Chapter IV

Northern Monk staff spraying cans of beer at each other

The last 12 months have been momentous in the development of Northern Monk. We’ve witnessed a huge period of growth. We’ve moved to bigger premises, we’ve tripled capacity, and most importantly, we’ve added 2161 brethren to our fold. We’re thankful to every single one of our investors for joining our quest to create some of the best beer experiences we possibly can, and helping us to get our beer into more people’s hands than ever before.

In 2017, the original plan was to keep all operations based out of The Old Flax Store, focusing on on-site sales. However, as demand flooded in faster than we’d anticipated, the brew team grew understandably frustrated with the lack of space. The Yorkshire stone flags and low ceilings that were housing five (very busy) members of staff and a canning line just weren’t providing the right environment our brewers needed to create the volume of beer required. The canning line itself was problematic, our four head filler from Wild Goose had done us well, but canning up to 30,000 cans was really pushing it. Our brew team were adamant that a new unit was the way to go, and we agreed with them.

Crowd Funding

We knew we needed to grow, but we weren’t sure of the best way to do it. We looked at lots of different options, and it took a lot of time, but we settled on crowd funding in the end. Northern Monk has always been built around a collective of people; the concept of community is at the core of what we do. For us, this was an opportunity to add passionate, like-minded people to our ranks.

Our crowd funding initiative absolutely blew us away. Going into it, we were nervous about hitting our initial £500k target. This was surpassed within two hours of the campaign going live, and we hit £1.5m in just thirteen days, rounding out one of the most successful brewery crowd funding initiatives in history. We’re eternally grateful to our investor community, and the whole team is working incredibly hard to bring the ambitious plans we detailed in our campaign proposition to life.

New Tap Rooms

When we launched the crowd funding campaign, we said that if we were successful in reaching the higher end of our target, we’d look to fast-track our tap room openings. This became reality pretty quick once we hit the £1.5m mark, and we started looking for sites in both London and Manchester. Finding the right location was absolutely key for us, and following a trip to Manchester that involved an epic downpour (even by Mancunian standards), we found out that a bar that we were already particularly fond of might be available. We opened the doors to Northern Monk Refectory MCR on Saturday 29th September.

fish-eye lens view of the new Northern Monk Refectory in Manchester

The two-floor tap room is located in the heart of Manchester’s Northern Quarter, and features 16 keg lines, 4 cask lines and 3 draft cocktails, as well as four classic mixed cocktails. The venue also serves a food menu of Northern-inspired small plates, and a Sunday sharing roast that changes every week.

platter of food and beer on a wooden table

We’re also excited to have agreed with Timothy Taylor’s to stock Landlord on cask. Here’s why:

  • Leading example: In an industry that’s awash with takeovers and influence from global corporations, these family run, over 150-year-old businesses have created footsteps that we would love to follow in the years to come.
  • World’s finest: It’s some of the best beer in the world. There’s a beer for every occasion, and we aim to make some of the best examples of beer for these occasions. However, one style we leave to the old masters are traditional British bitters and cask pale ales. Landlord is not a beer we intend to emulate. They’ve already nailed it.

A pint of Landlord in a Timothy Taylor’s glass

Thank you to everybody that has visited us at the Manchester bar so far, and to the people that queued for an hour to welcome us into our new home on launch day. We are overwhelmed by the support shown by our Mancunian brethren.

Our Community

Our brewery is located in Holbeck, one of the 0.2% most deprived communities in the UK. Holbeck has a rich industrial history and heritage, and it’s somewhere that we’re proud to call home. In our fourth year of operation, we’re keen to look at how we can really give back to this community and help change perceptions of the area. One of the projects we funded and coordinated was a street art mural by Northern Monk Patrons Nomad Clan and Tank Petrol. The piece (which is one of the most ambitious in the North of England) pays homage to the history and heritage of Holbeck and features John Marshall (a forefather of industry in the area and the North) and Hayley (from Nomad Clan’s) grandfather, who worked in the mills himself. It’s visible from most of the trains coming into Leeds station – look out for it!

