Hey Russell – tell us a little bit about NM and how long you’ve been making beer for! Why did you start the brewery?
The idea for Northern Monk was first conceived in 2008. Having discovered some of the first imports of US Craft Beer and after travelling a lot with work I felt there was an opportunity to start a brewery that took the history, heritage and tradition of brewing in the UK and combined that with the progressive approach to ingredients, techniques and branding taken by the States. I entered a young entrepreneurs competition and did well but decided to focus on my “Day Job”. In 2013 I was a Global Product Manager and was close enough to the top of a large corporate company to realise it looked pretty shit at the top. Around this time my Granny decided to sell her home and move to a former council house. This led to all the Grandchildren getting £5K. If my Granny was brave enough to start doing up a house at 90 I thought it was about time I attempted to live the dream and start Northern Monk. I also had £5K to get going. It very quickly became apparent that £5K was not enough to start a brewery.
We started as a cuckoo brewery (using other breweries facilities) but realised we weren’t able to produce the quality of beer we wanted to using that approach. For me we really started when we began brewing at The Old Flax Store (our current home) in late 2014. We’re now in 20 countries, are stocked up and down the country and have won global awards for our beer. Cheers Granny Bisset!
You have a brewery but there’s also a refectory and chapter hall – tell us a little bit about those?
Our raison d’être is “The Evolution of Tradition” We’ take our inspiration from years gone past and try to take a timeless approach to produce the products of the future. One of our main inspirations is obviously Monastic brewing and the role beer has played in civilisation across the world. Whether it’s the Abbey’s, the pub or your local craft beer bar. Beer has always been at the centre of communities. Our building which houses our brewery, Refectory (Tap Room) and Chapter Hall (Events Space) is the centre of our community and has played host to music festivals, fashion shows, weddings, Birthday Parties, Banquets, exhibitions the list goes on… Our approach to our craft is inclusive and we operate an open-door policy at all times. The building is a Grade II listed former flax mill and also reflects our Northern identity and heritage. Come say hi.
The world of craft beers is getting more and more popular – do you think it’s here to stay?
Sure. I think for many people a whole new world of flavour has been discovered. People are more and more conscious of the taste of their alcoholic drinks rather than their alcohol content. I don’t see this changing. I think we’ll see the amount of breweries in the UK plateau as it’s difficulty to see how it can be sustained. However the breweries making great beer will continue to thrive.
Other than NM – recommend us 5 other micro breweries to check out in the U.K!
How important is branding to you guys?
The experience we provide is at the core of what we do. At the centre of that core is the beer and how it tastes, looks and smells but part of that experience is also the look and feel of the product and your ability to relate to it. We also try to showcase and pay homage to the history, heritage and tradition of brewing whilst adding a big dollop of The North. Our branding is one of the ways in which we reflect that. So yeah, it’s important.
You’ve just had the ‘Ice Cream Pale Ale’ out for summer – is there actual ice cream in it? How did that go?
Yeah. Apparently it was something I agreed to. I saw it in the brew schedule and wasn’t impressed. “Who’s idea was that?” (As the company grows we have to be very conscious of making sure the beers we’re brewing fit within our range and make sure we use our limited capacity on brewing our beer, rather than crazy collaborations) Turns out it was my idea… Anyway, it was better than any of us expected it to be and it was ace to work with the guys at Little Leeds Beer House. I can’t give away all our secrets but I can tell you it’s made with real chocolate and strawberries….
How do you guys use merch for your brand and how important is merchandising to you?
It’s really important, we’re a progressive Northern brewery and we want our merchandise to reflect that. It’s also an opportunity to collaborate with people within our Northern Monk Patrons project one of our most popular tees features the work of local tattoo artist James Butler and we have further collaborative T-Shirts planned. Also, my whole wardrobe is monk. As is many of the team’s here.
At AM – you know we LOVE dogs! Tell us about your canine chum – are they allowed the odd beer?
Ah yeah, Archibald. He runs the show. You can usually find him hanging out at The Refectory. He can drink whatever he wants, he’s the boss. He’s a T-Totaler though as he’s got boss duties and stuff to do. He’s like Beethoven really, can’t appreciate the fruits of his labour but has a natural instinct y’know.
Leeds is positively thriving and flourishing with indie businesses – how important is that community to you?
100% it’s a smorgasbord of creativity and talent and we’re stoked to have had the opportunity to work with so many of the indies in the city – North Star, Little Leeds, Tall Boys, Belgrave, Bundobust, Drew Millward, The Real Junk Food Project, Tom Joy, Whitelocks, Kirkstall, The Grub & Grog Shop, Lauden Chocolates the list goes on. It’s the Capital of the North and we’re proud to be a part of it.
Tell us about some of your favourite indie businesses in Leeds?
Look out for a Bundobust coming to a city near you. They have big plans and they’re brilliant at what they do. That’s all I’m saying.
Drew Millward (does he count?) Seriously talented, funny and down to earth human. Great to work with.
Adam Smith. That guy is a force of nature. What him and The Real Junk Food guys have achieved is unbelievable.
Awesome Merchandise! Merchandise is obviously very brand and design driven and inevitably you want to work with people that understand design and branding when you invest in your own. I may be wrong but I don’t think there’s any other merch companies that do that right. You’re also a pretty friendly bunch and you brought us those monk koozies.
You’re stranded on a desert island and you’re only allowed 3 beers for the rest of your life – which 3 would they be?
Ah, I’m going to have to kick off with some Monk. I can’t get enough Heathen at the moment. I’m lucky to have nerded out on beer all over the world and for me our brew team have brewed one of the best IPA’s I’ve ever had (just don’t tell them that).
Eternal our Session IPA would also have to come. At 4.1% it’s the perfect beer for a session. I’m pretty sure that being stuck on a desert island would allow a few opportunities for a session…
That’s two IPA’s. I’m going to have to go for something big and dark. Old Chimneys – Good King Henry Special Reserve. It’s an 11% barrel aged Imperial Stout. It’s just one guy brewing some of the best Imperial Stouts in the world in Norfolk. No hype, no PR stunts, just great beer. People debate what “Craft Beer” is. I’m not going to attempt to define it now but whatever it is, this guy is part of it.