10 Questions For...
1) Hi guys! So when you’re not flouncing around being a power couple, what do you both do at Northern Monk?
Ads: I’m Ads, you may know me from such films as… hahaha nah. I’ve been brewing with Northern Monk for around two and a half years. I’m now the Lead Brewer at The Old Flax Store. At the moment we are split across two sites the first being The Old Flax Store where we grew up and cut our teeth. And now we also have Sydenham Road which is where we have our brand new 30 barrel beautiful, phenomenal, amazing-beyond-my-dreams kit! So I run the small experimental side of things, I run the fun stuff! Vas, what do you do?!
Vas: I do lots of different things, my role is Northern Monk Sales Operations Manager which sounds super glam! It’s also international sales. It’s a lot of logistics and putting bits together. It’s hard to describe an Ops Manager role because it’s so many little bits. Basically everything you can imagine that facilitates a sale is what I do!
Ads: I make the beer. Vas makes sure customers have it.
Vas: Yeah, that! I also get to do some fun stuff with events, making sure that we get our product out there and make the sales, especially now that we are exporting and have more capacity.
You started brewing on the new kit earlier this year…
Ads: Yeah, it was during Hop City. We started with a batch of Eternal to get us going and then move on to some big collaborations. One was with Verdant and Deya called Haze Maker, one with Other Half called Leeds Lurking, that was part of Tom Joy’s beautiful fucking photography series.
Vas: Alright, calm down!
Ads: it’s just, he can make anything beautiful! Anyway, the other one was with Alefarm.
Vas: Esben Bø Jensen, another beautiful photographer.
Ads: That was a Double Dry Hopped Saison. So basically it was a stress test of a brewery, we basically went from Eternal which is our session IPA straight to…
Vas: Straight to three beers we couldn’t afford to fuck up!! They turned out beautifully though.
2) Ha! Indeed! Well, what we wanted to ask is this; expanding is obviously a huge leap from your original Northern Monk capacity to something much greater. Were there any teething problems that you didn’t foresee or things that you might have done differently with hindsight?
Ads: Staff. Staff Staff Staff! You always need more people.
Vas: We were in a position where we were so ready for the expansion. It’s a huge expense, and to some extent it is a risk. I think what happened is that we grew our equipment and didn’t quite grow the team alongside it, so there was a period where we had the new kit, but we couldn’t physically man it with the team as it was.
Ads: We developed a kit that in theory could take one brewer a day and they could be doing three or four brews a week, but then it’s packaging that’s the bottle neck. Unfortunately our canning line is quite small and that’s maybe something we overlooked. But we are getting to grips with it all now, and we have some amazing new team members which is great.
Vas: The expansion happened when we were quite young. For example Magic Rock expanded I believe five years into trading, at Northern Monk we’ve done it in just over two years, we’re still learning. But hey, I’m glad we got a labelling machine, that’s a treat!
3) The Patrons Projects have been really well received and it’s such an exciting way to package a product and give it the respect it deserves. Have you got any more exciting Patrons plans coming up?
Ads: We’ve got Reece Leung, he’s a skate photographer and he’s going to be one of the leads on a fantastic magazine that’s coming out.
Vas: We are making a series of lagers with him, playing with the lager culture that surrounds skating. We wanted to reinvent that and go with some interesting hops, the first one will be double dry hopped with Ekuanot. We’ve got a couple of collabs coming up with Bissell Brothers from America, that will be continuing the series we did with Ricky Lightfoot the fell runner.
Ads: On top of that we have a soda series that we are planning at the moment with Shed Soda. We’ve done one on the pilot kit to put in the taproom. As with every brewery there is always a constant list of ideas that is growing, and then you have to take that and cut it down and be responsible about it.
Vas: We have a new Northern Monk IPA with Nomad Clan as well. It’s part of the series that they did the mural for nearby, with Tank Petrol. It’s all about John Marshall who founded The Round Foundry. Nomad tie in the art with the beer and their own personal experiences, one of the images they did was of their grandfather which was really cool.
We like the storytelling aspect of the Patrons Projects, it’s that extra element to be appreciated.
