You know when you see something and it feels just right? That’s the feeling I got when I tasted my first Weird Beard beer. I loved the labels, the whole attitude and character of the brewery shone out with a wicked wink, and the beer inside the bottle, Chinook (“Boring Brown Beer”), was mind-numbingly good. My eight year old son collects bottle caps and he simply swooned over the cap with the skull on, and I just knew I wanted to have a chat with the chaps at Weird Beard to find out what made them tick.
This is what I found.
Hello! Please introduce yourselves.
Bryan: Hello, my name is Bryan Spooner. I have a beard, some may suggest it’s a bit weird, I am proud of it.
Gregg: Hi I’m Gregg, the more conventionally bearded half of Weird Beard.
I hear you began as home brewers. How and why did this hobby turn into a business?
B: I had been home brewing for a couple of years, and really enjoyed the results. I originally started to try and save some money, but ended up falling more in love with beer, so sought out as much interesting stuff as I could, for inspiration. Then someone was asking for people who may be interested in opening a brewery. The company I was working for at the time was starting to talk about redundancies, and I wasn’t really enjoying the work anymore, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to turn a passion into a job. It took quite some time from then to get to where we are, but it has all been worth it. Unfortunately I am still stuck in my ‘day job’, but have my fingers crossed.
G: I discovered really good beer on a trip to America and Canada in about 2008, I was more into wine before then. When I got back to London I found that you could not easily get such good beer over here. This lead me to some research on brewing my own beer. I also thought that there was a really big gap in the UK beer market so that started a an idea growing in my head. Later when I found that I could produce pretty good home brew the idea grew into setting up a microbrewery. I then met Bryan at a brewdog event at the Euston tap and Weird Beard was born…it has had a long and difficult gestation and the gap in the market in 2008 is now pretty much filled but we think we can add something to the current beer scene.
Your branding is very striking. Where did the influence for this come from?
B: Branding was important to us from the beginning. Both Gregg and myself are into rock music, so skulls and beards were obvious choices, especially as we both have facial hair ourselves. I had often been called Weird Beard by people trying to offend me, but I secretly kinda liked it, so early on in the planning stage the name Weird Beard came up, which we both liked. A friend was then drafted in to draw a skull, which made it’s way into the main logo. We thought it would be fun to give the skull an actual identity if its own, like Eddie of Iron Maiden fame. Lup’in was born, and he will get a makeover for each and every beer we release. At this point we were approached by a couple of designers who had been to a couple of our meet the brewer sessions over the summer or 2012, where we were giving out samples of prototypes, looking for feedback to develop our recipes. They loved what we doing, and the beers, and offered their services on a voluntary basis until we could afford to pay them. This was a huge compliment, as they were very skilled in what they do, and had enough faith in us and our beer to know they could put in some hard work for us in the beginning and see it pay off in the long term.
G: The branding is very much Bryan’s brainchild. Although it fits in very well with my love of all things weird and fantastical. We are also fairly heavily influenced by certain metal bands that we both love.
It’s refreshing to see a sense of humour in beer that isn’t Carry On Confessions of the 70’s. I particularly like the self-efacing titles like, “Boring Brown Beer”. Do you worry at all that this playfulness might stop people taking you seriously?
B: We really wanted to remove ourselves from the classic ‘real ale’ humour. We never really found it funny and think the product has moved so far beyond all that. But we really don’t think it has to swing totally in the other direction and have no humour at all, like with some of the ‘craft’ scene. We are essentially a couple of home brewers who have been very lucky to get our hands on some big toys to play with. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, so don’t expect people to take us too seriously. And to be honest, branding is just something to get someone’s attention. The important thing is what’s in the glass, and as long as that is the best we can come up with and people enjoy it, who cares.
G: No way. This is who we are and that will not change. We are lucky in that we have similar senses of humour, or at least not so far apart that we can’t see the merits in each other’s jokes. We are not going out to be overtly funny but I do think humour is important. Having said that we are very serious about making great beer and hopefully our beer will do a lot of the talking for us.
Where are you brewing and what’s the set up?
B: The brewery is located in West London. We chose this area for a number of reasons, one being that the area is a bit lacking in breweries and good beer establishments. This gives us a good opportunity to make our mark on a local community who are very excited about new beer in the area, but without standing on any other brewers toes. We have a 10 barrel brew house with two 10bbl fermenters. This allows us to brew on average once a week. The location is actually shared with another brewery, Ellenberg’s Brewery. They use the same brew house and bottling line, but everything else is separate, as they have their own fermenters and supply their own ingredients. Both breweries are very different stylistically and have very different approach to beer, making it a very workable solution. The main advantage is cost, but it is always helpful having a another very knowledgeable voice around. We all know each other from London Armature Brewers.
G: We are currently rebrewing Hit the Lights, the first batch was released as Miss the lights. And Saison 14. A saison hopped with Sorachi Ace and Pacific Gem. We have a 10 BBL brew length and share premises with Ellenberg’s brewery. We both have two fermenters each so we tend to brew about once a week at present.
