Why this Leeds brewery has ambition by the barrel-load

Staff at the Northern Monk. PIC: Simon Hulme
Staff at the Northern Monk. PIC: Simon Hulme
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Ice-cream and parsnips. Cuckoos. Collaborations with a trail runner, a tattoo artist and a starting budget of £5,000.

Not perhaps what you would expect are the ingredients needed for one of the fastest growing craft breweries in the country but they seem to be working.

Northern Monk Brew Co turns three this month, and to coincide with that anniversary, is just putting the finishing touches to a second site it has opened just half a mile from its original home in a former mill store in Holbeck.

It means the brewery, started by Russell Bissett, 32, with a £5,000 windfall from his grandmother, has increased production by 1,000 per cent.

Although the idea came at the right time as the whole of the UK and not just Leeds is witnessing, and happily taste testing, a boom in beer, Northern Monk was starting on what Bissett calls “a journey” as much as it is a business.

He said: “I have been interested in beer since my early 20s and held tastings at home for friends and family. I was cuckoo brewing where you use other breweries but we weren’t able to achieve what we wanted by doing that and realised the future was having our own premises.”

Feature on Craft Brewery, Northern Monk, Marshall Mills, Leeds..8th September 2017 ..Picture by Simon Hulme

Feature on Craft Brewery, Northern Monk, Marshall Mills, Leeds..8th September 2017 ..Picture by Simon Hulme

But it couldn’t be any old spot. The ethos with Northern Monk has always been pro-north and industrial heritage. In fact the only big name retailers it deals with large scale are Morrison’s and Marks & Spencer.

A financial backer, who also owns the Flax Store, invested into the business and from Russell’s one-man brewing experiment at home, Northern Monk has gone from producing ten barrels of beer a week, which is 3,000 pints, to 130 barrels a week which is a head-spinning 39,000 pints with a workforce of 22, a bar and an events space. And even that is not enough to keep up with the demand for their best brews.

He said: “There was not a huge amount of pressure from the people that did finance us to grow but we were ambitious to do that. We want to be regarded as the best in the world and brewing out of Holbeck and breathing new life into that part of Leeds.

“We are proud of what we have achieved but have a long way to go, that has always driven what we do. If we are happy with that, we are happy to grow, create good jobs in the area and give people the opportunity to taste exceptional beer.”

Feature on Craft Brewery, Northern Monk, Marshall Mills, Leeds..MD Russell Bisset pictured 18th September 2017 ..Picture by Simon Hulme

Feature on Craft Brewery, Northern Monk, Marshall Mills, Leeds..MD Russell Bisset pictured 18th September 2017 ..Picture by Simon Hulme

That opportunity is now in 20 countries where Northern Monk Brews are stocked and as well as a core range in Morrisons and Marks, there is a Bombay Dazzler that is made exclusively for another Leeds cult favourite, Indian street food restaurant Bundobust, and work is also on-going to create a limited edition range with a difference.

They will have peelable labels with pictures on of local athletes, artists, tattooists and images of their work with blurb about them. It makes no odds to Northern as there is no benefit financial – just collaboratively and in boosting the city’s creative and independent scene.

Bisset says: “It is an opportunity to showcase their work, we are looking to support the local community and give back where possible.”

Plans back in the brewery are to increase the orders for wholesale without forgetting the fun of creating new brews.

Feature on Craft Brewery, Northern Monk, Marshall Mills, Leeds.. 18th September 2017 ..Picture by Simon Hulme

Feature on Craft Brewery, Northern Monk, Marshall Mills, Leeds.. 18th September 2017 ..Picture by Simon Hulme

He added: “It is like free form jazz where you work within constraints, add this and that and it will still work. One of the brews that is most popular is ice-cream beer. We already know lactose and fruit works in beer and added chocolate. That said we did a parsnip beer – not amazing. When we first started we were like kids in a sweet shop and brewed some wild stuff but decided to focus on what we know will work.”

Feature on Craft Brewery, Northern Monk, Marshall Mills, Leeds.Lead Brewer Adam Lyle pictured 18th September 2017 ..Picture by Simon Hulme

Feature on Craft Brewery, Northern Monk, Marshall Mills, Leeds.Lead Brewer Adam Lyle pictured 18th September 2017 ..Picture by Simon Hulme

Alex Newman, partner at Irwin Mitchell in Leeds

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