Getting To Know The Northern Monks
‘It feels full-time! laughs Dave Bishop when I ask him whether he considers himself a brewer now. ‘ It’s taking over my life, but I do have a full-time job. Russ calls me a brewer, but its feel a little strange, then!’ How about you, Russell? ‘I’m doing this full-time, but I don’t have a title.’ he asserts. ‘MD or something would feel a little strange.’ Founder, I offer. ‘Yeah, perhaps…’ he agrees, taking another swig of his pint.
It’s been hard to ignore Northern Monk Brewing Co round theses parts in the last few weeks. The promise of a new brewery and a new beer has certainly set tongues wagging, and when it’s someone you know – and have watched fulfill a particular desire – it makes it all the more intriguing. I’ve known David for a while now, popping up at launches, events and festivals. He’s a talented homebrewer (He and Matt Lovatt created Joshua Jane with Ilkley Brewery – now a regular beer) with a wicked sense of humour. A likeable fellow, he’s been doing anything but seeing the humour in the creation of Northern Monk. As we talk, modes switch into total seriousness – you can feel that both he and Russell are juggling a lot at the moment; brewing, marketing, selling, launching. Talking.
Talking to people like me.
NMBCo’s story actually starts around four years ago, when Russell Bisset and another colleague of his entered a Young Entrepreneurs competition. The idea? ‘Well, we wanted to set up a brewery – something modern and new.’ It didn’t win, and Bristol-based Russell went back to his day job, feeling more and more unfulfilled as he went on. Russell’s keen to point out that his expertise doesn’t lie in brewing; developing business is his initial interest – so when he finally had the means to do so, he decided he wanted to resurrect his brewery idea.
Russell relocated to Shipley,moved in with family to save money, and begun to get a feel for the landscape in terms of beer and potential partners. David came onto his radar purely by his aforementioned reputation. Contact was made: ‘Dave turned out to not only be a decent bloke but also shared my ideas about what I wanted to do. He was also incredibly transparent about where he was (in terms of brewing experience) and where he wanted to be.’ Russell says. Dave’s certainly not the first homebrewer to be scooped up and ‘go pro’ – recently Wharfebank have brought Steve Crump into the team (another award-winning Yorkshire homebrewer) and the likes of Mallinson’s, SummerWine and Revolutions Brewing are built on the foundations of homebrewing.
‘It’s not actually the first time someone’s contacted me with the same proposition, so I actually dismissed the approach at first.’ Dave says. ‘A short time later, I got another email with a ridiculous amount of information on it. I decided it was serious, and that we should meet. It was great. So much work had gone into the project already, and we went from there.’
The one thing missing was a brewery.
The proposal was a simple one; NMBCo would follow in the footsteps of Revolutions, Steel City, Mikeller and many others by brewing on someone else’s kit. In this case, Ripon’s Hambleton Ales provided the hardware.
So why not open a brewery? I ask. ‘We just felt that if we started small (in terms of capacity), it might take a long time to grow. At the core of what we want to do is simply make good beer; by taking a cuckoo approach we feel that we can find our feet and experiment somewhat.We personally feel that our money was best spent perhaps making the beer; investing in ingredients and growing expertise rather than physical kit. It’s an approach we are happy with at the moment.’ says Russell, before reiterating that of course, a brewery is on the cards in the not-too-distant future.
So, Hambleton is the home of Northern Monk – for the time being at least. Other breweries were approached but Hambleton were the most receptive to their ideas and Nick Hambleton has been providing feedback – good and bad, as you’d expect. ‘Nick probably doesn’t need us there, but he seems to really understand what we are trying to do, and lets us get on with it.’ says David. Hambleton are doing the bottling, too, so the entire process is being handled in one operation. Dave explains how great Hambleton’s have been in terms of feedback, advice, help and generally mentoring him – despite the beer being entirely different to what Hambleton brew.
‘It’s difficult to go onto someone else’s kit and processes and rules; but we were fully aware of this but we’re pleased with the results.’ Dave adds.
The result was New World IPA (6.2% abv),a beer that both represents the output of a period of discovery, hard work, and bringing ideas on paper to life. Sure, the beer’s a little rough around the edges – it’s very sweet, full of boiled-sweet thickness – but has a pleasingly restrained hop snap (more tangerine and lemon-rind than Grapefruit) at the finish. It’s not aggressive – as I was expecting – and ends up feeling nicely balanced. The New World part refers to the hops (there’s some Galaxy in there, among others) but the upcoming beers will have their roots firmly in England.
‘Why IPA first? It’s the style of beer I probably drink the most.’ smiles David, matter-of-factly. Russ continues, laying out the essence of MNBCo ‘We want to do things from a British angle. There’s a lot of US influence over here, but I think we (The British) influence them just as much.’
‘We actually talked about doing a Barley Wine first, but realistically it would take too long to mature and get out there. So we settled on our take on an IPA; solid with a medium abv and nothing too harsh in terms of bitterness. I wanted it to have a bright finish -which it does!’ admits Dave.
‘We should be brewing again soon. Within weeks, actually. We plan to brew once a month, and we aim to have a range of ten beers or so eventually, with four core beers.’
The beer was launched at a hot, humid and typically joyous night at The Sparrow last week. A bloke in a Monk’s habit strode around – as did a similarly-attired dog – and the beer was accompanied by some deliciously-spiced Jerk Chicken with Mango Chutney, courtesy of Maggie Cubbler (Loaded Kitchen). The launch seemed a success, with brewers from the likes of Magic Rock and Saltaire giving support and advice to the fledgling Monks. And, of course, it was entirely right for them to work with The Sparrow at the launch. Russell and David are proud to be located in, and supporting, Bradford.
Keep an eye out for it, and tell the guys what you think. The image, labelling and website is all confidently slick and certainly sets the beer apart on the bar. Hopefully it won’t be too long until we another beer from NMBCo, now that those all-important first steps have been taken. And that’s exactly how I would pitch the beer to you, dear reader – a promising start with work to do – but certainly one to watch.
Check out David’s blog for some excellent posts about his ups and downs in his shift from homebrewer to pro – I recommend them.