Weird Wired - a collaboration between us & 8 Wired Brewing Co

I remember back in the day when Weird Beard was just in the planning stage. Lots of talk and dreams, but no real decisions or substance; we hadn’t even agreed on a name. I was still at my previous job, on a night shift, filling the time reading blogs from other breweries as usual. To this day I remember one particular blog that really stood out. I had done some googling after I had enjoyed a stout, rare to these shores a few times, called iStout. I really liked the beer, but did not really know much about the brewery, 8 Wired Brewing Co, as there wasn't much of their stuff around at the time.

Here's that blog. It was really inspirational reading about a guy (Søren) working in a larger New Zealand brewery, who were letting him brew his own stuff on any spare capacity. The beers he made impressed people so much he went on to open his own brewery. 8 Wired beers are now a lot easier to find, thanks in part over the last year or so to Todd and the NZ beer collective.

Everyone at Weird Beard see Todd, and few other people working for the NZ cause, as friends. We've worked many festivals together, meeting a number of Kiwi brewers along the way. It really was only a matter of time before we managed to get together with one of these guys and brewed something special. So when we bumped in Todd exciting a great cask bar in central London where he mentioned that Søren from 8 Wired would be in town in a few weeks and was keen to brew with us while he had the chance, I have to admit to being just a little excited. The very next Monday, emails started flying around and it was official, Weird Beard and 8 Wired were going to be brewing a beer together at the end of February.

We are fans of hops - you may have figured this out by now - but it's always worth mentioning. And what is NZ known for? Could it be all those lovely New World hops? It was obvious, this beer had to be all about the hops. A super basic malt bill was required, with a single sack of Carapils, and then Lager malt, loads of Lager malt. In fact, this beer has a higher percentage of lager malt than our lager. Then, our standard yeast, a nice clean US style yeast that doesn’t add a lot of character, leaving a nice light, easy drinking but essentially blank canvas to paint our hoppy masterpiece. Anyway, back to the hops...we had a brewer from NZ brewing a beer with a UK brewery, so we had to run with this love in, and get some UK hops working in harmony with some NZ hops.

Left to Right: 8 Wired's Søren, Weird Beard's Gregg, Ryan and Bryan rubbing hops

Left to Right: 8 Wired's Søren, Weird Beard's Gregg, Ryan and Bryan rubbing hops

Unfortunately, there wasn't quite enough time to have Søren smuggling hops into the country and we were restricted by our hops contracts; anyone who follows our blogs will know how much fun they are. Out of what we had, Soren went with Kohatu, one we have used a few times in the past and we went with a UK hop that just oozes lovely, fruity blackcurrant, but one usually found in darker beers, Bramling Cross. Just to bridge the gap a little, we went for another NZ hop that we have been using since Gregg's first home brews, and a big part of our flagship pale ale, Mariana Trench. Pacific Gem, a hop that brings more blackcurrant to the party, in a very NZ way.

I had a great day working with Soren and think the resulting beer is something to be proud of.

Get stuck in while it is available. 

Weird Wired will be sold in keg, cask and bottle formats. It's launching on cask tonight (5th April) at our Meet the Brewer event at the Union Tavern.

A Celebration of Collaborations 3

Now here's the sort of trivia that could feature in a 'craft beer pub quiz': Dave of Kew Brewery used to brew for us here at Weird Beard before setting up his own venture. It's been a long time since Dave left us. Looking back now, it's been a full 18 months that we have gone without Dave. In truth we have had his cheery self drop by for a friendly visit but we hadn't brewed together. As our world carried on without Davy, his world has gone from strength to strength with the opening and success of KewWe always talked about doing a collab when Kew was up and running. Again, the holiday period offered some free-time and a free fermenter for doing just that. We set a date for the brewday, got a thread going and put our heads together to come up with a recipe. It didn't take long to come up with a no brainer, delicious idea. Kew have won awards for their Chocolate Porter, and us for our Milk Coffee Stout (Black Perle). What we went with was a Mint Chocolate Stout.

We collaborated on the recipe, selecting the grains based somewhere between our two dark beer malt-bills. We wanted both chocolate and robust flavours but nothing too overpowering either so we added lashings of lactose. This, to give a sweet and silky body to our beer. Hop-wise we went with Perle, which we are so fond of in Black and Double Perle. The reason it is a favourite of ours in dark beer styles is because of its slightly milky and herbal flavour. We wanted to emphasise that but also added some Willamette for its spicy character. 

Now for actual mint choc-chip constituents! We added a load of fresh mint, which we spent a considerable amount of time de-sprigging and chin wagging whilst doing so, and cacao nibs at every possible stage. We also made a mint tea-like wort infusion, which we added into the underback, to really amp up the sweeter mint flavours and help in layering them. During the conditioning phase of the beer, we did more of the same but also adding a cold brew of cacao. In doing so we aimed to get a deep mint-chocolate flavour that lingers.

If the recipe and collaboration wasn't fun in enough, we really got into the naming this beer. When Dave used to brew with us, we had some fantastic soundtracks to our working day. As most of you may know, we at Weird Beard have a history of naming beers with nods to some of our favourite bands/songs also. When it came to this beer, music was our first port of call for inspiration. Bryan discovered Carter USM's "A World Without Dave" on his iTunes and it made 100% sense that this was what we rolled with.

