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How to grow beer

As the clock struck midnight on 31st December most people chose an obvious New Years’ Resolution – stop smoking, lose weight, exercise more – but Beer Sommelier Ben Richards wanted a real challenge for 2017.  Which is why he’s growing beer on his allotment in Devon.

On an 8m by 8m plot, he’s launching an experiment to see if it’s possible to grow or collect everything he needs to brew beer in one place.  He’s working in partnership with There’s A Beer For That, the industry campaign that raises awareness of the diversity, versatility and quality of beer, and will draw on the help and advice of experts in their field as he tackles the highs and lows of his quest.  Already lined up to offer advice are BBC presenter Toby Buckland, Microbiologist Steve Livens of the British Beer and Pub Association and Brewer John Magill from Powderkeg Brewery. 

Ben Richards on his allotment

After starting to dig up his allotment, Ben Richards explained “As a Beer Sommelier I know about the versatility of beer and diverse range of styles but few of us, including me, realise just how much effort and how many people are involved in getting that beer into the glass, bottle or can.”

“People have more interest in how beer is made, these days; how the ingredients are sourced and how brewers are inspired in their recipe creation. I love drinking beers of different styles from across the world, and know a fair bit about how they’re brewed, but I really want to better understand what it takes to grow and process the raw ingredients needed whilst finding out more about more our national and local brewing history. Every time I look a little deeper into brewing beer, I come up with more questions and that’s why I decided to try and find the answers by growing beer myself.”

Traditionally, the ingredients for brewing beer would be harvested and gathered from all over the country – if not worldwide – so Ben’s going to have to be on his toes if his ambition is to become a reality. 

“I’m working with 8m by 8m of rough, unloved land and one major rule: all of the ingredients must be grown or collected on site” continued Richards.  “This means preparing the land, growing or gathering and then harvesting all the ingredients before the final brew.”

If he’s to stick to his schedule and meet the timescale that he’s set himself, Ben needs to achieve the best growing conditions as quickly as possible to get everything up and running.  He’ll then have to juggle everything he knows about brewing with everything he doesn’t know about horticulture, microbiology, agriculture and perseverance so that he can round off the project with a party to sample the beer he’s produced in the Autumn.

David Cunningham, Programme Director of There’s A Beer For That is one of those backing Ben for success, saying “Beer attracts an increasingly enthusiastic and diverse range of drinkers and we are always seeking new ways to encourage people to think differently about beer and discover new styles & flavours.  By making a commitment to the `Growing Beer` project, Ben will unearth no end of discussion topics on Britain’s national drink that we believe will spark interest and get people talking about it which can only be a good thing for Britain’s rejuvenated and evolving beer industry.  

“There are over 140 styles and 12,000 quality beers to choose from but they largely all originate from the same four natural ingredients. Through this project, Ben will be discovering what it takes to make beer and why it is such a versatile and enjoyable drink” continued Cunningham “so it’s only natural that There’s A Beer For That partners with him as he tries to answer the questions that the ubiquitous ‘folk down the pub’ want to know about their favourite drink.”

Ben will catalogue every move he makes on the allotment, sharing his updates periodically through social media, podcasts and photos.  His year is expected to provide a fascinating insight into many areas of brewing and allotment life, offering a narrative on everything from the importance of quality ingredients in our food and drink through to dealing with everything that mother-nature throws at you.