Welcome to Beer and Gardening Journal

Welcome. Today, I’m launching this website that will, as the name implies, cover two topics — beer and gardening.

Malt, hops, water, and yeast — in the hands of skilled brewer, that’s all it takes to brew beer.

My coverage of beer will mostly consist of how-to brewing articles aimed at home brewers. I will also post some general beer appreciation articles. As the successor to Beer and Wine Journal, there are already almost 600 articles on beer and brewing here. (There are fewer than 10 wine-related stories, which should be a tipoff as to why I changed the name and focus of the site.) I have been a homebrewer for over 30 years and have published 3 books — and literally hundreds of magazine articles — on brewing. I will continue to cover beer and brewing in a way that I intend to be accessible to beginners, but with enough advanced content to keep long-time brewers engaged.

Tomatoes and melons are a few of my favorite garden vegetables

On the gardening side, I will cover both vegetable gardening and growing native plants to attract pollinators. Over the years, I have grown a lot of different types of vegetables. These include tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, squash, cucumbers, watermelons, cantaloupes, sweet corn, green beans, snap beans, broccoli (and most of the other major _Brassica_ vegetables), and others. More recently, I have begun growing native plants to feed the native bees and other pollinators in my area. In Beer and Gardening Journal, I will discuss these as well as pest management and plant diseases.

Native flowers blooming in my garden

This spring (2023), a major focus will be on growing plants to attract and host monarch butterflies. I have set a goal to raise and release 240 monarch butterflies in 2023. My previous record, set in 2021, is 77. I will, of course, be growing milkweed to feed the caterpillars. I have several species growing in my garden already and will add two more new ones in the spring. I will also have numerous native plants flowering when the adult monarchs arrive. These will draw the butterflies into the garden where they will discover the milkweed. Throughout the Texas stage of their migration, I hope to have at least three types of flowers in bloom at three different heights.  I will have weekly posts updating my progress on this once the monarchs arrive.

The number of monarch butterflies in the main North American population has been declining since the 1970s.

I will also discuss growing poisonous plants. Poisonous plants are fascinating, often beautiful, and — grown responsibly — they are not a threat to anyone. (When’s the last time someone ate leaves from your garden?) Each has its role in nature, too. For example, my monarch butterfly project relies heavily on milkweeds, which are poisonous. Also, roughly half of the plants in my garden that attract hummingbirds are poisonous.

Castor bean, foxglove, and larkspur are wonderful plants. They are, however, toxic.

At my home in Bastrop, Texas, I have an in-ground garden and several container gardens — or one large container garden spread out over multiple locations, if you prefer. In addition to being an avid gardener for over 20 years, I have a PhD in biology and an amateur interest in botany. As such, there will be a fair amount of science-heavy posts including those on botany, garden insects (both pests and predators), garden spiders, plant diseases, pest control (esp. for those wanting to avoid or minimize the use of synthetic pesticides), GMO plants, and plant development, and evolution. As with the beer content, I will strive to make the science-heavy posts accessible and relvant to all gardeners, without “dumbing down” the material. So if you are serious about gardening, you will learn things.

Here’s to beer! Here’s to gardening! Here’s to beer and gardening. Skål!

In the beginning, I will be posting a variable number — most likely 3–4 — articles per week. I will initially post more gardening articles, as the site already has 600 beer pieces, but that will even out over time. So please bookmark this page and stop by often.

Contest Karate (IV)

This is part four in this series — part one, part two, and part three can be found by following the appropriate links. in it, I examine ways to increase your chances of winning medals at homebrew contests. It all starts with brewing good beer, but for the brewer who really wants to make a splash in his local homebrew circuit, there’s more to it than that. 

There are different levels of contest competitors. Some brewers simply want to brew a few beers and win some hardware at their local competition — and maybe send a beer or two to the National Homebrew Competition (NHC). Other brewers may wish to enter several competitions or compete in a “circuit” of homebrew competitions. In a circuit, brewers score points for every beer that medals at each circuit competition. At the end of competition season, there are awards for the brewers who scored the most cumulative points. No matter how competitive you wish to be, a little planning can go a long way.

If your main concern is your local homebrew contest, you will know (at least roughly) when it is held each year. If you have your sights set on more than one contest, you should likewise determine when they are held. Most contests are held in the spring while the fewest are held in summer. Thus, many of the contests you wish to enter may be relatively close together. How does knowing this help you? It gives you time to plan your brewing. [Read more…]

Contest Karate (III)

In the first installment of this article, I discussed brewing quality beer and entering as many beers as possible as ways to use “contest karate” to win medals at homebrew contests. In the second installment, the metaphor somehow changed to Sun Tzu’s opinions on waging war and I stressed the importance of brewing your beer to stand out in a flight of similar beers. In this installment, I’ll inexplicably switch to talking about — oh, why don’t we make it ninjas? — and give further advice on entering homebrew contests. [Read more…]

Contest Karate

These beers may win a medal at a homebrew contest. How will you know? If you can snatch one before I make them disappear, the answer will come to you. (If you were smart enough not to punch a hole in your computer screen, trying to grab one of the beers in the picture, you are ready to begin your journey.)

