I want to grow/brew

To help you get started, we’ve written a short overview and what you can expect if you get involved, plus answered some of the most common questions asked.

What is Grow Beer?
Grow Beer is about delicious, beer, grown, brewed and enjoyed by a collective community. You buy a pack that includes the essentials of what you need to get growing, there’s growing advice and support over the season, you harvest your hops with the other people in your group and the brewer brews a delicious seasonal green hop beer, then you drink some of the results. Simple!  

I want to grow

How can I get involved in the hop collective?
See if there is an existing hop growing group in your area. You can get in touch with the group to find out more. If you’re not interested in growing but would like to help in some other way, drop your local group lead a line to let them know. Each group is completely independent and runs things a little differently but we all love good beer and good people.

How much does a hop pack cost?
That is up to the individual group, but usually start at around £15- £20 for the first hop pack and then less for additional packs thereafter. Some groups arrange funding to support start-up.

What do I get for that?
Again, this will vary from project to project, but a typical pack will include a hop rhizome, a generous length of coir hop twine and if you need to prepare your growing patch then gravel to improve drainage, well-rotted manure and / or organic fertilizer to condition it. You’ll get support over the year including advice, instructions and resources, and you’ll of course get to drink some of your collective beer at the end of each year’s harvest. Hop rhizomes are perennials, so the each year the hop cones return, to keep getting beer.

Are hops easy to grow?
In a word… yes. Growing hops from a quality rhizome (root stock) is pretty fool proof and the plant will grow in all sorts of places. We’ve had plants survive floods, snow, ice and plain old-fashioned neglect, and we’ve had success stories from balconies, gardens, allotments and pots. Even if you kill your plant in the first year (like one poor grower whose strimmer got a little too close to the bine), it can grow back next year. Of course, in order to get the most (and most flavoursome) hops, you’ll need to look after your plant. We’ve written some growing tips and collected useful resources to help you through every stage of your growing season. Hop plants take three years to mature so your yield will be low in the first year (though you should still get some cones) and increase after that.

How much beer to I get to drink?
A crucial question! That depends on the trade your group makes with your brewer: remember that hops are only a small part of what it costs (both in terms of time and money) to make beer. In the spirit of trade, the brewers will keep aside a barrel of beer from the batch for the group, meaning that everyone gets one or two pints (or more, depending on how quickly you drink!) for free. Some groups have a discounted deal for growers and some allocate a certain number of bottles or cans.  On previous years we invited all our London-based growers to an event where we had different beers from different groups available – great fun! And as hops are a perennial plant (they come back every year) you’ll get delicious free beer again and again…

Next steps
If you’re interested in becoming part of a Grow Beer group in your area, have a look at groups & friends. Nothing local to you? Have you considered starting your own group? We’ve written resources to make it as easy and as risk free as possible. 

I want to start a group

Starting a group is fun, not too taxing (in terms of time and money) and can be a great way to get your local community talking about beer and local food issues. Here’s what one of the project leaders has to say about starting a group:

“With all the support from the other hop groups across the country, setting up couldn’t have been be easier. It took me two weeks to learn all that was needed for my group and within the next two weeks of telling friends and Facebook I had 35 orders all paid for. The bartering for the hops is taken care of by Helen so no stress there either, just gather your hopsters and place your order. We all work together and help each other with collective knowledge and ideas. The support doesn’t just stop there but that’s the next chapter. Give it a try!” Sam Holt, Cardiff Hops

We’ve always believed that for a project to be successful and sustainable it needs to avoid being too much of a time suck. Of course it also has to be great fun (for the participants and the organisers) and have a good purpose! We think Grow Beer does all these.

Totting up the hours spent on organising the project over the year, they break down as follows. One to two days (split up into chunks) promoting the planting day and recruiting growers between January and the start of March. A day (split up into chunks) sorting out growers orders, building up the bulk order and working with the supplier. One and a half days for hop planting day: half for prep and one actually distributing. One day split into bits throughout the growing season (bits of admin and replying to queries). Two days prepping for harvest and holding the harvest/brew day. One day at the end: half a day organising the drinking and half a day sampling your beer.

This adds up to seven to nine days a year. Of course you may wish to spend more days on the project if you want to organise other events or pursue related projects, such as growers workshops or visits to a hop field or brewery.

It’s up to you what you charge, but we recommend the following: £15- £20 for each person’s first pack, £10 for any subsequent pack, or £10 for community gardens. This is enough to cover all the costs of the pack, plus leave a little left over for things like travel costs, printing leaflets, charges and maybe even enough to basic social media/comms. 

All of our group leaders said that they enjoyed the experience: it’s beer and growing, what’s not to like? Participants said they felt they were part of a community and that the informal, collective learning was encouraging. There’s something for all in growing hops: We’ve heard of groups of mums growing together on a patch of land in a council estate, young trendy beer lovers growing in a pot on their balcony, families growing in gardens of town houses, brewers with allotments joining in with the growing to,  through to groups who grow across their towns and community farms and gardens at a more ambitious scale.

