Spring is here, and for many that means a growing excitement for seasonal fruits and vegetables like asparagus, fava beans, snap peas and radishes. We’ve made it through the winter full of starchy roots and now it’s time for bright, light and fresh options. Another favorite coming into season is rhubarb, or as I like to call it, pieplant. An obvious companion to strawberry, raspberry and other co-seasonal sweeter fruits, tart rhubarb stalks are fun to play with in the kitchen and some even use them in the brewery. And yes! You can grow rhubarb. Easily.
Kettle sours are obvious choices here (like goses), but mixed fermentation longer-aged styles and other light-bodied ales can accommodate the bright, grassy tartness of rhubarb too. Saisons and wheat beers also pair well. Whatever direction you choose, I recommend waiting until secondary fermentation to add rhubarb. Raw rhubarb is fine to use, but I suggest a moderate cooking of the rhubarb first. This will help reduce some of the extra water in the stalks and will also pasteurize them, so you won’t have to worry about introducing new microbial friends to your beer in progress. Rhubarb is low in pectin, so no need to worry about any thickening action.
If you’re a baker or canner as well as a homebrewer, rhubarb is a great plant to grow. If you’re none of these things, I guarantee you will find someone who would love to take some rhubarb stalks off your hands. It’s easy to grow, and given enough space, produces a large amount of product with little effort and cost. Organic rhubarb at shops and markets can fetch $6 or more per pound!
Rhubarb is pretty hands-off. It will, in fact, take over as much space as you let it in the right environment–it prefers warm summers and cold winters, where it will die back and become dormant. First year rhubarb is too delicate and small to harvest from, typically, so…plan far ahead. Rhubarb roots go very deep which means the plant does better in a garden plot than in a container. Rhubarb loves wet soil, so water frequently if your climate is dry. If you spy ruffley pink flowers emerging in the spring, cut them before they open so the plant’s energies remain devoted to their foliage. Important! Please don’t attempt to eat the leaves as they contain potentially toxic levels of oxalic acid, especially for children.
Although I am an avid gardener, long-time homebrewer, and scholar of beer, I’m not an expert in all climates or growing conditions (nor every possible imagined style of beer). Please refer to these sites for further and more detailed information. Cheers, and happy gardening/baking/brewing!