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Magical Mystery Pour #24: Weird Beard Mariana Trench

The last beer in this round, chosen for us by Rebecca Pate (@rpate) who blogs at Brewing East, is Weird Beard’s Mariana Trench ‘Transpacific Pale Ale’.

It cost us £2.89 per 330ml bottle from online retailer Honest Brew, has an an ABV of 5.3%, and is designed to showcase a mix of US and New Zealand hops, hence the name. Rebecca says:

This has long been one of my boyfriend’s favourite picks – and he has a handful of those from Weird Beard – but this is definitely among the brewery’s most consistent and highly enjoyable beers. Admittedly not as exciting as some of their other excellent range, this is one I’m still always happy to drink when spotted on tap. It’s a balanced pale that isn’t as aggressively hoppy as some of Weird Beard’s other beers, but I enjoy the hints of citrus and tropical flavours on the nose and light bitterness in the body… I’ve had some great pints of this on Broadway Market on lazy Saturday afternoons, so this is a beer that makes me wax nostalgic with every sip.

It’s probably worth reflecting here on our general feelings about Weird Beard, just to set some context. We find them interesting, not only in terms of the beer but also as a company — they’ve got a policy of openness and honesty which manifests through an often fascinating blog, and the ideas behind their beers can be quite attention-grabbing. We loved their saison when we tasted it off against a bunch of others and over the years have raved about occasional beers in their range. On the whole, though, we have them filed under ‘middling’, especially when it comes to their bottles. In fact, we’ve had this beer before, or at least a previous incarnation, and were lukewarm, although with the emphasis on warm.

Mariana Trench in the glass.
There’s a pin-cushion behind the glass, in case you were wondering about the magenta protrusions.

On opening it hissed just the right amount and poured perfectly clean, bright gold, despite being bottle-conditioned. The head was pure white, unmoving, neither shaving foam nor bubble bath, but somewhere between.

The aroma was muted — just a wisp of weed — which tipped us off to an issue. We checked the label and, sure enough, the beer was bottled in August and thus best before… last month. We bought it in January so this isn’t really our fault, or Honest Brew’s (although a warning might have been nice), or Weird Beard’s for that matter (this certainly beats fibbing about the best before like almost everyone else does). It’s probably just a fact of life we need to get used to with beers that are pointedly about hop aroma and flavour: check dates on delivery, file by delivery date.

There was a momentary spark of fruit juiciness — the ghost of a mango — followed by a vacuum left by the lack of malt character, which led into a faint home-brew funkiness. The latter wasn’t a problem — it provided a feature to navigate by — but the lack of sweetness or flavour in the middle was disappointing.

As per our pre-game prejudices, we found ourselves thinking that we liked it well enough, but it doesn’t push Weird Beard any further up the rankings. Run the standard diagnostic: is it better (or better value) than the reference beer in this area, BrewDog Punk IPA? Not really.

Again, though, we were drinking it past the clearly stated best before, and maybe it would have been, you know, better before. But we’ve had old hoppy beers before and been delighted — age tends to tame extreme hopping and rebalance this kind of beer towards the malt, which can turn out nicely to our taste. That didn’t happen here which highlights the risks of working in one dimension.

So, after our voyage to the bottom of the sea, we’re back where we started: Weird Beard continues to be worth exploring, but won’t always turn up treasure.

Thanks once again to Rebecca for taking the time to select these beers and write notes. Next up: Essex beers chosen for us by Justin Mason (@1970sBOY).

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Saisons Pt 8: The Last Two

As we draw near the end of this series of posts reporting our experiences of tasting British-brewed saisons, we’ve abandoned any attempt at theming: the only thing these last two have in common is that we bought them both from Beer Ritz.

Before we get down to our brief tasting notes, here’s a reminder of what this is all about: we want to have a short list of three we can wholeheartedly recommend. So, while ‘Do we like it?’ is a good starting point, whether other people might like it is also important and, in practice, that means we’re not after madly left-field interpretations.

  • Durham Brewery Raspbeery [sic] Saison, 5.6% ABV, 500ml @ £4.20.
  • Weird Beard Saison 14, 6%, 500ml @ £3.52.
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Two Beers from Weird Beard

Little Things That Kill beer bottle.

We read with interest the recipe for London brewery Weird Beard’s Little Things That Kill — a ‘violently hoppy little beer’ — in the recent Future Publishing home brewing bookazine.

As lightweights who can’t handle all that much booze but enjoy ‘big beers’, we immediately liked the idea of a brew which supposedly employs all the brewer’s arts to give a relatively low-strength beer (4.5%) the flavour and aroma of something much heftier.

So, last week, when we found a bottle in Truro’s new specialist beer shop, the Red Elephant Beer Cellars, run by the folks behind Penpont Brewery, and snapped it up despite a somewhat hefty price tag (about £3.50, we think, for 500ml).

The minute we popped the custom-printed cap (a sort of zombie Indiana Jones with hops for eyes) a whiff of tinned peach syrup hit us. We struggled a little with the combination of (appropriately) high carbonation and bottle-conditioning, ending up with one very clean glass of pale gold, and one distinctly yeast-hazy.

On tasting, it was immediately obvious that the high mash temperature and use of ‘cara’ malts had paid off: it did indeed have the tongue-coating, dessert wine body of a 6 or 7 per cent beer.

The one-note peachiness continued throughout — pleasing enough, but hardly complex, and certainly not all that violent — but, after a few dud entries from other brewers in our beer advent calendar, we welcomed its cleanness and quality. LTTK, as we now know it, is a beer we could session on, should we ever find it on draught.

Its big brother, Marianas Trench, is a 5.3% ABV ‘transpacific pale ale’. In practice, that means it uses a mix of US and New Zealand hops.

Marianas Trench bottle.We got a whiff of something nettle-like and catty on pouring and, in all honesty, did not enjoy the first few sips, in which a harsh, stewed-tea bitterness dominated. Thereafter, it seemed to improve. We liked the mousse-like, creamy, chewy, almost milky texture, and picked up some yeasty pepper-spiciness which added complexity. We did not get the big smack of tropical fruit we were hoping for, but there was a little something like lemon-grass which hinted at the East.

On the basis of these two bottles and an astonishingly good kegged ‘Belgian IPA’ we enjoyed in London, we’re putting Weird Beard on the ‘continue to buy’ list — only one step down from ‘trusted’ (Thornbridge, Fuller’s) and well clear of the dreaded ‘avoid’.