July is now behind me, and I couldn’t be happier to see the back of it. The British summer has caused serious problems – problems that cause me to question whether we’ll even get to the harvest.

As well as looking at how the ingredients are coming along I also pay a visit to a brewery to talk brewing equipment with their resident brewster, in case I get that far…

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It’s mid-June, and the plot feels as if it’s all starting to come together. The hops are off up the strings like rockets, the barley has spread out to create a rich, if a little short, canopy and now I’ve closed the tap the water butt is filling up nicely.

I start the process of collecting samples to be analysed by 2 researchers at the LSI lab at the University of Exeter and experience my first taste of storm damage…

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For those that have been following the project on this site, social media or through the podcast you’ll know that the growing season is now behind me and if I haven’t got the hops and barley yet it’s not going to happen.

Barley right after harvest

Well, you’ll be pleased to hear that I think I’ve just about done it. The wind, rain and storms that have plagued the summer have seen a serious drop in the amount of barley that I was able to grow – amounts like 25 – 30kg that were talked about at the start of Growing Beer quickly became fantasy and the actual harvest ended up being just under 8kg. This is likely to shrink further during the upcoming malting (taking place as I write) and whilst I’m not sure what the final figure will be, it will be enough for a brew, albeit a rather modest one.

The hops are a different story altogether though, they’ve produced more than enough of those all important cones. The Goldings and Perle had smaller harvests, but the Fuggles and UK Cascade varieties offered up a huge yield – each one more than able to brew the final beer with alone. Once picked, each variety was individually dried in a dehydrator to stop them from rotting, compressed into airtight bags (to reduce oxidation) and then popped in the freezer to preserve them for the brew later in the year.

Ben with the hops

Water is quite easy, as I’m collecting from the water butt and pumping it through a camping filter that will help to purify it ahead of boiling as part of the brew. Yeast is not as straight forward, but the good news is that I have found two different strains that are going to be used in some test brews over the next couple of days – neither of them are the strain I was hoping for, but they should ferment. How much they ferment, what impact they have on the beer and whether I’ll have to add in another, more traditional yeast alongside I don’t yet know.

It’s been a crazy year so far and nothing has gone quite as expected, but as it stands we’re just 2 weeks away from the final brew and 6 weeks from the tasting – when I’ll find out if all the efforts result in something that can pass as a drinkable beer. If you want to find out more about the various challenges don’t forget that the podcast is out now!

It’s the start of May, and I’m happy to have come through heatwaves and rock-solid soil to finally be able to sow the barley seed.

I check up on the hop growth and take a trip to Amsterdam to meet Joris Hoebe – a man who is combining a city-wide campaign to reduce rainwater runoff with a love of brewing. Handily for me this involves making beer with rainwater…

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It’s March, and while life is beginning to pop up across the plot it’s not all wanted.

I report back on the early hop progress, deal with some unwelcome guests and get some much needed advice on how to grow barley…

This episodes’ guest is Steve le Poidevin – he works for Crisp Malting and is providing some expertise on the different types of barley, when I should be growing and harvesting, and what problems I’m likely to encounter throughout the summer.

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If you’ve enjoyed the episode please rate it, review it or share it – it makes a big difference to how many people can discover and join us!

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It’s February, the rubbish is gone but the weeds are very much still here and I need to start planting.

I construct the hub of activities – the shed, foolishly involve my family in decision making and hit the road as I go looking for guidance to get me started with the hops.

This episodes’ guest is Ben Adams – he works for international hop merchants Charles Farams, so knows a lot more than me about the varieties, growing and flavours of hops than me. He’ll also have a good idea of what problems I may come across.

Don’t forget, you can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes or Stitcher, whilst I’ll be adding more players/services soon.

  

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So it seems that it’s not just you and I that are keen to see how Growing Beer came about, is getting on and how it will work out in the end – I’ve had my fair share of media attention over the past few weeks too.

What started off with one or two radio appearances and articles in a few publications, followed by a small spot on regional TV news, will now see me appearing on BBC2 next Friday (29 September), on the rather popular Gardeners World. I have no idea how I or the project will come across, but I’m sure it will be fine – it’s only 2.5 million viewers…

This episode we’re right at the beginning. It’s January, it’s freezing cold and I’ve got half a tonne of rubbish to shift before I can even think about planting anything later in the year.

I explain the project and get some much needed advice on how to sort out the plot and what to consider when I start growing.

This episodes’ guest is Toby Buckland – BBC presenter, gardener and man who knows a lot more about growing things than me.

Don’t forget, you can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes or Stitcher, whilst I’ll be adding more players/services soon.

  

If you’ve enjoyed the episode please rate it, review it or share it – it makes a big difference to how many people can discover and join us!

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Doesn’t time fly? It feels like only yesterday I was picking through the rubbish as I tried to get the plot in some kind of order. Since then I’ve dug, planted and grown my way through baking sun, heavy rain and strong winds to eventually get to the end of the summer and the harvest.

There have been ups, downs and surprises but this is where the blog updates come to an end – as the podcast goes live this will be the main way to follow the Growing Beer journey from it’s cold January start all the way through to the final tasting in November. From the end of this month you’ll be able to follow the project weekly as I condense a year into just 10 weeks.

You can listen to the episodes from the podcast section of this site, or you can subscribe from iTunes. It launches officially in its weekly format from 27 September.

Remember that intensely dry spell in March and April, when I was praying for rain that didn’t come in time? Well, it looks as if my calls were answered, but with a slight lag of roughly 3 months.

Since the start of July it has been nothing but terrible, with almost continuous wind and rain. Both of these things are bad news for a ripening crop of barley and a not-so-sturdy hop pole standing 15 feet tall in what is looking to be a rather exposed spot in Devon.

A lack of sun is a big problem for both the hops and barley, as this will slow the ripening and potentially limit the final crop of each, whilst the rain and wind are capable of causing physical damage to th

e plants as well as create an environment that is a little too well suited to mould and disease. For the first 4 months of Growing Beer I thought I would be out every day watering, but the classic British summer has once again shown itself to be predictably unpredictable – jet streams eh?

July should have been the month where I put my feet up, cracked open a beer and enjoyed the peace and tranquillity of an allotment in full bloom. Instead, I’ve been weeding in the rain and reinforcing hop poles in 50mph winds. 

I’m not going to go into the full details of all that has happened, I’m afraid you’ll need to listen to the podcast (launching mid-September) to find out just how well, or badly, that final brew is looking. I’m still confident that there will be a beer at the end of this year, but how much I have is going to come down to this weather, and if improves or not.

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