One of the many differences between beer and wine is that beer production is keyed towards making the same product each time. Beer drinkers aren’t looking at the label of their beer and thinking, ahh the North Dakota barley makes a great malt this year or, I wonder why the Cascade hops are not so bitter this year.
There are very few variations between one bottle of a certain kind of beer and the next, or from year to year. On the other hand, wines are prized for being from one small growth, or cru made out of one particular varietal of grape. Blends are almost always looked down on in California, even if a Bordeaux, by definition, is a blend.
While you may appreciate that your 2008 Duckhorn doesn’t taste like your 2007, you probably wouldn’t know what to do with a Sierra Nevada that didn’t taste like a pale ale.
Some recognition of this absurdity has made its way into the wine world. With cheap yet wonderful wines made from Central Valley grapes beating wines that rely on the location of their vineyard and not much else for their quality in blind taste tests, there is a crack in the wall.
My feeling is, there will be a few certain small crus, and varietals that in certain years are worthy of standing on their own but that everyone with a hobby vineyard will not try this.
So, naturally, I decided to try this with my hobby brewery.
First, know that the production of beer is much more complex than the production of wine. By the time the grain has left the maltster, more technique has gone into the production of beer than many wines will see in total. This may be a bit of an exaggeration, but not much.
At its most basic, the production of wine involves the growing and harvesting of grapes, the crush, fermentation, aging, and bottling. At its most basic, on the other hand, the production of beer involves the sewing and reaping of barely, the sprouting and kilning of barley to make malt, the growing and harvesting of hops, the mashing of malt into wort, the boiling of wort with hops, fermentation, conditioning, and bottling. Both of these processes can have extra steps added and an advanced wine production can be more sophisticated than a homebrewed beer, but on average beer involves many more steps.
Second, you should know that while there is a healthy market for blended wines, there is virtually no market for terroir vintage (brewage? malstage?) beer.
Week 1: Tilling & Sewing.
Still I wanted to try it. I planted 5 lbs. of barley seeds in approximately 100′^2 of ground and another 5 lbs. or rye seeds in about the same space. I’m waiting on getting some hop rhyzomes. Whether I try and use local yeasts depends on how much knowledge I can gain about them in the next couple of months. The water will be from the tap, but the tap water comes from an aquifer under my house.
Dedicating this much space to grain required a huge roto-tilling project. Having never grown grain before, I more or less spread the seeds on a wing and a prayer. All of the ag guides say rye and barley are pretty easy to grow.
Week 2: Sprouts!
After several nervous days, sprouts began shooting up in all of my grain beds. I have no idea what the yield will be, but even if I just have enough for a case of beer, I plan on brewing.
Based on this sprouting, the barley and rye should be ready for harvest around the 1st of July. It will probably take me 1-3 weeks to malt the grain.
The hold up will be the hops. I still don’t have any in the ground yet. They may need to be grown with grow lights to shorten their season. But assuming I have some, it will be about a month after that for the beer. So, perhaps in time for oktoberfest!