Meet the Brewer: Weird Beard Brew Co.

Gregg Irwin showing off Weird Beard's Sunshine Saison

The London Beer Week at the Rake continues – my self imposed 30-day alcohol ban has sort of limited my opportunities to join the fun, but I was so curious about new London brewery Weird Beard Brew Co. that I decided to come down to their free sample session despite the fact that I wasn’t going to drink any of the free samples. What I did do, however, was have a chat with brewmaster Gregg Irwin (one-half of Weird Beard Brew Co. the other half being brewer/brand manager Bryan Spooner) about their beers and why they are getting noticed even before they’ve officially launched their brewery.

London Beer Blog: You don’t generally decide to start a brewery overnight. How did the idea develop?

Gregg Irwin: Well, first I became interested in beer. I was originally more interested in wine but during a trip to the US I tried some Dogfish Head beers and they really blew me away – it was amazing that beer could taste like that. So after that I started to seek out good beer, go to beer festivals and the like. Then eventually I began home brewing, [something that Gregg also chronicles in one of his blogs] and that worked out well – I won some awards and got very encouraging feedback. The first time I started seriously thinking about starting a brewery proper was a couple of years ago, around 2010, and the idea gradually grew – some other people became interested, drifted in and out, and eventually it sort of settled with me an Bryan, and we decided to have a go at it. We had some trouble with negotiating the lease on our original venue [you can read all about that on Weird Beard’s very interesting blog, a.k.a. Gregg’s other blog) but eventually we landed in our current place and hopefully we’ll be up and running in the next couple of months. Currently I’m brewing our sample batches out of my back yard!

The beer selection at the sampling event

LBB: You’re also sharing your brewery with another brewer.

GI: That’s right, we’re sharing with Mike Ellenberg of Ellenberg’s Brewery. We’re hoping that we’ll be able to make more efficient use of the space that way, plus that we think it’s going to be good for two small brewers to cooperate. We’re not worried about competing – we’re more US-influenced and Mike likes brewing beers of the classic European styles, some Belgian-style beers but also German altbiers and schwarzbiers. He’s made a fantastic schwarzbier!

LBB: You’re very much part of the London craft beer explosion – it sometimes seems like there’s a new brewery launching every week. Does that mean more competition for you, or is it more collegial?

GI: Definitely more collegial. We’re involved with The London Brewers’ Alliance and it is a very good setup (we’re not members yet as you can only be a member once you start brewing). You can always ask more experienced brewers for advice and they’re happy to give it, it’s a very supportive atmosphere and they have been very welcoming to new brewers. Evin [O’Riordan] at the Kernel has been particularly helpful, we have a very good relationship – which has been great for me because he is one of the brewers I look up to, he’s one of the best brewers around right now. As for competition, I think that there will always be a market for good beer. It’s the same as in any other business – if your product is good, if the passion really shines through, you’re going to get people seeking you out. Evin told me that they have never had to make a sales call, everybody’s calling them to buy their stuff. And it can only get better – more and more people are becoming interested in good beer, particularly here in London. In fact, London still has a lower number of breweries per capita than most other parts of the country – 20-25 breweries for 10 million or so people is really not that many. So I think there’s definitely room for more.

All Junga, all the time!

LBB: What kinds of beers do you like, and what kinds of beers to you plan to brew?

GI: Well, I like good beer obviously! As I said, we’re perhaps mostly US-influenced, so to begin with we’re probably going to focus on IPAs, black IPAs (or Cascadian Dark Ale as we call it), pale ales, and stouts of course because I’m Irish, so we had to get a stout in there somewhere. But we want to do a lot of different things, we have a Saison prototype at the moment [Sunshine Saison, which was part of the sample pack at the Rake], for example, and we’d love to try to brew some sour beers as well. We really don’t want to rule anything out, either in terms of style or in terms of how we package the beer – mostly we’re probably going to go the bottle route but if we come up with a recipe that we think would be best on cask, we’ll cask the beer. So expect there to be a lot of experimentation. And since one of my favorite hops is Sorachi Ace, you can expect that to also be a feature in many of our beers!

LBB: You’re just starting out now – you’ve been to a few festivals and the like. But where would you like to be in five years?

GI: Well, since Kernel is a big role model for us, it would be great if in five years time we could be where Kernel is today – well-established, a good customer base, and with a solid reputation for quality that’s also growing internationally. I definitely think that this is just the beginning of the beer boom, so we’ll just keep working at making really good beers and then see where we end up.

London Beer Blog says thank you to Gregg and Bryan and wish them best of luck in the future! As I said, I couldn’t actually sample any of their beers but I can at least say that a) they smelled wonderful, and b) all the other samplers liked their beers, with particular praise for the Sunshine Saison. But I’m sure I’ll come across their beers again in the future beyond my dry spell, so watch this space for a thorough review. In fact, Gregg was kind enough to give me a bottle of their Single Hop Series 9 Junga Pale Ale (Junga being a Polish hop I hadn’t head of before), which I will save for a special occasion – review forthcoming.

EDIT: In case you can’t wait for the tasting notes, blog colleague tabamatu has also posted on the Weird Beard event at the Rake, with some brief tasting notes.

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Posted on April 23, 2012, in Brewery, Interview and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Cheers Henrik. Shame you could not sample the beers.

    One minor point, we are not actually members of LBA yet…you can’t be until you actually start brewing, but we are involved with them and have had many offers of help from lots of the brewers….It is a great community.

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