Review: Northern Monk Refectory, Marshall’s Mill, Holbeck

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They should call it Equity For Monks.

The slogan might borrow from one of their biggest rivals, but it’s a fitting tagline for a crowdfunding exercise which will enable one of Yorkshire’s best new-wave brewers to punch their weight on the world stage.

Raised in Manchester and steeped in northern beer culture, it was when Russ Bisset was travelling the world that his vocation emerged. “I was suddenly exposed to this world of food and wine pairing and meeting people who were passionate about it. I wanted to do something that was more true to me, and of course that was about beer.”

With just a £5,000 investment, the business began in a cellar, before Russ began looking for permanent business premises. He came close to moving into Dean Clough at Halifax, before settling on the Grade II listed flax store of Marshall’s Mill in Holbeck, creating a 21st business success in a location which was once at the heart of Leeds’s industrial revolution prosperity. “The heritage of this place made it absolutely perfect for us,” he says.

Five years on, the brewery has expanded beyond its ground floor home into a second site, while the bar and refectory upstairs have established themselves among the standout venues of the city’s thriving beer culture.

The Refectory is certainly a great place to sample the brewery’s wares. All 18 of the draught beers are from Northern Monk, while a further ten of their canned and bottled beers are available in the fridges. Plenty are only available here.

The food changes regularly, as pop-up traders use the space to showcase their talents. Right now it’s Caribbean Kitchen, who are serving “the best Jerk Chicken this side of the Atlantic,” according to Russ.

From the very start, he aimed high: “Perhaps it was a bit naïve but we wanted to be recognised as one of the best breweries in the world. As we have grown and matured the beer has got better. We’re not there yet but we’re constantly seeking to improve.”

They are well on the way. with awards at local, regional, national and international level, sales in 22 countries, turnover doubling each year – and they’re on track to brew over three million pints in 2018. They have also fostered a sense of community, their Patrons Project promoting the work of local artsts and photographers whose work features on the labels and pumpclips of specially brewed ales.

Already at capacity, Northern Monk are now appealing for public support for the next phase of this remarkable journey, by raising more than £500,000 through crowdfunding, to invest in eight 10,000-litre fermentation vessels, a state-of-the-art packaging line – and possibly a second tap room.

It’s a key rule of fundraising that you only announce publicly your target once you’re well on the way to achieving it, and with the help of 30 early investors, chiefly family and friends, Russ has rustled up 50% of the funds. Investors large and small are now encouraged to join them in this significant step forward. There are various levels of reward for those who take part - including a 10% lifetime discount on the beers.

“It’s been a wild four years. This is your chance to join us for the rest of it,” says Russ.

And I guess if he doesn’t succeed, he could always go on Flagon’s Den.


Marshall’s Mill, Holbeck

Type: Beer and food kitchen par excellence

Opening times: 11.45am-11pm Tues-Thur, 11.45am-1am Fri-Sat, 11.45am-9pm Sun, closed Mon

Beers: Changing choice of 16 keg and two cask ales – all from the Northern Monk brewery

Wine: Good selection

Food: Changing menu provided by visiting food providers

Entertainment: Occasional special events including Hop City Beer Festival March 29-31

Children: Welcomed, no special facilities

Disabled: No wheelchair access to first floor venue

Beer Garden: Some outdoor tables

Parking: On-street areas nearby

Telephone: 0113 243 0003