Out Of Office Coffee IPA

Guest post from our brewery assistant Andrew Drinkwater:

For the past six weeks I've been learning firsthand about the differences between homebrewing and the world of commercial beer as a brewery assistant at Weird Beard. It's been extremely hard work but also very rewarding - the bruises, scaldings, thermal burns, chemical burns, cuts, grazes and acid swallowing was all worth it when drinking a cask of something I'd been involved in from brew to packaging.

One of the privileges of the past few weeks has been to design and brew a new beer with my fellow brewery assistant, Chris Taylor. Together with his partner Emma, Chris is one of the country's most talented homebrewers, and has been working part-time at Weird Beard for the past few months in addition to his full-time job. We've homebrewed together a few times, but it's been a lot more fun working with a kit 72 times bigger!

Out of Office Lu'pin - inspired by Chris!

The idea for our beer came from my previous job. My old team drank a lot of fantastic coffee from the roasters at Hasbean - in particular, their blueberry-packed Yirgacheffe Naturals from Ethiopia. I brought my last pack of beans into the brewery on my first day, and while drinking it with Chris, we came up with the idea of brewing a Coffee IPA in the mould of Kernel's long-lost Suke Quto IPA

Chris came up with a killer mix of Chinook and Amarillo hops to provide tropical fruit and some complexity, and Mosaic hops, both as a steep and dry hop, to complement the blueberry notes from the coffee. We wanted to aim for a very pale, clean and dry beer to let the hops and coffee sing, so the malt bill is very simple, with 95% pale with a little bit of wheat.

We added the coffee in three different ways - crushed in the underback, fresh French Press coffee added directly to the wort, and several kilos added to the fermenter along with the dry hops. We did almost manage to completely ruin an FV with the amount of hops and coffee beans we threw into it - but we think it was worth it. In lieu of a grinder, here I am smacking it up ready for the underback:

We're really proud of the final beer - it's 7% ABV, very pale, and has all the bitterness of an IPA but with the aroma and flavour profile of a good cup of coffee made from a freshly roasted delivery from Hasbean. We've called our beer Out of Office, to reflect our 'part-time' nature and to indemnify the guys at Weird Beard if you don't like it! 

The first keg of Out of Office is going to be on the bar at my leaving party at Brewdog Shepherds Bush on Saturday 18th October, along with a couple of other Weird Beard rarities like Hive Mind (which has been reformulated for 2014) and the much-vaunted low-alcohol Dark Hopfler. Hope to see you there!

The Evolution of Weird Beard's Branding.

One of the first things to consider when starting a brewery is the branding and marketing of your beer. It is right up there with brewing good beer and balancing the books and other things you really want to do well.

Marketing  is the way that the general public get to know about your beer. For a small brewery this means Facebook, Twitter, a website, beer blogs both your own and through other people (why do you think I'm writing this?), meet the brewer events etc. For big breweries it involves aspirational TV adverts and sports sponsorship. Marketing is a strategy and perhaps in another blog I will get into it in more detail, but I want to go on to talk about branding.

Branding is a subset of marketing and is most important at the point of sale. Many punters, in the absence of any prior knowledge about the beer, will pick an interesting looking pumpclip or a good looking bottle. What better way of marketing your beer then to have people buy it, try it and talk about it?

So what branding have we got at Weird Beard Brew Co? Well as you will see the branding has evolved somewhat from fairly basic beginnings.

The first thing was the name. This was an incredibly difficult thing to get agreement on. Weird Beard has had a few people involved with the project over the year or so we have been thinking about it.

We have a file with over 75 possible names in there that we considered. Some of those that got more than 10 seconds of thought are below:

Second Chapter (People may remember Tony Lennon @tony2taps tweeting about this)
Rhythm and Brews
Weird Beard Brew Co
Square Mile
Great Fire Brewing Co
The Craft Brewery (to annoy all the people who don't like the name craft beer)
Artisan Beers
Studio 56 Brew Co
Happy Bat (Yes Stig @thehappybat was involved as well)
Big Smoke
South Bank
Thames Brewery
Borough Brewery
Another Brewing Company ("can I have another beer please?")
Elephant's Trunk
New Agenda
Inner City Brew Co
Urban Brew Co
The 4 Idiots that can build a brewery but not think of a name brew co.

We gave those in bold a bit more thought but it was only when it was down to Bryan and myself that Weird Beard Brew Co came out as a clear favourite. This was helped by Bryan going out and with the help of a mate designing a logo that worked:

Armed with a logo it was easy for me to dive into Photoshop and start designing beer labels for our homebrew beers. The font is sometimes know as Tim Burton but also the freely available as Trinigan FG and made for good title text.

The goal was for simple and striking. First feedback was writing text telling drinkers to store the beer upright should not be written vertically! Also note my (bad?) habit of replacing letters with clip art.

A few tweaks later, we had this. A version of this label had won the label competition at the LASECB Festival.  Feedback on this label was good, but a few people complained about amateur look to it. The black and white printed at home look to be exact. Looking back I am not sure I agreed at the time but certainly do now. However a retro label may be in order if we do this beer as a special.

Again the attempt was to be simple and striking. I guess you can see Marble and Otley influences in this especially, although others have mentioned James Bond. Another change was to lose the fancy font for much of the writing, making it easier to read and allowing us to put it in a smaller font giving more space.

Trying (and failing) to move away from the James Bond look. I thought how I could remove the Circle with a dark background. Make a negative of the logo? Perhaps but instead I found some interesting wallpaper and gave this a go. I really like the effect of these two labels and they make a coherent pair. Now I just need to convince Bryan that a Rauchbier seasonal (and a chipotle rauchbier) will sell well. I also think smoke and fire would translate to T-shirts very well.

Get picture of hops; crop to size; add overlay with 75% opacity; get something quite interesting. Can easily be changed in colour for others in the series.

Final tweaks to date. I added a dummy barcode and in response to other feedback reversed the brewery name and beer name positions. Not 100% sure if this is an improvement. Strangely I did not want to use Redpenguin or Dredpenguin as a brewery name but a beer name....that is a different matter.

Is it better to have the beer name prominent or the brewery name?

I'm sure that the branding will continue to evolve. Any and all feedback is welcome and I will of course do a follow-up post closer to launch time with our launch range of beers and labels.

Why start a Brewery?

Starting a brewery. Well, why indeed?

Investing money in the current economic climate is a bad idea. Isn't it?

Setting up in an industry that is ravaged with high duty and is likely to be hit harder as the years go on has to be a mistake. I mean, come on...

Making a beverage that is pilloried in the media, demonized by the press and ignored by mainstream food programmes is not the way to make your fortune. Get a grip son!

Ah but...

If you can start a successful business in a depression then you can be happy when the good times roll around again. Well...

Even with the duty increases the artisanal cask, keg and bottle beer sections seem to be doing well. I'll give you that.

What better way to change opinions of beer than to get out there, make a great product and show to people it is not all about swilling down 10 pints of lager. But I like swilling lager at the cricket club!

The sense of community that has built up around beer especially in London with new breweries and bars opening on what seems like a monthly basis; the freely offered advice received from London brewers; the encouraging words of bloggers; and the joy of making beer that puts a smile on someone's face. OK, OK you had me at Starting a Brewery

This blog will hopefully detail some of the ups and no doubt downs of the birth of Weird Beard Brew Co