We whole-heartedly suggest you play the tune, grab the beer, drink & enjoy. A World Without Dave is so much easier to bear with this brew in your hand.

Debuting tonight at the harp in London if you fancy.

A Celebration of Collaborations 2

Next collaboration we’re pleased to announce is “A Lemon Tree My Dear Watson”. This, we brewed with Steve of Bexar County Brewing (pronounced “Bear County” with the “x” being silent).

Both Steve and our Bryan have been drinking at festivals for years and we have always found ourselves drinking Bexar County beers at events - even if it was a Squid Ink Gose. Nevertheless, a collab’s been on the cards as we’ve admired the whackiness of Steve’s beers and share the ethos of brewing whatever we want. It was only a matter of time and over the holiday period, we had just that.

Simply enough we got Steve down to West London to brew one of his trade mark ‘out there’ beers with us. In the lead-up to this event, loads of ideas were batted around. The most unusual included guano as an ingredient, but that was just bat sh*t crazy, quite literally. Eventually we settled on the idea of Lemon Meringue Pie; a quintessential American dessert and well, who doesn’t like a bit of Lemon Meringue Pie? The idea was we de-constructed the dessert and made a beer that featured a little bit of all the tasty components that make up the pie.

So, the grain bill has delicious biscuit malt and when we say delicious, we really mean it. We couldn't help but munch on this at the start of the brewday! We also added a little amber malt for some sweeter, Digestives base flavours. When it came to the lemons, we went all out to maximise their flavour and we sure did use a lot of lemons. In the boil alone, we added the zest of 30 fresh lemons, which were then quartered and threw in also. We wanted a balanced beer, so afterwards we loaded the kettle with lactose for more sweetness and to create a creamy body to subdue the tartness of all the lemons.

For the hops, there had to be Sorachi Ace. Firstly, we love that hop and really don’t need much of an excuse to brew with it and secondly, it gives huge lemon refresher flavour. This works with what we were going for, but we also added Citra, for more natural citrus-fruit notes. Then, a hefty amount of dried lemon peel was added as the beer made its way to the fermenter, which adds layers and complexity to the flavour profile of the beer. When fermentation was finished, we dry hopped with more Sorachi Ace, Citra and a little more dried lemon peel. Altogether, our efforts created an easy drinking, 3.7%, Lemon Meringue Pie in a glass. 

This treat of a beer is available in all formats: cask, keg and bottles.

A Celebration of Collaborations 1

2015 was a great year for us at Weird Beard, mostly because of the many developments we underwent as a brewery and as a team that brought loads of positive change. Another important feature of the past year and something fundamental in us bettering our beers and/or techniques is collaborating with others. Not only are collaborations constructive but they are fun, and we certainly had a fair bit of collaborative fun throughout 2015. Particularly in winter, when the year was drawing to a close, we decided that all those promised brewdays with our brewer friends and any other exciting collabs that had been proposed, would be achieved. Now we’re kicking off January with a hell of a lot of exciting new beer and so, let us tell you about them.

First up and you’ve probably seen it about already is “Pankot Palace”. This was a mad collaborative brew with the fine folk from La Débauche. Here's the video blog to prove it. A little about these guys and why we thought to work/brew together: they’re a French microbrewery that we’d tried and thought they excelled in dark beers. We hope you’d agree that we also do some pretty bangin’ dark beers. 

Another reason we liked them was because La Débauche's branding is beautiful. The artwork often feature illustrations by local tattoo or other artists with many labels featuring skulls or a female character. Our labels have Lup’in, and you can probably see where we’re going with this... We’re most definitely big on our branding so we felt excited we could do something quite special with these guys when it came to the label, besides making a great beer.

We had Eglantine, Aurelien and Manu from La Débauche to brew with us. Since they mentioned they would travel to India before coming over, we decided to use ingredients from there and set ourselves the challenge of brewing a masala chai milk stout. This meant we were brewing with spices and with tea, and although we’ve put a lot of fruit in our beers of late, this was new territory. We added a lot of spices, which we first had to hand mix into our own garam masala. We also added a lot of Assam tea, in keeping with using Indian inspired ingredients. Lastly, we chose to round off the spice of masala and bitterness of tea with lactose because everyone knows proper Indian chai is sweet! 

On the nose, this beer smells of winter spice: rich in cinnamon, ginger and clove notes. Flavourwise, the spiciness remains and particularly the ginger lingers throughout the earthy, roasted tea flavours as well as maltiness from the grains. Before you think “woah this is all too much”, the lactose mellows the bold flavours and encourages you to take the next sip. 

And the only cask of this beer in London, is serving at the Harp tonight so see us there!

Faithless Spreadsheet Ninja - our Black Pilsner at the Black Heart

It is well known that Gregg’s beer history started with lagers and that he is partial to a quality lager when he has that option. He too, successfully developed the recipe of our flagship lager “Faceless Spreadsheet Ninja” and slices his way through the spreadsheets as he battles with the nuances of hop contracts in order to keep a Weird Beard lager alive.

What isn’t well known is that Bryan does in fact enjoy lagers. A fan of Japanese culture, his exposure to black and dryer styles which are offered in Japanese restaurants had awakened his thirst for this type of beer. It was only a matter of time that his ideas of and his recipe for a Black Pilsner would creep its way into the brew schedule.