Vas: Definitely. And I think it’s interesting that we’ve taken such a variety of artwork, they’re all so different, but somehow it’s still recognised as one of our products. I think that’s such an achievement. I guess it’s almost Toøl-esque, at least I’d like to think so?! The way that they use all these different patterns but it’s still understood that that falls under their brand.
4) So, when you’re at home in Leeds, where will we find you drinking?
Vas: Yeah, for a long time there were a lot of staff there that we knew so it’s nice to see them. Obviously we drink at our own Northern Monk place quite a bit, The Refectory, by virtue of the fact that it’s on our doorstep! We still haven’t been to North Brew Co this summer and they’re doing all the Leeds Indie Food street food stuff on weekends at the moment, we should maybe give that a go.
5) And what about away from home, anywhere that you’ve been that really stood out?
Vas: Yes! Iceland, Reykjavik!
Ads: That’s the last place we went to.
Vas: Anyone that’s been to Iceland will tell you that it’s impossibly cute and amazing! I can’t see how anyone could not love it. I hate to use this word but it’s enchanting! You’ll just drive, you’ll drive for miles and you’ll see one house, on its own under a mountain! ‘Who lives there?!’. There’s no shops, there’s nothing, it’s completely nothing. It’s bizarre. But then in the centre of Reykjavik there are all these incredible bars, there’s a reason why Mikkeller & Friends is there, it’s just a fantastic place to be.
Ads: Skuli tops the bill by a long way.
Vas: We went to Mikkeller, we had a great time, that was the first. Then we went to Microbar which was fantastic too. Our favourite was definitely Skuli which was actually recommended to us by Wayne Wambles from Cigar City when he was visiting. Skuli did this really cool thing. Of a night, they take a big sharing bottle out of the fridge…
Ads: Yeah! They offer you a single pour, so you pay for a measure without the commitment of the whole bottle. It’s great because you might not like it or you might not be able to financially commit to a whole bottle, so it’s a great way to try it. It was from Logsdon Farmhouse Ales from Oregon and it was a flanders red ale. It was soft and tart in all the best ways. They get all these interesting yeasts and create all these incredible beers around that.
Vas: Sharing bottles like that was such a good idea, so simple, but I’ve never come across a bar doing that before, it just makes so much sense.
Ads: You’d never bat an eyelid at having a glass of wine from a bottle that’s already been breached, in a beer that seems quite strange. But they sold enough in the night that they could offer that.
Vas: Yeah. Iceland, incredible place! But you need a shit-tonne of money!
6. Let’s talk about adventures! Ads, last year you took a trip to Florida, tell us about that!
Ads: So Northern Monk try to make sure that we see something outside of our own brewery. So I got sent to Cigar City for three weeks, they’re pretty much the only known craft brewery in Florida, or at least in the UK they’re the one we hear about. But there are so many great ones, Cycle Brewing, Angry Chair, Coppertail, there’s tonnes! Anyway, they’re one of the breweries that you occasionally find in the UK and they kill it!
I spent three weeks there before our expansion to the 30 barrel kit. I was trying to gain an understanding of how to create quality beer whilst tripling what you’re already doing! I was learning not only how you deal with a process that is so much bigger, but how you create the quality controls within that process so that nothing gets left behind. They brew beer in a 100% different way to me. They’re a much larger company and can tweak on the fly, whereas my recipe is my recipe.
While I was there it was around their ten year anniversary, we had just celebrated our second year. It showed me that we have a lot to learn, but in a really positive way. We create good beers but it’s all about being consistent.
Vas: Well they’re now part owned by Oskar Blues, which shows what they’ve achieved with consistency.
Ads: Yeah, I was there during their first brew of Dale’s Pale Ale, and it was also the first time that beer has been run through a centrifuge. It was interesting to sit with the guys from Oskar Blues and Cigar City and hear them both say ‘something’s not quite right’. It could be down to the water, or to the dry hopping. It’s really interesting to see them go through that process and see them trouble shooting, and to create what we as consumers know as Dale’s Pale Ale on that system. Cigar City were also playing with the idea of a hazy beer on their small kit, it’s a 15 barrel American kit. It was a very interesting place to be and a very interesting time to be there.
And Vas, you deal with events, anything exciting coming up?
