Category Archives: beer news

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.’

News Round-Up

proxyI don’t often do this, but there’s been a spate of noteworthy events in our region of late, so here goes:

  • Leeds’s Friends of Ham has won the 2013 Yorkshire Life Pub of The Year – well done, guys. Neighbourhood Restaurant Winner – Eric’s  – also serves Magic Rock’s beer, and The Reliance has won the Dining Pub of the Year, so it’s win-win for beer all round, there. The full list of winners is here. Congrats to all.
  • Staying with Friends of Ham, Summer Wine Brewery are hosting a Beer & Food matching night with Bundobust, the new Indian Food/Beer collaboration between Prashad and The Sparrow. It’s on the 21st of October and there’s a few tickets left. Jump over to the FOH website for more. Bundobust will open their flagship restaurant in Leeds shortly, and needless to say you’ll be able to read about it here.
  • Long-time TGS favourites Revolutions Brewing Co are taking over The Brewery Tap on Halloween. They’ve also collaborated with Five Towns Brewery on a ‘Double A-Side’ beer – an IPA called Super Creep and a black version called Scary Monsters which are kicking around Yorkshire now, so keep an eye out.
  • Kirkstall Brewery have finally opened the doors to their new brewery tap, The Bridge Inn (just on the bridge opposite the brewery, Kirkstall). I’ve yet to drop in (the shame), but you can read Simon Jenkin’s review here.
  • Black Sheep have joined the ranks of Thwaites, Brains and Greene King and installed a new, smaller brewery to experiment upon and brew specials and one-off beers. I’m sure they won’t be the last in our region, either…anyway, you can read more  – and get details of the initial brews – here.

>Say Goodbye To Tetley’s With Leeds

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Leeds Brewery will be saying goodbye to Tetley’s by holding a Festival at their flagship pub, The Midnight Bell, on the 10th-12th of June. As well as food and music, Leeds will be brewing some one-off beers for the event -including one that can be named by you before the festival. Not only that, but Leeds will be holding a beer trail through the city on the 3rd-10th June where you can pick up a card, wind your way through the pubs of Leeds drinking their wares, and enter into a prize draw.

You can keep updated with Leeds’s plans as they prepare for life after Tetley’s (big plans, I’m sure) here. Tickets for the festival will be available from the Brewery’s pubs (The Bell, PIN, The Garden Gate & The Brewery Tap). Whilst on Leeds, the kit at The Brewery Tap seems to be firing up again, and there are currently a range of single-hopped beers coming through for your tasting pleasure at the aforementioned bar. Do try.

>Black Sheep’s Porter; Copper Dragon’s Three Kings and Stouty Ham Besides…

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I’ve been watching the progress of Black Sheep’s Wooly Jumper Porter (4.0abv) for a good month or so now; simply due to the fact that they don’t brew seasonals, specials, or one-offs all that often. Thanks to the wonder of Twitter I found out that Veritas in Leeds has snagged some, so I trudged through the snow on Tuesday to sample it. I’m glad I did. It’s a great beer; although I must admit, I didn’t really know what to expect. However, I’m pleased to report that Black Sheep have done a really good job. When held up to the light there’s a lovely red hue coming through the black, as all good porters should have (if you ask me).

Through the tan collar there’s not a great deal going on in the nose apart from some lovely woody smokiness; which sort of sets you up for a sweet beer – but it’s not. There’s a little almond-biscuityness in there, the aforementioned hint of woodsmoke, and a nice, dry bite at the end. Kudos to Veritas, too – the pint was in tip-top condition too – very clean, very moreish. All in all, it’s a really good beer, and one that I hope Black Sheep sell enough of to make it a regular; I think it would be a valuable new addition to their tried and tested, familiar range. Give it a try if you see it about.

Another of the ‘bigger’ Yorkshire brewers who are adding a new seasonal offering to their range is Copper Dragon, who have rolled out Three Kings Ale across Yorkshire this week. I’ve not tried it yet, but I hear it’s inspired by German Altbier and Red Ales rather than the usual ‘Christmas Pudding in a Glass’ efforts. It sounds good and certainly worth a try, so if anyone hears of any being spotted around my manor, give me a shout. Finally, staying in Yorkshire, I’ve been told Lishman’s Butchers of Ilkley have cured one of their Christmas Hams in Ilkley’s Stout this year – so if you’re up that way (visiting Booth’s, perhaps?), then drop in and see if they’ve got any left.

>BrewDog Alice Porter & 5a.m Saint

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Going to BrewDog to brew a beer for your stag do is a pretty cool thing; for most mere mortals, it’s just a pipedream, but Matt Gorecki (of North fame) managed to land such a day for his own celebration. The result? Alice Porter, which I managed to sample on Monday.