That moment came a lot quicker, thanks to Des de Moor. Reading through Des’ latest publication of CAMRA Guide to London's Best Beer earlier this year, we came across Weird Beard’s section and Des’ accidental reference to our best-selling pilsner, calling it “Faithless” instead of “Faceless”. As soon as he heard this, Bryan decided to coin the name for the lager he had anticipated to brew for so long. And so the beer was borne. Thank you Des!

Faithless Spreadsheet Ninja, like its brother Ninjas is a German Pilsner style. What makes it different is that its grain bill has a decent amount of carafa malt and a touch of roasted barley to give it those more robust and roasted flavours as well as it's black colour. Although Faithless is darker in taste and nature to our other pilsners, we've kept it light with adequate Munich and Pilsner malts. The chocolate finish is lifted by healthy additions of a mixture of hops. We’ve armed this Ninja with Summit and to keep it traditional, Hersbrucker in the kettle. Being inspired by Japanese dark lagers and because we love the hop, we’ve chucked in Sorachi Ace for coconut fruitiness to come to play as you savour this brew.
At Weird Beard, we have some strict rules with what goes into cask; lagers and saisons being 2 big fat “no’s”. Because of the flavours and subtle richness of the dark pilsner, Faithless Spreadsheet Ninja has had us thinking and we’ve allowed ourselves to package it in cask as well as in keg. With a limited 2 firkins in existence, we’re launching one of these casks of Faithless alongside a keg of it. Our Black Pilsner will be first had at the Black Heart pub on Wednesday 9th December. Come along, try the beer and Meet the Brewer Bryan from 7pm.

The Frog Is Fired - a gooseberry pale ale

One fresh gooseberry off the tree in the garden, that's all we asked for. Just one bloody gooseberry to go into the boil! The frog had one job but just couldn't stop the robin eating it. We had no choice, we had to let him go.

Last year we were approached by the guys at Independent Manchester Beer Festival to brew a collaboration beer with them for the festival. Now this is a festival we all love here at Weird Beard, so jumped at the chance. The beer we produced was a black Saison with orange zest called Hacienda. The beer was a great success, with the barrel aged version going down just as well. When we were approached approached to brew with them for their 2015 festival, we were more than happy to say yes. Then when they mentioned the guys from the mighty Lervig from Norway would be involved, there was no turning it down.

The theme for the year was fruit in beer and between us, over the power of the interweb, we decided on a Gooseberry Pale Ale. On brewday, the Weird Beard team were in and ready to go nice and early as both the Lervig guys and I had events going on that night for London Beer City. James from IndyMan was a little late, but this is understandable as we are based in the outer reaches of London. We decided to wait a little longer for the Lervig guys, as that is the polite thing to do and we are very English. James and Matt rocked up about 2 hours late, looking a little partied out exclaiming 'you shouldn't have waited for us'. But they did arrive clutching a 5Kg bag of Nelson Sauvin hop pellets, which we can't get our hands on, so all was forgiven. We got the brew under way, talked beer, drank beer and had a really good day. 

The beer we created is easy-drinking, straw coloured with slight tartness from the gooseberry, complimented with loads of Citra and Nelson Sauvin hops that play perfectly with the fruit. We then added Centennial, because who doesn't like Centennial? This is a perfect beer for enjoying in the sun; shame IMBC is in October.

But where did the name come from? Well, when one of our team heard we were brewing a gooseberry beer he got all excited exclaiming he had a gooseberry tree in his garden and we should use some of the fruit from that. A few days later we were informed that that there was just a single gooseberry on the tree, but we thought "what the hell, we'll throw it in the boil anyway". The night before the brew, I sent a reminder to bring our sacred gooseberry in, but got the below email entitled 'The Frog Is Fired'.

'Gutted, the gooseberry is gone.. The robin, who thinks he owns my garden, must have eaten it for breakfast. The frog was put there as a lame attempt to scare him off.'

I could not stop laughing for about an hour, and when talk of a name came up, we couldn't think of a better one. Chris our label guy could not have translated all this into a better label.

We had a blast planning, brewing and naming this beer, and we also love drinking it. We hope you guys at IndyMan enjoy it too. For those not going to IndyMan this year, the beer will be released in bottle, keg and cask the week following the festival.

Recipes Evolve ... Some Evolve More Quickly Than Others ... Your Feedback is Welcome.

We at Weird Beard are striving all the time to make the best beer possible. We think we have some pretty nailed down recipes but we are not ones to rest on our laurels, so make small tweaks all the time to many of our brews.

Some of the major changes we have made include:
Hit the lights lost its crystal malt after about a year and it became in my eyes a much better beer.
Decadence changed 4 or 5 times early on as we were perfecting the recipe.
Saison 14 changed yeasts from wet French saison yeast to dried Belle Saison.

All of these changes have been fairly seamless. Most of the time when we make a change it has only a small impact on the final beer, but we have made a change that has had a big impact on the flavour of a beer and it has divided opinion in the brewery....

We added some Green Bullet into the dryhop schedule for Mariana Trench. This does fit in with our transpacific hopping schedule for Mariana Trench but the resultant beer tastes noticably different to the Mariana that we know. We would be very interested to hear what you guys think about it. Look out for Batch 216 in bottles and kegs and casks around and about for the next few weeks and let us know what you think of this change.

