Thursday 18 February 2016

The Spreadsheet Ninja Side of Brewing - Hop contracts 2 "The Damn Shortage of Citra!"

It has been a while since my last Ninja blog. I have been contemplating the thorny subject of cask pricing but this is the subject of my next in the series. For this one I will be touching back on hop contracts and more importantly, what we are doing about the massive shortage of Citra hops again this year.

Recap of 2015

So if you remember, in 2015 to get over our shortage of Citra we changed the Ninja recipe and put in a much bigger order of Citra for 2016. This worked well enough for us for the rest of the year allowing us to keep brewing Mariana Trench. The variations of Ninja were good but they did not sell as well as Faceless. Also Traditional Spreadsheet Ninja was particularly slow, we think because of the name. Just because we respect the tradition of pilsner brewing in Europe does not mean that people will not be put off by the name. Also there was a large confusion between the various variations and names. Something needed to be done.

Changes to Ninja in 2016

Meanwhile now it is 2016 and a nice letter informed us that we would only be getting 60% of the Citra we ordered. Damn here we go again. We had just re-brewed the new version of Faceless Spreadsheet Ninja and we did not want to go through the whole variations process again.We also have a history of making changing hop beers (Little Things that Kill and Holy Hoppin' Hell) so the possibility of adding a 3rd changing hop beer to our roster opened up. So when we relaunch Ninja in March it will be as "Spreadsheet Ninja" a  4.8% single hop, changing hop pilsner. Many of the batches will be the Citra hop as we are only a little short on Citra leaf but expect some other batches to materialise during the year. I'm particularly interested to see how the Sorachi one comes out.

Changes to Five O'clock Shadow

Unlike last year we are not OK on Citra pellets this year. We use Citra pellets in a lot of beers: Mariana Trench, Five O'clock Shadow, Fade to Black, Something Something Darkside etc. We can't very well change Mariana, least of all because this Ninja's wife would kill him, it being her favourite beer and all. Fade to Black and Something Something Darkside are not brewed that often during the year. I had been thinking about a change to Five O'clock Shadow hopping for a while now and this gave me the little push I needed to make the change. Out go Citra, Apollo and Columbus, in come Simcoe, Centennial and Chinook. Staying put is Summit one of my favourite hops. The flavour profile should be a bit less dank and a little more piney, a bit more of a traditional American IPA recipe. Anyway we think it will be awesome. Look out for it in March as well.

Changes to Mariana Trench

We won't be making any real changes to Mariana Trench, don't worry. We have enough of the hops to brew it pretty regularly through out the year. We may however put less of it into cask if sales of keg and bottle are strong. Margins on casks are much lower than that of kegs and bottles and the logistic overhead of keeping tabs on and collecting the casks is high. It makes no sense to this Ninja to keep producing casks of a beer that is hop limited if you can sell more kegs and bottles.

More about cask pricing next time ... soon I promise.

Wednesday 27 January 2016

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.

Monday 25 January 2016

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.

Wednesday 20 January 2016

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!

Monday 30 November 2015

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.

Friday 2 October 2015

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.

Thursday 20 August 2015

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.