The original project (Brixton Beer Co) started for a few reasons: we love beer, we enjoy growing stuff, we thought it would be fun to experiment to see if the idea would work and we wanted to find a way to reach beyond the usual food activist types and get lots of people excited about regional food and drink. Saying that, different groups have different aims for their Grow Beer projects.

There are Transition Town groups who started the project as a fun way to engage people who normally wouldn’t think of getting involved in a Transition Town or ‘green’ project, and they’ve reported great success. On the flip side, we’ve heard from groups who don’t give two hoots about the localism debate but enjoy great beer and good company… and that’s fantastic too!

We’ve had many people tell us that since growing hops and becoming part of the brewing process in their small way, they have a greater appreciation for real ale and now make a point of seeking out local and regional breweries. We’ve also heard from growers who have been encouraged by how easy growing hops is; some have gone on to join community gardens, get involved in Land Share or start to grow other things. Another positive we’ve witnessed is that people are having conversations about where their food and drink comes from (often sparked by people noticing brews and choosing to find alternatives to those with hops imported from New Zealand or America) and how difficult it must be for a farmer to make a living (often sparked by pest or weather woes). These conversations are really important and we love how they happen naturally at different stages of maturity across a project.

(Not) knowing it all
The last point to write about is knowledge. When we started this project, neither knew particularly much about growing hops or making beer. Between us, we had made country wines and home brewing beer, and were both involved in growing food on our own and in communities, but as to a whole-system approach, we were novices. Of course, we did our homework, searched out the like minded, held conversations, read a few books and articles. But as long as you are upfront and you and your growers learn alongside each other, then the spirit of it as an experiment is what makes the journey worthwhile.

Grow Beer project leads support
As project leads, like all experiments, we worked out the need for a place for mutual support. Whether that’s to get a sense-check on how a project is going, to share the latest in hop prices this season, or offer encouragement when something doesn’t quiet work out and to celebrate the good times. What has evolved is down to the generous spirit of project leads who contribute to the Grow Beer project leads group on Facebook.

Get organised 
To make it as easy as possible, we’ve brought together a set of resources, the Grow Beer Year, which sets out in principle the parts of a project, including templates, when to order hops, looking out for aphids, hop weigh-in, example publicity to celebrate and promote , and to help you keep track of growers and money as part of leading a project. This sits alongside the Grow Beer project leads Facebook group, where we check in with each other, ask questions, encourage and celebrate. 

Grow Beer HQ – keeping in touch 
What has been learnt. Projects appear to be most successful where the lead is amongst the hop growers. There seems to be a deep sense of purpose as to why the collective model works, and how to gently organise so to nurture all parts of the project. Maybe it’s the connection with the soil and the slow growing nature across the seasons, that develops that healthy respect.  We encourage you to give it a go, and do share what you’re learning. Tell all about your project, how it develops, and put yourself on the map. If you get any press coverage it’s a nice thing to see a gentle nod to the Grow Beer roots of the idea. Don’t forget to send a clipping to add to stories. 

Have fun and good luck   

I want to brew

The relationship between a growing group and a brewer is a fantastic one with lots of benefits for both parties.

What’s in it for us?
You get to deeply engage with your community, you get excellent PR and marketing opportunities, plus of course you get a supply of freshly-picked green hops. Our growers report a vastly increased interest in real ale and a loyalty to “their” brewer when they’re out and about buying pints. Some of our breweries also use their growing community to help out at events they want to run: for example the A Head in a Hat brewery run a yearly hop shoot festival which growers volunteer their time at.

What do I have to do in return?
This is slightly different across each growing group and you’ll have to negotiate exactly what you provide in terms of support and beer with your project lead. Typically, a brewer will offer a peek behind the scenes of their set up to give growers get a better idea of the brewing process, plus provide some beer at the end of the year to allow the growers to taste their year of growing. Usually a brewer will set aside a barrel for growers to sample, but of course this depends on the size of the group.

What is the typical yield?
Most of the older growing groups have established relationships with breweries, but many of our newer ones will still be looking to work with a brewery local to them. Even if a group already works with a brewer, some may be open to collaboration so click here to see if there are any groups local to you and find out how to contact them.

Grow Beer Year resources (work in progress)

Late Winter – plan and prep
– attract initial interest
– set up a project
– prepare your soil

Early Spring – build support
hop growers growing tips
– order hops
– hop drop

Late Spring – first shoots
– first shoots sightings
– build hop growing support for your site
– check-in with the brewer

Early Summer – grow hops grow
– green leaves & aphids
– water and feed

Late Summer – it’s all about the cones
– Are your cones American school bus yellow?
– brew plan
– harvest plan
– hop weigh-in at the brewery
– brew time

Early Autumn – Beer time