The Duke of Dank

Earlier this year, we had Matt Curtis come pay us a visit at the brewery. He was on a mission to relaunch his blog with a new look and did so with by putting out a very transparent piece on us. He then approached us a short while after with an awesome proposal for London Beer City. Here he's announced the event details. What this entailed from us was a collab brew with The Duke's Head Highgate pub-team and Matt himself, for something that'll work particularly well on cask. Even though we don't put out many firkins, we do think cask is important and doing this collab was a no-brainer decision.

We got the ball rolling on this one pretty fast. We had 3 potential weekends in June to execute this brew and have enough time for the beer to be ready; only 1 of those weekends was actually doable. We really knuckled down in brainstorming, scheduling, recipe development and ordering stock with regards to this new exciting beer. The enthusiasm and all-rounded effort was impressive from the very start. Matt suggested a West-coast inspired Red I.P.A with real resinous hop character. "None of that juiciness" he requested as admittedly, we'd all been having a lot of juicy, fruity I.P.As. We wanted something different and our boy Jonny, having spent a lot of time in the USA, sunk his teeth into the recipe and came up trumps.

So how did this Pacific Northwest Style Red IPA actually come into fruition?! The brewday itself was a Saturday and we were a team of 4: Bryan, Natasha, Matt and the pub GM, Tom Harrison. Between us, we were dab hands at digging out the mash tun, weighing out a hell of a lot of hops, ploughing through the cleaning and having the beer transferred into the FV by lunchtime. You can see Tom rocking a Weird Beard overall in the odd photos we managed to take of each other hard at work before settling down with a tasty beer in hand, courtesy of Curtis.

For this beer to be true to style, we've mashed in speciality malts, like caraRed, for the desired colour and graham cracker sweetness. Tasting this beer, you won't feel disappointed by the delicious malt character and we're pretty stoked we've hit the nail on the head here. We've also armed the brew with a big addition of clean bittering hop, Magnum so you really have the bitterness lingering in the after-taste. As well as Magnum, we've chucked in hearty doses of some of the United States' finest hops: Chinook, Nugget, Columbus and Simcoe to give the beer the dankness we had sought after.

You may enjoy The Duke of Dank, launching on keg and cask at The Duke's Head Highgate from Wednesday 12th August and on keg over the weekend at London Craft Beer Festival.

The Spreadsheet Ninja side of Brewing: Hop Contracts and Ninjaing the Ninja

So onto the 2nd installment of this little blog series. I even have a logo now!

Hop contracts are by and large a very good thing.  

A hop contract is a piece of paper that you sign that commits you to taking a certain volume of hops over the course of the year. There are a number of hop merchants that you can contract with and we frequently use Charles Faram as they tend to have the best range of available hops. It is vital for most breweries to guarantee the supply of interesting American/New Zealand/Australian hops that are so prevalent in current beer. It is also very useful if you contract at least 500kg for the year... At that point Faram's will store the hops for you allowing you to draw down from the contract without having to either store the hops yourself or pay for all the contracted hops upfront. To put this into perspective, our hop contract for this coming year is in excess of £40,000 and is over two tonnes of hops, not something we have the money or space to deal with all at once.

However, the availability of hops is always a hot and stressful topic at the brewery. Andy Parker sums up some of my thoughts nicely in his blog here. We in the UK only get the stuff that is left when the growing US craft scene has had its fill of the best of them.

Back before we started the brewery we knew that some hops would be very difficult to get hold of. Certain hops like Sorachi Ace and Nelson Sauvin are hoovered up in such large quantities by the bigger, more established breweries that they are almost impossible to get hold of unless you have a record of using them. If you are a start up you can't have such a record so you are left feeling that there is no way in. It took a lot of begging and buttering up the guys at Faram’s to get the small amount of Sorachi we did manage to get in the first year. We still can't get hold of any Nelson for love nor money.

Even when you have a contract, this is no guarantee of supply.  Hops are regularly shorted (a situation where the hop merchant gets only a percentage of their order and they pass this shortfall onto the brewers). Even when the hops arrive into the country can be a bit of an issue. Currently we are being told that there are no Simcoe pellets available, even though we have them on contract, that they have not arrived as yet. Not arrived! Hell, they were harvested 9 or 10 months ago... how long does the boat take to get across the Atlantic?

The biggest bugbear this year is the availability of Citra. Citra is our biggest usage hop accounting for about 25% of all the hops us we have on contract and the instrumental hop in Mariana Trench, our best selling beer, and Faceless Spreadsheet Ninja. Unfortunately it is a very popular hop with other breweries so the demand is large. This year for some reason, perhaps there was a lower yield on the citra crop, or one of the big US brewers decided they wanted a lot more but Charles Faram received only 70% of their expected ration. As such, they passed this shortfall onto the brewers so we only got 70% of the citra we were expecting. 

So how does a ninja deal with this kind of bump in the road? 

Be Prepared: 
As you may expect we were sensible enough to order more Citra than we needed, particularly the pellets we use for dry hopping. This got us through the start of the year.

Be Flexible: 
Faceless Spreadsheet Ninja in concept was a single hop Citra but as soon as we were shorted we changed to Magnum for bittering, which also allowed us to keep the price down slightly.

All was going well until we started to ramp up our production of Mariana Trench. We keep running out of Mariana so had to brew it more regularly - twice as often as planned in fact. A quick spreadsheet later and we realised that we had *just*  enough Citra to brew Mariana at this accelerated level for the rest of the year, so where did this leave this Ninja's dearest beer...