Photo of three beer cans featuring street art mural with same walls in background

We’ve also fully funded a Holbeck calendar with all proceeds going to local charity, HEA. We supplied the service users of this charity with 25 cameras and facilitated photography classes, which enabled them to go out and take pictures of their favourite parts of the area. These photos have been printed in a calendar that we produced with help from our friends at Awesome Merchandise and Robot Food. Last Friday, we held an exhibition of the photographs at the Old Flax Store, we hope that this project will help people take pride in the area and look at it a little differently. The calendars are available to buy on our webshop: Humans of Holbeck 2019 Calendar

New Capacity

Each time we’ve grown, it’s because demand has outstripped supply. Every time we’ve increased capacity, it would quickly get swallowed up, leaving us back at square one. Of course, as a brewery, this is not the worst problem you can have, and one we’re continually grateful for.

To avoid repeating this cycle every 6 months, conversation quickly moved from ‘how many fermenters do we want?’ to ‘how many can we fit in?’. A few measurements later and we settled on 8 x 100HL conical FVs from SSV Limited. When we first found The Sydenham road site we thought we’d have all the space we’d ever need, but now, as we take our total capacity to 12,000HL, everything already feels very tight, but this increase allows us to meet current demand from local, national and international customers whilst also giving us the room to grow and explore new markets. Take a look at the tank installation below.

 

Sydenham Road tank installation

Our focus then turned to packaging. We’ve run our Wild Goose machine for over 3 years now, and it’s served us well. However, when it takes days rather than hours to empty a vessel, it’s time for an upgrade. Thanks to the money raised, last week we took delivery of a 12-fill head, 6000 can per hour Monoblock rotary machine, along with a Ska Fabrication Can-i-bus depalletiser and conveyance. Not only will this allow us to keep up with production needs, but with features such as under-lid CO2 jetting, a deionized air twist rinse and x-ray fill level detection, we’ll see another step up in the consistency and quality of our canned product. We’ve also invested in in-line carbonation for the same reasons, helping us make sure every batch is carbonated to perfection. This means that you’ll be seeing even more, even tastier beer hitting the market within the next month.

A canning machine

Patrons Society

As the Patrons Project beers aren’t part of our core range, they have limited availability and they’re only brewed for a short period of time. At the end of August, we launched the Patrons Society, a service that guarantees delivery of each new Patrons Project release, alongside a carefully curated selection of beers from our Seasonal and Twist ranges, with 9 beers per month sent out to members. We’re a small team and we want to deliver the best experiences we can, but we know our limitations. By keeping the numbers small we hope to offer a high level of service to those that do get involved. The first 50 places sold out in less than 30 minutes, and we’ll be launching a limited number of subscriptions on an on-going basis. It’s important to keep an eye on our social media feeds to find out when we’re accepting new members, as when the subscriptions are gone, they’re gone until we release the next round of spaces…

Black Patrons Society wallet with Northern Monk logo holding finger to lips

Big Beer

After much consideration and the opportunity for everyone in our business to have their say on the stance we took when Heineken acquired a minority stake in Beavertown, ultimately, we decided that we would pour at this year’s Beavertown Extravaganza. For clarity, we poured beer in support of the people that had already bought tickets, as well as the staff at Beavertown that we’ve met on our travels – Cosmo, Nick, Clare, Fred, Lucy and Camilla. We will not be attending any future Beavertown events.

The situation has re-ignited a debate around the role of ‘big beer’ in our industry and how we approach AB-InBev and Heineken in particular. It’s fair to say that the tentacles of big beer are now deeply embedded in our industry and it’s difficult to completely disentangle. As a result of this conversation, one of the actions we took was to cease working completely with Beer Hawk, in whom AB-InBev are a shareholder.

Chapter V

We don’t want to leave this on a negative. The previous chapter has shone with positives, and it’s looking like we’re going to be ending 2018 on a high. We’ve got our second Dark City festival taking place in November; our Sydenham Road production site has expanded yet again; there’s lots of new beer launches on the horizon and exciting new Patrons Projects on the way, as well as a number of national and international collaborations. We’ve got Harewood Food & Drink Project taking over our Refectory kitchen residency from November to January (look out for news of our Christmas dining events coming soon) and Manchester continues to grow in popularity.

To finish, we just want to take this opportunity to say thank you for your continued support. We can’t wait to take you on the next part of the journey with us.