The idea could have gone so terribly, terribly wrong; but full credit to Matt, James and Martin for creating an undeniably lovely beer. At 6.2%, Alice Porter is no slouch – but you wouldn’t guess the abv from the taste alone. Pitch black with a tan head, the beer is massively smooth, with a cream-vanilla note riding through it.

It’s got a really well-rounded fruitiness (courtesy of the Brambling Cross hops – a much underrated hop in my opinion) to finish things off, and the aroma is sweet, with just a touch of smoke and wood. A really, really drinkable porter, and if there’s any left at North now, I’ll be surprised. Jump here to read Matt’s account of the day – and what HopZine Rob thought of the beer here.

North had another treat for me on Monday – 5Am Saint on Keg. Since trying Saint a few months back, it’s firmly leapfrogged up the list to (at the moment) my favourite BD beer. It’s the nose – the tropical-fruit, lychee-led nose that lasts and lasts and lasts and lasts…whenever I crack one of these open at home I spend as much time with my nose in the glass as I do pouring the stuff down my throat. Once you get past the aroma, there’s a well-balanced Amber ale there; a slight hint of smoke again, and plenty of chewy toffee, but not too sweet. Things finish off with a wonderful, rising, sappy bitterness. Awesome beer – one of the best of the year for me.

>Anchor Humming Ale

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Anchor Brewing. The mere thought of the brewery evokes the feeling a warm bath to me; Steam is one of the my gateway beers that maintained status in my beer cellar – a go-to, reliable, tasty ol’ friend. Anchor Steam is rightly an icon in American Brewing; sure, it’s not particularly cutting-edge, it’s not a hop-bomb, it’s not an ‘extreme’ beer. In fact, It’s standard – but in a good way – and I hpe thier new owners carry this ethos on. Find me a ‘California Common’ that’s held in such high regard, if you can. Their range of Christmas Ales are anticipated with bated breath, the artwork alone rendering them near collector’s items without even starting on the beer held within the bottle.

Aside from Steam, Anchor’s entire range stands for reliability – so when the likes of Small, Ninkasi and the aforementioned Christmas Beer come along, they really stand out. Humming – their latest- I like. It’s different, but I like it. It’s pale (rather than the burnished gold of Steam), not so sweet, and thinner than Anchor beers usually are. I suspect that Anchor wanted to get a more hoppy feel for Humming, and they’ve certainly succeeded in that – the hop aroma is fresh, astringent and grassy (courtesy of Nelson Sauvin) and the bitterness builds nicely. It’s actually the last thing you expect from an Anchor beer. I’ll have another one or three, for sure – I just wish Anchor did this sort of thing more often – and I’ll be saving my next bottle for warmer weather. And the label and artwork is just the icing on the cake. Gorgeous.

If you’ve never visited Anchor’s website, do so here. It’s one of the best out there. Also, for further Anchor-lovin’ , Zak alluded to his love of the stuff on Real Ale Reviews a while back – check it out here.

>Ridgeside Brewery Launch *This Weekend*

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New Leeds brewery Ridgeside will be unveiling their first brew on Sunday in Wakefield. The launch will take place at O’Donoghues (owned by Great Heck Brewery) and the beer will start flowing at 12.00 noon, supported by a presentation and a buffet (what’s a beer launch without a buffet, eh?).

Head honcho Simon Bolderson told me that Ridgeside Beast (4.7%abv) will be ready to taste, and describes it as a ‘Deep red, old English Ale’. Sounds lovely. Simon’s story is a now-sounding-familiar one: experienced homebrewer taking the plunge after his job circumstances changed. Simon is committed, and clearly enthusiastic about beer, and that in itself deserves a pat on the back.

Unfortunately, I can’t make it – but I think you all should, and tell me how it went. Looks like I’ll have to wait a little longer to get my grubby paws on a pint from Leeds’ newest brewer.

>Ilkley’s Mary Jane Inflitrates Parliament…

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Kudos to local boys Ilkley Brewing Co – thier pale thirst-quencher Mary Jane is now a guest ale in the House of Commons, just to top off an award-winning few months. Good work. Other local tidbits – keep an eye out for some excellent sounding one-offs from Rooster’s in the next few weeks, including an UK-hopped IPA & a Whiskey-Barrel aged Stout, amongst others….popular Saltaire are holding a beer festival on September 17th – tickets will be available from Saltaire Brewery directly from 1st July…Great Heck Brewery have bought O’Donaghues in Wakefield, so there will be a regular outlet for their beers there – as well as an upcoming launch for the newly minted Ridgeside Brewery, who are currently brewing their first batch of beer…and finally, moving out of Yorkshire, belated congrats to The Highland Brewing Company, whose wonderfully complex Orkney Blast has won Champion Beer of Scotland at CAMRA’s recent national real ale festival. A fitting award for a wonderful beer.