Plan B:
We had to make a sacrifice, we had to ninja the Ninja. We had to come up with the “Variations on a Ninja” series.

So what are the Variations on a Ninja series?

First up is MAC Spreadsheet Ninja, almost ready to release, perhaps a play on the Apple Mac where this Ninja first encountered spreadsheets. It uses Mosaic, Amarillo and Centennial and is less tropical than the Faceless version but its crisp hoppiness put a very big smile on my face.

The second variation is Traditional Spreadsheet Ninja, this is lagering away in the fermenter at the moment. It uses the Saaz hop, which you all will of course know is traditional in Czech Pilsners. Even if our brewery water treatment brews more German style pilsners, it is currently tasting great from the fermenter, so expect to see it in a month or so.

We have other ideas, Experimental Spreadsheet Ninja using Experimental 431 as the hop and Faceless Wordprocessor Ninja with Aurora, Bobec, Celia and Dana hops. Whether these get brewed, this ninja can't really say.

Defacer - the 200th brew

All the way back in February 2013 we brewed our very first beer, Single hop Chinook. This beer became Boring Brown Beer our Imperial Best Bitter which is brewed once a year at around the same time, but I digress. It took us a full 17 months to get to our 100th brew. For this we decided to take one of our original core beers, and go big. We went with one of the original home brew recipes, Black Perle, back from when Weird Beard was just a twinkle in the eye. Double Perle was a huge success, and is now brewed around 3 times a year, with a small amount each time going into barrels.

It then took just under 11 months until our 200th brew was upon us, and this time we thought of something different.

It has been well documented that we at the brewery love Sorachi Ace, that most divisive of hops. It may have started with beers like Fade to Black (Black IPA with Sorachi, Citra and Summit) and Saison 14 (Saison with Sorachi and Pacific Gem) that Gregg brewed as a home brewer, or it may have been the night that Bryan and Gregg met for the first time in the Euston Tap, where the Sorachi Ace version of IPA is Dead was the beer of the evening. Who cares which came first, either way we used Sorachi at every given opportunity, so where did you think we were going to go with this.

Our 200th brew is inspired by a kind of unofficial beer range we have, that started out life as batch 8 of our Little Things That Kill. This was a low ABV beer hopped generously with Sorachi Ace, Summit and Apollo. The beer quickly got the nick name of Sorachi Face Punch because of the huge Sorachi Ace hit you got from it. We decided to use this hopping on a slightly tweaked version of our Holy Hoppin' Hell, a double IPA, which went by the name of Sorachi Face Plant, and again another brew of ours went down a storm. So for brew 200 we thought we would push ourselves as brewers and go bigger than we have ever before. Taking this hop profile a step further and brewing a triple IPA.

Naming this beer proved to be a bit of a challenge, almost as divisive as Sorachi Ace is as a hop. To some, there was a natural progression from Sorachi Face Punch, to Sorachi Face Plant to Sorachi Skull F*ck, but for better or worse this deemed unwise. We then bashed through a number of other names, such as Sorachi Face Explossion and Sorachi Face Hugger (which our Friends at Mad Hatter beat us to). But we came up with the equally good name of Defacer, which continues one of our other favourite things, music and name beers after songs. It also kind of follows the series name, as the sorachi is ripping your face off this time. And it has of course lead to some fantastic branding and a little twist to the workings of Lup'in, our ever changing skull.

The final beer is packaged today and specially bottled into 660ml bombers. Expect to see it in a few weeks after it has conditioned. Please do drink as fresh as you can, there are so much of our favourite hops in this beer, we wouldn't want you to waste them by sitting on a bottle. It weighs in at 11.1% so beware or it really will rip your face off!

The Spreadsheet Ninja Side of Brewing: Introduction: The Birth of the Spreadsheet Ninja

This is the first in what I hope is a series of blogs giving some insight into the business side of running a brewery.

When Bryan and  I started the brewery in 2013 neither of us were able to devote 100% of our time to the project. I was still running a photography business and Bryan still worked full time at the BBC. At the start we were both involved with every aspect of the brewery operation, brewing, packaging, sales, purchasing, marketing and social media, logistics and delivery and accounts. We were men with many many hats and when we were small this was not a problem. I could deal with sales e-mails in the middle of a brew day, or put together orders in the downtime on packaging days.

As we grew, things became a bit more difficult to juggle all the balls - even when we went fulltime at the brewery. Bryan automatically gravitated towards the brewing side and I to the business side. This led to some tensions as neither Bryan nor I appreciated how much time the other half of the business was taking. At one point Bryan called me a faceless accountant during one of our discussions.  It was time to get some more staff....

So this was the birth of the Faceless Spreadsheet Ninja, Faceless Accountant is the worst superhero name ever but change accountant for spreadsheet ninja and you have the basis for a beer and now a blog series.

Upside to A Down Day

Not many people would admit it, but things don't always go to plan in a brewery. Beer is a living thing and so many variables can effect it, and every so often a beer is brewed that just doesn't want to behave. I could name several very successful beers out there that were born out of error; I won't though.

Back in March our head brewer took the day off, leaving our very competent team to brew the next batch of Black Perle. This happens from time to time with no problem, but on this cold morning the wind must have been coming in from the wrong direction or the planets had aligned badly as we overshot our efficiency. This means we made way more sugar in the wort than usual, which in turn means the yeast is likely to produce more alcohol. 

