Book Review: The Homebrewer’s Garden

April 23, 2010

The first time I checked out The Homebrewer’s Garden: How to Easily Grow, Prepare, and Use Your Own Hops, Malts, Brewing Herbs by Joe Fisher and Dennis Fisher from the library, I thumbed through it and realized most of it was about growing hops. Since I don’t like hop beer, I took it back. With my husband’s recent purchase of hop rhizomes, he suddenly wanted me to check the book out again. I guess it is all about timing, and the first time I had the book we weren’t ready for it.

Written in 1998, this book is broken down into three main sections – growing hops, growing herbs, and growing grains. It also contains some recipes and easy appendices on measurements and conversions and sources for supplies.

For the hops, it talks about various kinds, the ideal place to plant them and how, along with several trellis designs. It talks about hop pests and diseases along with cures, how to harvest the hops, and how to dry them for beer making use. It even contains a design for a hop drier.

The herb section is somewhat generalized, but it does have listed various ways to start herbs such as taking cuttings. Hardy perennial herbs (ones that survive year after year without reseeding) such as mint are easily started by taking cuttings. Again, it talks about harvesting and drying herbs for beer brewing use. It then dedicates a page to an herb, including a drawing of it, to describe the herb, its desired climate and site, along with propagation techniques, harvesting, and brewing. This is the largest section of the book with 42 plants and one page on herbs that were used in brewing in the past but have since then found to be poisonous.

The last section on growing grains and making malts is unfortunately difficult to do in my climate. It starts off with barely, describing it, talking about seed sources and its expected yield before launching into soil preparation, planting and care, harvesting, threshing and winnowing, storage, and how to malt barely. It includes diagrams on the equipment needed for malting with step by step instructions. It then talks about working with amaranth, corn, oats, quinoa, rye, sorghum, spelt, and wheat. Some of those varieties have little written about them, telling you to refer to another grain for instructions, or leaving that grain to the professionals due to difficulty and/or danger if not processed right.

The recipes included with this book are very unusual but they look easy enough to obtain the ingredients for, such as an oregano pale ale. I mentioned that my husband attempted to make a dandelion bitter ale from this book. There is even one recipe called Mumm, which is an ale that you select 6 different ingredients from a list of 18 to make. That means there are 13,366,080 different possibilities from just this one recipe!

Would I buy it? Personally, no.  I’m pretty good with growing herbs as it is, but I don’t know much about growing hops, but hops are not my thing. The recipes are not something you find in your average beer making book or beer cloning book, which lead my husband to declare to me last week that he wanted to buy this book. He said there were too many recipes in there that he wanted to copy, and I think he is also concerned with growing his hops. Different needs.

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