What are your plans for the future?
B: I personally try not to look too far into the future. For a start I want to be able to dedicate more time to the brewery. But we are in the process of getting some Bourbon barrels, and have plans to buy extra fermenters as soon as we can. We just want to keep on brewing, and brewing what we want to brew. There will be a number of core beers, but expect a number of one offs as well.
G: We are brewing another couple of Saisons including a collaboration with Elusive Brewing for a single hop Nelson Saison, a few beers need re-brewing soon, we have one more core beer, Decadence Stout, to be brewed and a single hop Amarillo Belgian IPA. We plan to get a bourbon barrel and age some Single hop Chinook, also in the pipeline are an Imperial Stout and a Session IPA/Table beer which will probably start as a summer seasonal. We seem to have no real problem selling our beer at present which is good, however we seem to have run out of space in the brewery but we may try to squeeze another fermenter in at some stage. Obviously then end goal is word domination.
And here’s the beers.
Five O’Clock Shadow (7.3%)
What a fantastic take on an American IPA this is.
It slides into my glass the colour of tanned leather saddlebags with a big fat foamy head that’s feisty and full of fun.
The smell is kids’ sweeties hidden in an old tea chest, all fruit and resin and varnish.
Taking a mouthful there’s a huge dark and resinous redwood forest, pine needles under foot, and a biscuit built cabin with honey and Marmite around the door.
The roof is thatched with hops, and inside the bony cowboy hero of Five O’Clock Shadow’s label lurks, grinning.
And with good reason.
He is in control of the big, green, spicy hops that give off lots of mandarin and Parma Violets, vanilla pods, leafy herbs and bitter sapling wood pith.
Lup’in peeps from the window and winks at you, chewing his cheroot, as you wander off with a long, bitter, sticky finish that’s packed to the brim of your stetson with grapefruit sharpness.
Holy Hoppin’ Hell!! (8.5%)
Lup’in dons an evil hero mask and grins out from the front of this bottle.
And with good reason.
Holy Hoppin’ Hell is a comic book character of a Double IPA, musclebound, larger than life and beautifully drawn.
It’s also perfectly named as this is a big hop adventure that begins with an olfactory attack.
Limes and toffee, sweets and passion flower, all wearing dayglo jumpsuits and carrying megaphones.
To be serious just for a moment, one of the things that I particularly like is that, as with Five O’Clock Shadow, this is not a see-through golden IPA.
In fact it’s the colour of oranges thrown against a brick wall.
You see, even though Weird Beard love their hops, they’re not afraid of malts, and this results in a super deep toffee popcorn and heather honey biscuit body that turns this little bottle of joy into something rather different form its contemporaries.
Don’t get me wrong though, the hops are here and they’re BIG and they’re FUN and they’re ever so slightly unhinged.
Massive hits of mandarin and lime Tic Tac bitter sweetness, sherbet, flower petals and sharp nettle stings are woven into a crisp dry leotard and horned mask for the malts to parade about in.
This is a DIPA super hero of a beer.
Fade To Black (6.3%)
Weird Beard’s Black IPA is another winner, and again Bryan and Gregg have their own take on the style.
Pouring fathoms deep, Fade To Black looks dark and mean, though ever so slightly comic with its big fluffy albino afro of a head.
The aroma is candied fruit and chocolate buttons and just a hint of meat.
The reason for this, I believe, is the addition of rye to the beer, this being the twist I mentioned earlier.
It lends a spicy meaty body to Fade To Black, all pumpernickel and pastrami that forms a comfy sofa on which everything else lounges.
There’s bitter chocolate and raisins, bran biscuits and toffee.
And then there’s a loutish pile of hops that barge in, force their way into the best spot and refuse to move.
They’re mandarin zest sharp, full of sherbet, aniseed balls and cheap foam sweets, dandelions and grapefruit juice and they just sit there, refusing to move, nudging the malts playfully, safe in the knowledge of how deliciously sharp and brittle and sexy they are.
So, a Black Rye PA then?
Saison 14 (5.6%)
The final bottle I got hold of to review is still waiting for its labels, so I’ve no idea what shenanigans our hero Lup’in will be up to this time.
What I can tell you is that this Saison is every bit as good as the other beers I’ve tried, pouring a lovely bright gold with a big soft cloud for a head.
The smell is spiced toffee apples laying in straw, and a big bready yeast.
I really like how this beer works, it hits your tongue with an initial taste of brushed steel yeast, but it quickly falls away to leave a yummy caramel and apple core malt.
There are apricots too, and lots of crushed All Spice.
The hops are sharp and bitter, all bramble jelly, lemon rind, orange juice and hazelnuts.
And then in the finish the yeast pops back up again to give a lovely metallic bite to the honey drenched yet extremely long dry finish.
So there you have it, my short sojourn through the wild and wonderful world of The Weird Beard Brew Co.
Follow the link to their website, buy their beer when you see it and when you do, have a lot of fun with it, because fun is what this brewery is really serious about.
I’d like to thank Bryan & Gregg for their time and patience and for making such good beer.