Here at Weird Beard, usually the first Sunday of every other month, we like to open our doors to the public and serve our beers fresh at source. Nothing new I know as almost every brewery in London has a tap room. But if you see where we are based, probably the furthest place in London from good transport links, you will understand why we make an event out of it. Which makes it all the more amazing when Yves and Dimitri from Brussels Beer Project (BBP) walk through our door. Now they had made a real effort there! We chatted for a long time about beer and our breweries, and I was really inspired by a lot of their philosophies of brewing. I showed them around, while plying them with samples of everything we had on the bar and anything interesting we had in the fermenters. They were also very generous in leaving us a wide selection of their bottles, which made the following weekly management meeting a lot less dull.
But the most important part of this bit of the story, was the talk of collaborations. Last year they had collaborated with 3 Norwegian breweries with cocoa nibs as the star ingredient. This year they wanted to collaborate with 3 UK breweries, with the main ingredient being that oh so classic English malt Marris Otter. To be honest, we have never used this malt before so I got quite excited about it and was in! We just had to come up with a date to brew together.
This year we were very honoured and delighted to be invited to the second Tilquin English Beer Festival, after spending a 'memorable' time drinking Lambic with Pierre Tilquin out of the back of his van at 4am in a Travelodge car park, but that is another story. We were all over that, which meant we were going to be in Brussels for a few days; it's a hard life. I emailed the dates we'd be over to the BBP guys and luckily they managed to fit a brewday into their schedule around the time we were there. So we were on.
The brewday itself was a fascinating experience for me and brought out a couple of the 7 sins. I arrived at the brewery just be fore 8A.M for the mash in and I was met by a lovely bar . Walk past the bar and the building opens right up. Up the left you have seating for the bar, but on the right you have a state-of-the-arts brewery. At Weird Beard everything is still done manually: from stirring the malt as it goes into the mash tun, to filling our bottles. But the BBP guys had made the decision to go for a fully automated system, leaving them more free to carry out some of the more monotonous, time consuming things that brewing entails. It was an easy brew, I wont lie, but very interesting. They had the opportunity to take all kinds of measurements at all kinds of point in the process that I can only dream of right now. Some of these would help us out immensely, especially when brewing with stupid things like rye. I won't bore you with that geeky stuff, this blog is about our beer.
So back to the beer itself....As mentioned before we had never use Marris Otter, and for the collab we decided we had to go with a very classic British style as well. I set my heart on a style that, arguably, we have never brewed before. I say "arguably" because I get very frustrated with one of our beers being described as a mild. But as a brewery we aren't really that concerned about style definitions, so we let it go. Anyway, digressive rant over. We settled on brewing a mild, with Marris Otter, but with a difference; with an addition of something.
As with all collaborations, lots of ideas were thrown around. I had been reading up on the style of a mild, and a lot references to a tobacco taste kept coming up and we agreed on the idea of a tobacco mild. It was decided to play on these flavours in our choice of ingredients. First off, when you think of cigars and cigar shops, you think of the beech wood boxes they come in. These have their own delicate yet intoxicating aroma. When coming up with our beer's recipe, we therefore added a small amount of beech wood smoked malt. This also adds a slight smokiness that you would expect to have with tobacco.
This was not really going to cut it; this was not going to give us that full-on tobacco flavour we were after. This was just alluding to the fact. Although I do frequently joke that all you need to do to add 'flavour' to a beer is put it on the label, that is not the way we, or the fine gentlemen at Brussels Beer Project roll. So Yves sourced 10 Nicaraguan cigars, that were all broken up, put in a muslin sack and added to the whirlpool. The batch size at BBP is 1000L, so that is one fat arse cigar per 100l of beer, which I think is pretty generous.
And now for a funny story about my research for the beer. As mentioned, I am not a smoker, and to be honest really don't approve, but I won't get preachy. One of my close friends is a smoker, and had left a single cigarette at my place. I decided to break this up, stick it in a little loose leaf tea thing and leave it in half a pint of our Black Perle, Coffee Milk Stout, leaving the other half pint untainted for a fair test. Thinking back on it, maybe a whole cigarette's worth of tobacco dissolved in a liquid for a non smoker wasn't the best of ideas. The beer tasted really good yet really different compared to the control sample. The sweetness was toned down and the slight astringency played well with the mouth-feel. More to the point, the tobacco mixed with the coffee, which I also don't drink, in the beer had a very quick, noticeable effect.
Every good beer has to have a good name and label. The beer was brewed at BBP so we kept to their label template, going with the colours that define our Weird Beard casks: black, green and white. With Weird Beard it also needs to be an interesting name. I went my usual way, looking for songs or horror film references but the BBP guys went one better. The whole inspiration of the beer was "Britishness", and who do you think of when you think classic British and cigars? It has to be Mr Churchill himself, sucking away on a cigar in almost every instance you see him! However, we are not deluding ourselves here; this is a very odd take on a classic style.