Beer Garden: Sage
Before the widespread adoption of hops, many kinds of herbs, spices and roots made appearances in beer. Besides having a wonderful complexity and diversity of flavor, hops help beer keep safe to drink, creating create a bacteriostatic environment that works to keep Gram-positive bacteria at bay–essentially, hops are somewhat antiseptic. In earlier times (before everyone had rubber gloves, antibacterial soaps and easy access to sanitizing solutions), using natural products to help preserve food and drink was essential. But it’s not just hops that accomplish this–in fact, essential oils from many common plants can also perform similarly. Sage is one of those plants, and it has been used in brewing and cooking throughout history for both flavor and preservation. While sage is not commonly used in beer these days, a few breweries have highlighted its potential in recent times, including Deschutes, Epic and Dogfish Head.
What Styles Work?
Farmhouse ales with a spicy yeast character or more herbal/spicy IPAs or pale ales would be my choice style recommendations, though abbey-related styles might be a fun direction to go as well.
Why Grow It?
Sage has so many uses (many outside of beer). From wintery squash dishes to anything Thanksgiving-related, sage has many culinary applications, but it’s also common in medicinal salves and creams. Frequently only a couple leaves of sage are needed for any cooking application–this is where a pot of it on your balcony or in your kitchen window comes in handy, so you don’t need to buy a whole bunch of it at once and wonder what on earth to do with the rest.
How to Grow it?
Sage is one of those magical (or terrifying) herbs that basically takes care of itself once established. Grow it in a pot with good drainage, or plant outside and expect it to expand over time! Preferring generous sun (though will survive without much as well), it’s pretty drought-tolerant. It benefits from periodic “trimming” (re: harvesting). Sage is easily dried for future use, so there’s not usually a need to be conservative with picking. It’s also rather hardy and can survive frosty temperatures. If you’re gardening in a maritime climate, just take care to not overwater or make sure sage is not in a pooling soil area where rain will accumulate.
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/brewing!