Picture courtesy of Matt Curtis
Our problems did not end there though; the yeast seemed to really like this beer and did not want to stop consuming the sugars. Usually with a stout you would create lots of long chain sugars that yeast don't like. These sugars are left in the beer giving it a thicker body. This time round, the yeast wanted to eat almost everything and so the beer tasted a little thinner than we would like.
To recap, we had an over efficient brew, meaning more sugar, and yeast that just wanted to eat everything. So after fermentation we were left with a version of Black Perle that is over 1% higher ABV and with a little thinner mouthfeel than we would have liked. At this point, decisions have to be made: can the beer be fixed and released as normal? Is the beer releasable at all? Do we do something a little different with it? Well, we could have added some water to dilute the alcohol and bring it back to the right ABV, but this would thin the already lacking body even more and it just wouldn’t be Black Perle. The beer tasted great, as it always does, so we weren’t going to ditch it. This is where our creative juices start to flow and we get excited. What can we now do to turn this into an interesting new beer; make a positive out of a negative; find the up side of a down day? We tasted the beer and decided that with the addition of some choice dry hops this would be the perfect Breakfast Black IPA. So we chucked generous amounts of Bravo, Apollo and Cascade hops in the fermenter with all that lovely Has Bean Coffee, and gave it some time to take shape.

We think the end product is great. And hope you all enjoy it. But not too much, really don't fancy trying to brew this one again.

Tsujigiri - A Fresh I.P.A that you don't want to mess with

 In December 2014 we were celebrating a good friend's birthday at BrewDog Shepherds Bush. As the beers were flowing so did our creative juices. The bar's general manager, and a friend of ours, Dean Pugh, was amongst the party. He got talking to Chris Taylor, one of our brewer's assistants, and our head brewer, Bryan. With all three having homebrew backgrounds the discussion was on beers they've brewed and would like to brew. Soon the trio were recounting past recipes and churning out ideas for using slightly different ingredients including various yeasts and fruits in possible future recipes.

Dean spoke of a time when he experimented with fermentation using 4 different yeasts, including sake yeast, on a single recipe. He also mentioned how the original recipe using sake yeast evolved and was successfully brewed on BrewDog Manchester's pilot kit, showcasing other Japanese ingredients including sushi rice and Japanese hops. Bryan talked about what he had seen in the sake breweries of Japan, which he had visited a few months before and so, the guys suddenly got excited over using sake yeast to ferment a beer. Things didn't stop there; they hit upon the idea of brewing a fresh IPA, using fruit in the recipe. What we were looking at now was a beer fermented with sake yeast with additions of fruit and since the theme was a "Japan I.P.A", the fruit of choice was yuzu. Then the question of sourcing such an odd ingredient in large quantities was posed, and the conversation went that way...

Months later and after several get-togethers, where the idea of this brew just wouldn't go away, a pipe dream became a reality. Dean came to Weird Beard brewery, donned a Weird Beard overall and brewed this interesting recipe along with Chris and our new lead brewer, Jonny Bright. Here's the photographic proof:

In writing the recipe the guys decided to bridge the citrus character of the yuzu with the lemon-sherbet quality of one of our favourite hops: Sorachi Ace. This hop originates from Japan and aside from being an all-time favourite, was a suitable choice for the hop schedule. They also decided upon adding Chinook to compliment the spicy notes that the sake yeast would create during fermentation. The aim and the result: an easy drinking I.P.A with a considerable twist! Speaking of twists, the name of the beer, which is obviously Japanese, can get you a little tongue-tied.

Tsujigiri literally translates as "crossroads killing" and describes the impulsive act of a Samurai testing out his new sword on a random individual or passer-by. Not too far removed from an 'impulse brew', Tsujigiri is not your everyday I.P.A but can be surprisingly drunk like one. The beer comes to 6.2% and on the nose, it's citrussy because of the yuzu. It also has a subtly herbal aroma with a fresh minty-ness from the Sorachi Ace. Sipping on the beer, you get the I.P.A bitterness through the tangy lemon and fresh herbs, but it rounds off really refreshingly and balanced. It's bang on for the summer and a delight to drink. Tsujigiri will be launched at BrewDog Shepherds Bush on Friday 22nd May from 6pm at their event.

We look forward to seeing you there but kindly request all new katana are left at home.

Single Hop Series: No. 5 Single Hop Centennial

The Single Hop Series allows us to showcase our creativity within the constraints of using a single hop. So far we have got our creative side on with Chinook, Amarillo, Nelson Sauvin and Citra. With these hops, we've respectively produced an Imperial Best Bitter, Belgian IPA, Saison and even a Pilsner. So this time around we thought we better go big: big on flavour, big on aroma and big on ABV.

But which hop did we decide to play around with for the 5th brew of the series? We hadn't needed to look far since we went with a hop you will find in many of our beers, particularly our specials. We decided to give Centennial, one of our favourite hops here at Weird Beard, centre stage. It's both big on flavour and aroma and to 'tick the box' on a high ABV beer, we simply chose the style of a double I.P.A.  

Here we give you Single hop Centennial: packed full of all the citrus and floral notes you would expect, with a healthy bitterness and malt back bone to back it up. It's available to order and you can generally sip it up in bottle and keg. Excitingly, today, the only cask of this beer made to-date, is available to drink at Craft 100Craft Beer Co Clapham.