Vas: Everything! We’ve got a British Invasion Tap Takeover coming up. Recently Mikkeller got in touch because Mikkel was interested in trying more of our beer. A few of us were over for MBCC and met him and he was showing an interest in some UK breweries. He wanted to do some joint events with us, Cloudwater, Verdant and Deya. Obviously we’ve all worked together before so we’re friends, everyone is looking forward to that.
We had some nice events abroad this year, we made our first proper appearance at Paris Beer Week, and we’ve already done an event at Mikkeller & Friends which was amazing. Events over in Iceland which coincided with our holiday there which worked well! More events in Sweden this year as we’re starting to export there more. I guess the main one on the horizon is the Mikkeller event.
7) Northern Monk now supply a couple of supermarkets. What do you think about Craft Beer in supermarkets, there seems to be more and more good stuff arriving on the shelves.
Vas: What’s quite interesting is that good beer in supermarkets is a big thing in America, and we take a lot of our trends from there. But strangely this is the one that hasn’t caught on so much here, and hasn’t been viewed so positively. There seems to be a bit of a stigma around it. Largely when we’ve worked with supermarkets, I personally have only received quite positive comments. People like being able to pick up beer somewhere convenient and not at a premium, you can get Eternal at a good price. If you only shop at independents, you will usually pay a little more. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but not everyone is in a position to do that. There’s a danger of making things elitist.
Ads: Marks & Spencer were the first Supermarket selling Northern Monk. There was a lot of debating in the team, should we do this, should we do that. At that point it was about 50% of our output. At the end of the day it made sense, they were going to look after our beer, transport it safely, put it in the fridge. They played well with us! We had a month when we couldn’t meet their total, but they were flexible and said ‘no worries, we will add it to next months’.
Vas: Yeah, they were clearly ready to build a relationship with an independent, and to work around us.
Ads: Morrisons was a bit of a step into the unknown. They’re more nationwide that M&S.
Vas: Basically there’s a slight difference now, because we started with M&S a year ago. Things have changed even in that short space of time. I think supermarkets are realising that if they want to be part of the craft beer boom then they’re going to have to work with small businesses. They are going to have to change the way that they behave, it’s probably not the same as dealing with other suppliers. There seems to be a change of tact to suit this, and I think that’s why we’ve decided we will only work with them if it’s on our terms. So far Northern Monk has decided to work with companies that support our values and the way that we work, and that’s going pretty well!
9) If you could go on a no expenses spared beer tour then where would you guys go?
Vas: I’d like to see more of Denmark too. Oh, and I’d love to go to Oregon and see Rogue, that setup must be amazing. Their farm!
Ads: Definitely! It’s a company you’d want to work for based purely on the way they set it up, working with their own products. Knowing the process from start to finish.
Vas: They definitely come to mind as one of the few breweries I learnt of that are doing that.
Ads: In a way they’ve become so big that maybe people don’t think they’re craft? But they have a story. The way they present themselves is very smart.
10) And lastly, this might be lame, but as a couple, do you ever find it difficult working together and do you differ in favourite beer styles?
Vas: We didn’t meet at work.
Ads: We did!
Vas: Well yes but it wasn’t at Monk, it was BrewDog and we worked in different cities! We dated for a while and lived in different cities, and then we’ve both ended up in Leeds at Northern Monk. You talk about work with colleagues because that’s your common interest. I think because we didn’t meet in this job, it’s not our only talking point! We’ve been good at establishing boundaries from the onset.
Ads: We’re very good at saying ‘you’re talking about work too much, let’s do something else!’
Vas: Yeah. I mean in the evenings we just watch Naked Attraction and talk about that!
Ads: It’s the worst show.
Vas: It’s the best show.
Ads: Anyway! At the end of the day, I’m working for you guys to get the best product in place for you to sell. I do the best I can and I expect you to do the same. When we do have conversations about beer hype and what we are drinking, we have different opinions, but that’s fine!
May favourite current beer is Spontanbasil. But I’d love to see Brown Ales as the next thing. I feel like we are forgetting malt a lot recently, because of these New England IPAs, they’re all about the yeast and hops and water treatments, and malt is often secondary to that, which is a shame. Give me a brown ale and I’m happy!
Vas: If I could only have one beer for the rest of my life it’d be Cantillon Rose De Gambrinus. I’d have so much heartburn, but I’d be so happy.