>Festival Round-Up

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Ok, folks, just time for a quick beer festival round-up; just in case the World Cup isn’t your cup of tea (or pint of beer). Clifford’s first Beer festival takes place at the village hall on 19/06/10, and is raising funds for the hall and the local footy team – so it’s all good. The beer range is a showcase for the region with Acorn, Elland, Saltaire, Abbeydale, Brown Cow, Great Heck, Hawkshead and Ilkley breweries all supplying for the festival. Clifford’s a lovely part of Yorkshire, too.

Speaking of lovely parts of Yorkshire, The White Bear in Masham is holding their 9th annual Beer fest on the weekend of 25/06/10. Much bigger, and across the pennines, is Chorlton’s Beer Festival on the 2nd and 3rd of July. With over 50 ales on offer, I’d expect the usual eclectic festival mix. Last year saw local heroes like Marble stack up against more travelled breweries such as Purple Moose, Dark Star and Dunham Massey.

For our friends north of the border (of which we have many, you lovely, lovely people), there’s the big one – The Scottish Real Ale Festival 2010. Held on the 24th. 25th and 26th of June at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh, beers from Black Isle, Harviestoun, Sulwath and Williams Bros are likely to be amongst many on offer. And if in Wales – don’t despair – there’s one for you too: The Great Welsh Beer & Cider Festival is taking place at Cardiff International Arena on the weekend of June 10th. There’s plenty of great welsh beers on the list, too – Breconshire, Evan Evans, Otley and Vale Of Glamorgan to name a few.
So – support your local independent breweries and pubs as well as your team in the upcoming month.

>Yep, Another Post About Milds

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Sorry, Pete. Luckily I don’t really consider myself a ‘beer writer’ (on account I’ve not published any books on the subject), so I thought I’d add to the hundreds of ‘repetitive’ posts about CAMRA’s Mild Month out there.

Actually, the reason for this post isn’t simply to wind up Pete. I was at work yesterday talking about beer (as often happens), and a quick poll revealed that more of my buddies knew what Wheat beer was, and could identify one at a bar (Erdinger being the ubiquitous one) than Mild. That’s a shame – and it probably applies to other styles, too. As we’ve all said before, maybe it’s a little silly to promote one beer during one month, but I think the campaign works, and anything that serves to promote and advertise the good work our breweries do is ok by me. That is, after all, the point of TGS.

Pubs in Leeds are doing their bit, without a doubt. But for the sake of all those casually curious people out there (I know you’re there, hiding behind those emptying pint glasses, wondering whether to take the plunge or order another Tuborg), here’s a quick rundown of some Milds being produced this month and throughout the year by (mostly northern) breweries:

If it’s the stronger, darker end of the market that’s your taste, then look no further than Leeds’s Midnight Bell or York’s Centurions Ghost. Both are loaded with dark chocolate and sweet smoke, and despite their moreishness (which is a trait of all good dark milds), both pack a hefty alcohol wallop. Rudgate’s excellent Ruby Mild combines an even smokier taste with a hint of red fruits, as does Nottingham’s wonderful Rock Mild. Abbeydale’s Daily Bread is slightly paler, with a much more pronounced peppery hop nose and is one of those beers you could drink all day – as is Timothy Taylor’s smooth, satisfying Dark Mild. Elland are also brewing Born To Be Mild this month.

Alongside regular Emley Moor Mild, Mallinson’s are producing Denby Light Mild this month, and although I’ve not tried it yet, Mallinson’s simply don’t seem to make bad beer. Neither do Acorn, whose is Darkness is as suppable as their classic Yorkshire-style bitter. Cropton’s Balmy Mild is another lighter-hued, slightly hoppier affair, and if it’s a pub-brewed beer you’re after, Fox Brewing’s Clarendon Dark Mild is a really tasty affair, and available at The Fox & Newt Brewpub on Burley Road, Leeds.

All these locally-brewed gems are in addition to the more established beers popping up as well, such as Fuller’s Hock and Festival Mild, Elgood’s Black Dog, Thwaites Nutty Black, Harvey’s Knots Of May, Hydes Light and Traditional Milds, Okell’s Mild, Moorhouse’s Black Cat and Cain’s Dark Mild.

So – simply get out there, and try some. If you like a pint of mild, try something else from that brewery. Before you know it – you’re a beer drinker. Huzzah!

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