Hope to see you there!

Sadako Imperial Stout

Back in July 2014 we released the dark, rich monster that is Sadako: our first imperial stout, onto the world. The beer was originally held back at the brewery for just under 4 months, as we never want to release a beer that we don't believe is ready. We were small and naive back then, and in hindsight feel we let her out into the wild a little early. We had simply run out of room at the brewery and we got a tad bored of moving the pallet around each day. The beer tasted good so we thought we would release it. It generally went down well, but it soon became very clear that it was still improving as it got older. By the time it had sold out, and there were very few bottles still ingaround, it was tasting fantastic!

The next batch was brewed in early September 2014 and packaged in October. Since then, we have acquired ourselves more warehouse space, where we can stick a pallet in a dark quiet corner and forget about it. For the last 6 months, batch 2 of Sadako has been lurking in the depths of the Weird Beard warehouse, watching, waiting for its chance to make a bid for freedom. Now the time has come, the video has been watched, the phone has rung and Sadako will climb out of her box. Are we getting all of these Ring references?
Sadako currently appears on our brew schedule at least 3 times a year. You can tell when we brew it as another of our favourites, Dark Hopfler, comes out of the same brew day. But we will be pre-ageing each batch of Sadako for at least 6 months before pulling it out, waxing, and releasing it. Even if only to make sure we are presenting head brewer Bryan's favourite beer at its best. It has been a long wait between batch 1 and 2, but we hope you find it has been worthwhile. Infact you can rest easy knowing that in that dark corner of the warehouse, there is yet more Sadako waiting for its time to come and get you.
A portion of each batch also goes into barrels. There is no pre-determined time scale on these; when we decide they are ready, they are ready. So you can look forward to seeing Heaven Hill, Jack Daniel's, Jim Beam, Red Wine and Tequila barrel aged versions of our flagship imperial stout coming your way at some point. We may even redo the Ardbeg aged version, but I wouldn't hold my breath....

The Bottle Shop Collaboration Brew

For the past year we have done monthly pop-ups at the Bottle Shop Arch at Druid Street and it has been an all-round wonderful experience. Not only did these bring us closer to the thriving beer community of Bermondsey, but we've built a particularly strong relationship with the team behind the Bottle Shop. We've had many immensely enjoyable Saturdays working alongside them in their space. So when we were approached by our friends from there, Andrew and Ben, to take our working relationship to a new level, we didn't hesitate. Together we've made a beer with other breweries that have 'popped-up' at or are friends of the Bottle Shop, which will be launched at Arch this coming Saturday.

"You taste better when you are scared"; is a Tart Grapefruit IPA, collaboratively brewed with Marble and Bullfinch breweries earlier this year. The idea behind the brew is itself an interesting concept; here we have three breweries working together under the umbrella of another aspiring scheme from the Bottle Shop.

The beer was brewed at our brewery in West London on Friday 13th February. The date, coupled with the  interesting beer which we will divulge later, provided inspiration for the name and the Jason style hockey mask theme for our Lup'in Skull. 

So what beer has been born from the minds at the Bottle Shop, Bullfinch, Marble and ourselves? Well, together we've created an I.P.A with a load of Cascade and Chinook hops in the kettle and fermenter. This isn't a scary sort of recipe these days however, and this is where you should be listening attentively, we added 100Kg of acidulated malt into the mash. Using this kind of malt was a first time experience for Weird Beard: both for Gregg, who assisted in the recipe-writing of our collaboration and Bryan, who brought the beer gasping to life on the brewday. Matt Howgate (Marble) and Ryan McLean (Bullfinch) were also contributors to drawing up the recipe and executing the brew.

In concocting this brew, we thought that if we are taking you out of your comfort zone, we'd do it a little bit more. On top of the sour malt, we added a lot of fresh grapefruit juice at the fermentation phase for an extra sharp spike of flavour. The beer both tantalises and shocks your taste-buds with its zesty-ness. You expect it, you know it's there but you go for the sip and it is still frightfully juicy and tart. That being said, it entices you to keep on drinking it.

Our beer is now ready and so we invite you to come to its launch party. Weird Beard's Gregg, Marble's Matt and Bullfinch's Ryan will all be present at the launch, which will be held at the Bottle Shop Arch. Come along, we dare ya!

Weird Beard and Brodie’s Collaborative Brew “WEIRD BROdMANCE”

There is a lot of talk about what makes "craft beer", craft. The lack of definition and the daunting challenge of doing so means any way of epitomising it is vague, contrived and often controversial. Something that is evident amongst people in the industry however, is that when it comes to the craft beer scene, everyone inspires respects and collaborates with those deserving of it. In the macro-beer world and between The Beer Giants, sadly there isn’t that same camaraderie. Stone Brewing has quite beautifully described the relationship between compatriots in the craft field as “a ‘collaboration not competition’ mindset, a constant alliance and source of inspiration”. When we were met with an opportunity to work with Brodie’s, we obviously did not say no. Besides, head brewer Jonny Bright, from Brodie’s and our Bryan have known each other from before they were making beer. It was only a matter of time that they would cross paths over a mash tun to brew together. Here’s the story...

On a mid December morning, Bryan tweeted Jonny: “I can’t see you mate” to which Jonny replied: “I’m in a van outside opposite Yeoman” and on that congenial note the brewday had begun. 

