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Foraging for a truly local beer

John LaPolla

I always like to keep things interesting here at Bitter & Esters and sometimes that means stepping out of my comfort zone. As the beer world gets ever more creative I thought it would be a good idea to start searching for new brewing ideas in our own backyard. With a visit from Stan Hieronymus, author of an excellent new book entitled Brewing Local: American Grown Beer coming up soon (Friday, August 18th & 19th to be specific), I decided it would be fun to make some beer with locally grown ingredients to serve at his visit. How does one go about sourcing “local” ingredients though?

First, I contacted my friend Chris Cuzme, a real idea guy. Chris is an owner of the soon to open brewery Fifth Hammer in Long Island City and co-host of the podcast Fuhmentaboudit with his wife Mary Izett. Chris was excited about Stan’s visit and he suggested we set up a Foraging event in Prospect Park with Wildman Steve Brill. Steve is a local character who has been running foraging events in NYC since the 70’s. The idea was to gather a bunch of homebrewers and see what ingredients we could find that would work in beer. If brewers were interested, they could then make a beer using foraged ingredients. Beer enthusiasts and homebrewers would then meet Stan at Fifth Hammer in August and taste these beers.

We had over 40 folks show up at the park on a beautiful July day to forage with Steve and his daughter, Violet. After introductions were made, Steve serenaded us with a tune by clapping his hands in front of his mouth and then we immediately got to work looking for delicious foraged ingredients.  

Not even two feet into the park we came across Hedge Mustard, a four leafed plant that looks like clover and has a bitter/mustard flavor. It was a good start, I pictured using this as a late edition in a belgian style beer. A few more feet into the park we found Wood Sorrel. A very pleasant lemony herb that might be interesting in a pale ale or wit. Soon after that we came upon Mugwort, a plant used for centuries in beer making in an herb combination called gruit. A very aromatic plant that might play well with the wood sorrel.

My favorite find of the day was Garlic Mustard. At this time of year it is mainly seeds that have an amazing mustard taste and aroma and is widely available in the park (if you decide to try and find some yourself). I decided this was the plant I was going to make my beer with. A Belgian Dubbel with lots of Garlic Mustard late in the boil.

Overall, we spent over two hours walking through the park and learning about edible plants with Steve and Violet. They were very entertaining, filled with jokes and anecdotes and we plan on foraging again with them in the spring.

Seven brave brewers signed up to make beer for Stan’s visit to Fifth Hammer with ingredients that they foraged locally - we look forward to drinking them!  So join us at Bitter & Esters on Friday August 18th at 6pm (my birthday, I’ll be there!) to meet Stan, get your books signed and ask some questions. Then come to Fifth Hammer on August 19th at 6pm with Stan and try all the beers made with foraged ingredients. Both events are free and open to the public. RSVP here!


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