Have you ever wondered what it takes to brew a beer from scratch, to create a delicious pint using only home-grown ingredients? I decided to give it a go, so took on an unused, rubbish-strewn allotment in Devon to see if I could brew beer using just the barley, hops, yeast and water that came from the plot.
From the planting of the first ingredients in January, right through to the end-of-year bottling and tasting, here is my journey.
Accredited beer sommelier Ben Richards stands beside his plot in Devon ©Ben Richards
Growth – the ingredients
Having cleared the rubbish and weeds in early January, the first ingredient to be planted was the hops, a brewing staple that provides the beer with its aroma, bitterness and antibacterial properties.
I built a large central pole on the plot, strung lines from the top to the ground and, at the base of these, planted four different varieties of hops: Fuggles, Golding, Perle and Cascade. This then gave me a few weeks to prepare the beds for the second ingredient, barley.
Hops growing around the central pole ©Ben Richards
Barley is critical to brewing – without the sugars it provides, the yeast cannot make alcohol during fermentation. I hand sowed an organic variety, waited, and two weeks later the first shoots began to emerge, albeit a little unevenly.
Barley, one of four key ingredients in the brewing process ©Ben Richards
Without a spring, stream or well on site, I had to collect, filter and store my own rainwater (the third ingredient), before turning my attention to arguably the trickiest element of all, the yeast.
I enlisted the help of friends at the University of Exeter and, after collecting samples from fruits, plants and insects on the plot, they were able to isolate and identify two different strains.
Attaining the yeast is the most difficult step in the beer-making process ©Ben Richards
Collection – the harvest
Come the end of August, it was time to harvest. But it hadn’t been an easy journey. The storms that battered Devon in July nearly wiped out my entire barley crop, while weeds, aphids, rabbits, pheasants, and even a rogue bull, all tried their best to hamper my efforts. Despite this, a day of handpicking, threshing and winnowing the barley left me with just under 8kg of grain.
Aphids were one of several challenges faced during the year ©Ben Richards
A week later, my hop harvest yielded more than enough for the final brew, and there was a predictable surplus of water. After drying and freezing the hops (a form of preservation), I had the barley malted and, by November, it was all ready to brew.
With all the ingredients grown and collected, all that was left was to brew ©Ben Richards
The recipe – brewing
When it came to brewing, I heated up the rainwater, soaked the malted barley for an hour and then drained off the resulting sugary liquid. This was then boiled and the hops added. After another hour, the liquid was cooled, before adding the yeasts.
Eight days later, the beer was bottled, followed by a three-week wait to see whether my year’s efforts were worth it, or not.
Ben and his allotment hops ©Ben Richards
Even before opening the first bottle I had already worked out that this was probably the least economically viable beer ever made. In fact, had the many experts that helped with the growing, brewing or accompanying podcast charged for their time, I would need to sell my 15 litres of beer for just over £1,000 per pint to break even.
After a year of planting, growing and harvesting, the ingredients were brewed ©Ben Richards
Moment of truth – the beer
The first bottle was opened and evaluated by an international beer judge. The results were surprising, to put it mildly. Not only was the beer very drinkable and without technical faults, but it was a totally different style to what I had expected. I had anticipated a classic, English bitter but instead the allotment yeasts provided spicy, clove and banana fruit aromas, and the beer poured hazy with a thick white head – all characteristics of a classic, German wheat beer.
And the name? After days of consideration and procrastination I realised I had to name it after the allotment, the space from which all of the ingredients came: plot 10S.
Ben named his beer 10S after the allotment plot ©Ben Richards
About the brewer
Ben Richards is an accredited Beer Sommelier and the creator of Growing Beer. When not growing or collecting the ingredients needed to brew he can be found hosting tastings and events throughout South West England or spending time with his family in Devon.
How to grow your own beer
You can find out more about the project or listen to the whole series of the podcast at growingbeer.co.uk.
Main image ©Ben Richards