This is an article about how to increase your chances at winning medals at homebrew contests. At this point, a very valid question you may have is, “How the hell would Chris know how to win medals?” Well, I used to enter contests fairly frequently. And, towards the end of my contest-entering phase, I did fairly well. Not ludicrously well, but I won a few medals. Much more importantly, I’ve judged and otherwise helped out at numerous contests, and seen how things work behind the scenes. My homebrew club (the Austin ZEALOTS), also has a pile of guys who are big into the competitions, and I’ve learned a lot from them.

For the purposes of this article, I’ll assume you want to enter contests and win medals. If you simply want to continue brewing the beers you like, and occasionally enter a couple, that’s great. The point of homebrewing is to have fun. But this article is meant for someone who is looking to have fun by racking up a huge medal count and is willing to put the time and effort into doing it. So grasshopper — or cricket, or katydid, or whichever insect term you prefer — let’s begin your training. [Read more…]

Should I Dump It?

One of the most-asked questions on homebrewing forums is, “Should I dump it?” And, we’ve all likely been there. Something seems wrong with a batch and you are starting to fear that the worst has happened. With experience, you can learn which warning signs point to real trouble and which do not. For new brewers, however, unusual aromas, sights, or flavors can cause a panic. Here is a quick rundown of situations that lead brewers to ask this question, and what they should do. [Read more…]

Brut IPA (V: Carbonation and Packaging)

This article has four sections preceding it — the concept of a brut IPA, the grist, and the mash, the enzyme used to make a highly fermentable wort, hopping and the boil, and fermentation.

German hefeweizen bottles are a great choice for packaging highly carbonated ales, like this one.

Brut IPA is meant to be fizzy. And, there are a couple ways you can accomplish this. As with any beer, you can force carbonate it in a keg, or bottle condition it. However, given the high level of carbonation desired, you will need to approach this differently, in some ways, from when producing a beer with an ordinary level of carbonation. 

How carbonated should a brut IPA be? Given that this type of beer currently only exists as a cluster of individual examples, you have some leeway to decide for yourself. The average level of carbonation in an ordinary craft beer or standard lager is 2.4–2.6 volumes of CO2. Anything over this should count as more highly carbonated. For reference, Belgian tripels and Belgian strong golden ales are often around 4.0 volumes of CO2, German wheat beers can have carbonation levels as high as 5.0 volumes of CO2, and Champagne is often around 6.0. [Read more…]

Brut IPA (IV: Yeast and Fermentation)

This article has three sections preceding it. The first installment dealt with the concept of a brut IPA, the grist, and the mash. The second installment discussed the enzyme used to make a highly fermentable wort, amyloglucosidase. The third installment discussed hopping and the boil.

Once you have boiled the wort and cooled it, it is time for fermentation. Brut IPA is a pale ale to IPA-strength ale, so the fermentation should not present an enormous challenge. All the usual advice — pitch an adequate amount of yeast, aerate well, and hold your fermentation temperature steady — should be heeded. However, there are two additional considerations — attenuation and yeast nutrition.   [Read more…]

Brut IPA (III: Boiling and Bitterness)

The first installment of this article discussed the idea behind a brut IPA, the grist, and the mash. The second installment discussed the enzyme used to make a highly — to completely — fermentable wort. This installment will discuss the boil and packaging. 

Once the wort is in the kettle, and the enzyme treatment is over, the brewer should proceed to the boil. Brut IPA is supposed to have a lot of hop aroma, but not as much hop bitterness as a normal IPA. How much bitterness is, of course, up to you. The main things to consider when choosing a level of bitterness are the OG and FG of the beer, and — of course — your personal preference. [Read more…]

Brut IPA (II: The Enzyme)

The first part of this article describes brut IPA and discusses the grist and the mash.

Moonshiners like it, too.

A step mash can yield a highly fermentable wort that results in a dry to very dry beer. However, if you wish to go beyond “ordinary dryness” — as the pioneers of brut IPA do — you need something extra. That thing is an exogenous enzyme (i.e. an enzyme you add) that will degrade the “dextrins” in your wort to a degree beyond that accomplished in any mash. For the brewers of brut IPA, the enzyme of choice is amyloglucosidase. [Read more…]

Brut IPA (I: Description, Grist, and Mash)

Not a brut IPA

Many brewers are excited about a new type of beer that originated last year (2017) in California — brut IPA. Brut IPA is a dry, fizzy beer with plenty of hop aromatics, but not as much bitterness as a typical American IPA. The first commercial example is attributed to Kim Sturdavant of San Francisco’s Social Kitchen and Brewery. The name “brut” is taken from the terminology used to rank sweetness in Champagne and other sparkling wines — brut is the driest category in that ranking (although it is sometimes subdivided into brut and extra brut).

Now, I’m sure some brewers are wondering if this beer is just a fad or if it is going to become an official beer style, and if so what will the style guidelines say about this beer? In addition, some will likely question if it should really be called an IPA given its comparatively low bitterness. I’m sure someone out in beer writing land would love to pontificate loudly on these questions, so I will leave that to them. Instead, I will address the much more practical question — how could a homebrewer brew a brut IPA at home? [Read more…]