (and you can't take it out once it's in). Use your lavender whole or ground up. Add between 1 to 2 tablespoons (leaning towards the low end) to the boil, at flame out, or to secondary. If you’re adding to secondary, consider an overnight soak in high-proof spirits first to kill off any wild yeast it’s carrying. And again, less is more! Lavender is very fragrant. Too much, and it will be like drinking perfume.
Pair with: Honey, cherries, chocolate, chamomile
Suggested Styles: Saisons, Belgian-style golden ales, pale ales, IPAs, stouts
Obviously, this article only just begins to scratch the surface of what you can grow at home for use in your homebrew. Perhaps we’ll tackle some more suggestions in a future article. Until then, there are some other herbs and fruits most homebrewers can grow at home for use in their beer.

Here are a few to consider


Thyme – A bushy, easy to maintain herb perfect for adventurous saison brewers. Suitable for small pots indoors.
Sage – A leafy green herb that can be grown in indoor pots, and that nicely accents some Belgian-style ales.
Chamomile – A pretty flowering herb used in tea that is also fantastic in wheat beers, saisons, and other brews. Enjoys partial shade and is an attractive plant, making it a great choice for indoor growing.
Strawberries – A popular fruit that is easy to grow and suitable for those with limited space. Available at almost any garden center and perfect for pot growing.
Lemon - You can grow dwarf lemon trees indoors! You can even grow single lemons in modest sized pots small enough for a window sill.
Cheers and happy brewing!
Photo Credits -
Blackberry fruit - by CSIRO (CC) Photo courtesy of CSIRO.
Cilantro-coriander - by GeoTrinity, creative commons
Cucumber Plant in Window Box - by Eric San Juan
Lavender - by Petr Kratochvil public domain
 
Eric San Juan
Nice article. I like to do a raspberry saison in summer. I find 0.5 lbs/gallon plenty for punchy raspberry flavor. Also started growing the new Haskap berries last year and looking forward to trying these in a wheat beer.
 
Thanks guys. Hope some of you find this useful. I may tackle an article specifically about herbs at a later date, since a lot of herbs suitable for beer can easily be grown right on your window sill. They are super easy for anyone to do, even if you live in a tiny apartment.
Happy to be writing some stuff for HBT, too. I've been a member since 2011 under a different name (I like to keep my writing life and forum life separate, which is why I created this new account) and think this is probably the most helpful, informative homebrew community on the net. Hope the articles I'm putting together will contribute to that!
Cheers!
 
Really enjoyed this article and would love to see you do one on herbs suitable for brewing. I grew my own cilantro last summer and kept the coriander seeds it produced. Plan to use them soon in a Blue Moon clone recipe.
 
That's fantastic, Leezer! The difference fresh coriander seeds make is pretty amazing. A few years back I had gotten a bunch from a health food store instead of from my LHBS and was surprised at the impact it made. Much more brightness and lemon zing than you usually get.
Now, I can't imagine doing it any other way -- especially once you grow your own herbs.
One great thing about herb growing is that many of them just keeping growing forever. Snip what you need, tend them a bit, but otherwise they're hands off. I love that. And herbs freeze well, too. My wife has homegrown bay leaves and basil and so on in the freezer that she uses a year or two after it was grown.
Have a couple of other things to bang out first, but herb gardening for homebrew is on my shortlist of priorities! Cheers!
 
It might be noteworthy that lavender has different, some intended for the purpose of consumption. I'm not sure if certain varieties are harmful (doubt it) but some don't have very good tastes. I know that 'grosso' is for culinary use, not fragrance.
Glad to see the write up thought. I look forward to a "Foraging Ingredients for your Homebrew" one day.
 
That's a really great idea for an article. I actually BEGAN gardening for homebrew based on foraging ideas, so it hits home for me.
The nice thing is, that article concept would differ based on what region you lived in, so many people could offer input and maybe even do their own versions for the northwest, southwest, etc. (For the record, I am in the northeast, NJ specifically.)
 
Nice article! I thought it was going to be about growing hops, but this is much better. Although, I have read that hops are fairly easy to grow. I have been doing nothing but saisons for my past few batches and have been thinking about what other flavors to do, so this is right up my alley.
 
If you can find it, try out Right Brain Brewery's (out of Traverse City, MI) Blue Magic. It's the first beer I've ever had infused with lavender, and it is delicious!
 
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