Catching up with Northern Monk

nmbc3Since their launch last summer – on a very, very hot day in Bradford  – happenings at Northern Monk Brewing Co went a little quiet towards the end of last year. Russell Bisset and Dave Bishop’s beers were launched and sold out, rebrewed (in a cuckoo fashion at Ripon’s Hambleton Ales) and tweaked, before David left the partnership. Then, early this year, a new pale ale – Monachus  – appeared, alongside a collaboration with county neighbours Bad Seed Brewing. Northern Monk were back – but is it to stay, this time?

It’s fair to say that those monks have not been spending time relaxing; although some contemplation has certainly taken place. Behind the scenes, Russell and his team have clearly been putting in the hard yards – and traversing the steep learning curve that anyone who sets up their own business inevitably has to become acquainted with.

First thing’s first – the nomads now have a permanent home. Situated in Holbeck Urban Village in Leeds – a stone’s throw from The Cross Keys and Leeds Brewery’s Midnight Bell. We’ll get to that later – first, let’s meet the new members of the Northern Monk fraternity.

nmbco-bottle-new-world-ipa_0Maggie Cubbler – who you’ll all know from Loaded Kitchen), joins as Events and Refectory manager. Brewing is being handled by Brian Dickson, who needs no introduction to drinkers in Yorkshire from his 6 years behind the bar at The Grove (Huddersfield) and his stint moonlighting as Bitches Brewing, creating one-off brews with the likes of Quantum and Black Jack Breweries. Brian cut his teeth with Eddie Gadd at Gadds’ Ramsgate Brewery, as well as  periods shadowing the brewers at Dark Star, Thwaites and Red Willow amongst others, and he’s raring to get started on his own beers.

Maggie recently called time on her excellent beer and food blog, Loaded Kitchen. You can read her last post here, which touches on her decision to work with Northern Monk. Maggie explains exactly what she has in mind. ‘From the get-go, we’ve taken many chances to present our beer alongside food. There are a lot of talented people doing some great stuff with food and beer out there, and I’m here to put The Refectory at Northern Monk Brewery on that map too.’

‘Once The Refectory is up and running, I’ll be hooking up the likes of beer-and-cheese events, pairing evenings, and maybe even an event devoted completely to desserts and how well they go with beer. (Just one ticket available for that one though, and it’s mine)! Also, in line with our ethos of collaboration and community, it’s also my responsibility to arrange events outside of The Refectory. Whether it’s beer pairing dinners, tap-takeovers, meet-the-brewers, or whatever, I’m excited to showcase our beer in some of the best restaurants, taprooms, and pubs out there.’

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Russell explains the story behind his brewery’s new, permanent home.

‘When we set out to find a property we were really keen to find somewhere where we could have a small tap room and that tied in with the other elements of what we’re about in terms of history and character. It took some time – and I now feel like I’m fairly familiar with pretty much all the industrial units between Bradford and Manchester! We finally narrowed it down to two properties and almost ended up at Dean Clough in Halifax – which is a fantastic development but the location and character of the site in Holbeck Urban Village really won us over.’

So – another brewery for Leeds it is, then. ‘The interior has been stripped back to reveal its former glory, complete with Yorkshire stone flags, red brick walls, arched ceilings, and iron columns that run throughout.’ Russell continues.  ‘…The Refectory will house our tap room, bottle shop, and kitchen. We’ll have at least 10 Keg and 4 Cask lines, and our focus will be on showcasing some of the best beer in the North. We can’t wait to get beers in from the likes of Magic Rock, Summer Wine, Rooster’s, Buxton, Kirkstall, Ilkley, Saltaire, Quantum, Hawkshead, Bad Seed and so on.’

It all sounds pretty exciting and once up and running, I’m sure The Refectory will be a great addition to the drinking scene in Leeds city centre, bringing another business to an area of Leeds that still feels somewhat underused – and with plenty of potential. Russell says that The Refectory will appear eventually, but the brewery build is the focus. So much so, in fact, that no more beers are being brewed ‘Cuckoo’ until their kit – a 10BBL set-up fabricated by Burton’s Malrex – arrives and they can do it on their own terms. In fact, Russell’s realised that brewing Cuckoo – full stop – isn’t what Northern Monk is about anymore.

‘Unless you have sacks of cash, nerves of steel or just want to produce ‘accountants’ beer, don’t cuckoo brew in the UK!’ he laughs. ‘I don’t think the cuckoo brewing model is a viable long-term option here. It’s easy to look at the likes of Mikkeler and Evil Twin and think that it’s possible to produce bolder beer styles using a cuckoo brewing model. In reality they work with breweries like De Proef that are truly world-class and have third-party production as their bread and butter. But they also have 12 month waiting lists to work with.’

‘That being said, we owe big thanks to the guys at Hambleton, we wouldn’t be where we are without them. It’s also important to give major credit to David Bishop. He’s left us with some great beers – and what a legacy Strannik is.’

Ah, the beer. What can we look forward to drinking in 2014, then?

nmbco-bottle-strannick_0Russ is understandably coy about going into too much detail about the upcoming beers that he and Brian are formulating, but he does mention a couple of IPA’s called Dark World and 822, a fearsome-sounding triple IPA named Vesuvius – and some barrel-aged Strannik Imperial Stout, which was certainly popular last time it appeared. For the time being, you can still get your hands on some of the Salted Lemon Wit brewed in collaboration with Bad Seed Brewery, and Brian confirms that New World IPA and Strannik will be retained and refined once up and running on the new kit. In his own words, Brian can’t wait to brew beers “…that are not just packed with flavour but have a balance to them as well, a sessionability that has you willing to go back for another”.

So; cuckoo is out but brewing collaboratively is still very much on NMBC’s radar. It’s fair to say there are some interesting partnerships being worked out as we speak; working alongside Saltaire, Bundobust and Gateway Brewing (yes, in Mumbai), to name but three. I agree that working with other breweries and fostering a community around them is a theme that’s nice to see developing at Northern Monk; it nicely links their past with their future.

That being said, you get a sense that the team are dusting themselves off after a very hectic start, getting used to that aforementioned learning curve, and feeling good about having solid foundations underfoot at last. 

‘The next few years will be about honing and refining – and I think consistency, quality, and control will be key more than ever before.’  says Russ.  ‘They’re certainly going to be the things at the very core of what we’re about. It’s an incredible time to be in the UK beer industry both as a beer drinker and brewery founder; I think we’re on the cusp of a truly golden era with so many fantastic breweries and beers in the UK.’

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About leighgoodstuff

Blog: https://goodfoodgoodbeer.wordpress.com/ I'm Leigh Linley; born and bred in Leeds, and writing about it since 2005. TGS exists solely to highlight the great beers that are out there; brewed with passion by Craft Brewers around the World. I also edit the 'Tavern Tales' section of Culture Vulture, which looks at Pubs and Pub Life rather than the beer in the glass.

Posted on 18/02/2014, in beer news and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Catching up with Northern Monk.

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