Come 9.30am, we had mashed in and both Bryan and Jonny enthusiastically mixed the grains into water for our East-meets-West collab brew. 

The day was a fairly long one but in the company of brewers, friends and beer it was thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying. Indeed, collaborations tend to be really great experiences for everyone involved. They offer opportunities for bouncing ideas and learning from one another, these are important and necessary for developing skills and generating concepts or altering perspectives. Ideas and the beers born from just get better! This is particularly ‘eye-opening’ as a brewer in the confines of his own kit. Then there is the fun aspect. Brewers simply love to brew and getting two of them together on a brewday, well, there’s a kind of romance you can’t knock and so this inspired the name of our beer.

So what was it that we made? Between us, we decided on a strong beer: one to savour and one to share. In some ways this transcends our attitude towards the industry we work in where brewers strive, independently but also together to increase awareness and accessibility of quality beer out there. Good beer is best enjoyed in good company and that spirit is then passed on. For example we have "Whale Wednesdays" at Weird Beard, which involves the team collecting after work midweek, each contributing a beer from their personal bottle collections, sharing, reviewing and having a whale of a time! The beer we made is one for that sort of occasion. 

Our beer was a mash-up of some of our own favourite recipes: think Weird Beard’s Sadako and all the best traits of a Brodie’s impy stout. This means it is big on the hops, big on sweetness and deliciously more-ish. In light of the festive season, we chose maple syrup instead of molasses to thicken the brew. With the maple syrup added to the boil and during fermentation, we emphasised the candied sugar qualities of the chocolate, amber and crystal malts used. You can also expect caramel, spice and some vanilla from it. 

Since we dictated the malt ingredients, we had Jonny decide on the hops. He suggested Galena, an American hop that rises to the occasion when used for bittering in bolder or darker beers. Together we came up with a hop schedule that ensured the beer would have a sufficiently crisp pine and wood essence to cleanly contrast, but also balance the sweetness of the malt backbone. To smoothen it up even more, we added lactose. We needn’t say it, but a lot of thought was put into brewing this lavishing imperial stout and it was made ardently, with passion from both sides.  

We made the beer, now for you to indulge in WEIRD BROdMANCE! Wwill be launching our collaborative beer on cask, keg and in bottle at the Hop & Berry, London in March. Limited stock will be available thereafter for your enjoyment.

Little Things That Kill - re-invented

Little Things That Kill was one of our biggest sellers last year. We admit it also caused us and a lot of our loyal customers the most problems.

The idea was to make a low ABV beer with some balls; a beer crammed full of flavour but more importantly with the body to support it.

We originally made this beer unlike any other pale ale by approaching
 it as if it were a stout. When we make beer, we steep the grains in water and it is the water's temperature that makes a difference in the types of sugars produced. This is "mashing". Certain types of sugars are more fermentable than others; they are easier to convert to alcohol. Most pale beers will be mashed somewhere between 60-65 degrees Centigrade to produce sugars that are easily fermented. With stouts, we want unfermentable sugars, which when left give stouts their thick, luxurious body and mouthfeel as well as the higher calorie count.

Little Things That Kill was mashed at the highest temperature we dared (+70 degrees. Centigrade.)  This was to produce more unfermentable sugars, making the beer a little more chewy and sessionable. This did work to an extent, but not as we had hoped. We made a lot of unfermentable sugars, giving the beer the desired body, but we also made hard-to-ferment sugars. This meant our beer appeared finished and ready to bottle, when in fact it wasn't.

Those of us who can't afford expensive bottling
 lines use carbon dioxide, the very helpful by-product of fermentation to bottle condition our beers. To do this, we leave a small amount of yeast and a very controlled quantity of sugar in the beer, called "priming". This allows the beer to go through secondary fermentation in the bottle, cask or keg. (Yes, I did say we condition our beer in the keg and so, yes our kegs are 'real ale'!)

The problem with Little Things was that the beer was conditioned, as normal, with
 the sugar we prime with. Unexpectedly, gradually over time the yeast converted the extra, harder-to-ferment sugars in the beer also, leading to overcarbonated and unpourable beer. For these problems, we are very sorry and we faced the difficult decision to stop brewing Little Things That Kill.

However, we love the brand so much and couldn't let it go. How could we really?! Not only does it have a cool skull logo, it happens to be named after a song by a, maybe-not-so-classic, British band that head brewer Bryan loves. We can understand that people may shy away from giving it another try, but we have made changes.

We took a step back: came at the beer from a totally different
 angle and have breathed new life into the Little Things That Kill brand. We still mash high, but not nearly as high. We still approach it as a stout, by adding ingredients you normally find in darker beers. This time around we used generous amounts of wheat, oats and lactose to give a silky, fuller mouthfeel with better head retention. We appreciate these changes affect some people: those with wheat or lactose intolerances and vegans. We are sorry for this but we want Little Things That Kill to live. We have not compromised on hops though. The first of this new batch is stuffed full of Mosaic, Amarillo and Cascade in both the boil and dry hop stages. The result? We have a full bodied hoppy monster of a beer at a sub 4% ABV, making it the perfect session beer.

We may continue to tweak the recipe though the batches, along with our usual
 changing up of the hops each time, so please do let us know what you think. We ask you to give it one more chance.

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!