In 2016 while working with the Le Mura volunteer association in Siena, Italy I found wild hops on the inside of Siena’s medieval walls, in one of the massive green spaces that is currently unused by the city. Thus was born the idea of using the space to make hops for beer!
Project at a glance:
Associazione Le Mura:
The Associazione Le Mura is an organization of local volunteers in Siena, Italy that work to preserve, restore, and promote the city’s medieval walls as well as the massive, semi-abandoned green spaces adjacent to them. I am one of the founding members and have been on the board of directors since 2014. Here’s a link to the website (in Italian) http://www.lemuradisiena.it/
The Area – La Valle di Follonica:
The area where the hops were found and where the project is currently located is called the Valle di Follonica, and is one of Siena’s major green spaces inside the city’s ancient walls that once served as farmland on the inside of the city in order to be self-sustainable in times of siege. Currently, the area is not officially open to the public and owes much of its upkeep to local and student volunteers.
The wild hops are probably nothing special, and probably aren’t really worth throwing into a beer. No brewer that has bills to pay is going to risk a full batch of beer by throwing in some random hops that someone found by the side of the road (or in an overgrown medieval garden in our case). To find out whether the wild hops that we found will taste like garlic or will add lovely fragrance will take some time and, to be done right, will take some research. In 2019, the Università Degli Studi di Siena will conduct initial research on the wild hops. (links forthcoming).
Knowing that the wild hops would have to wait before getting to dive into any beers, on behalf of the Associazione Le Mura, I contacted a local craft brewery in Siena and proposed the idea to grow some hops that we know are tasty. The idea being to use the abandoned areas near the wild hops to grow hops commercially known as Cascade that contribute to popular beer styles like IPA’s.
The Brewery – Birrificio Agricolo La Diana:
The Birrificio Agricolo La Diana is one of Siena’s largest Craft Breweries. Head brewer, Francesco Mazzuoli was excited from the start to participate as a partner with the Associazione Le Mura.
At 5% alc. the beer is a very drinkable and bright pale ale designed to accentuate the fresh hops that are added to the brew when still “wet”.
We grew a total of 5 plants produce nearly 600 g of hops that made up about 15% of the total hops used to make the very first edition of La Birra Le Mura. The 300 liters of beer was sold within weeks.
The area was expanded to accommodate 20 plants. 2 kg of hops were harvested on August 21st, 2019. This year 400 liters of beer was produced, using the same recipe the previous year. Even before it was finished all 400 liters were sold to pubs throughout the region in the neighboring Tuscan towns of Vagliagli, Empoli and Florence.
Though it started in 2019 we also began collaborating with 6 expert Italian homebrewers who created beers using samples of the wild hops that we harvested and sent to each of them. The beers were showcased during the Wine&Siena wine festival (that will also feature craft beers) early February, 2020. All six creations were great and they opened the doors to new ideas for how to utilize the wild hops in the coming year