The times they are a-changin

Now bigger, bolder, and older than before, this year Northern Monk is celebrating its tenth birthday with plans for the future


With its arrival at a coveted ten-year milestone, operations at Northern Monk have shifted in a manner we’d be remiss not to acknowledge as significant. That said, changes feel less like movement in a new direction, and more like a long stretch and comfortable adjustment to a position that better accommodates a decade’s growth. Home-made, hard-fought tradition remains the backbone of all these adjustments, with the brewery’s evolution embracing developments in the industry, as well as its own interests and relationships. 

For instance, changes to its Patrons Project series – which has traditionally seen the brewery collaborate with artists, athletes and musicians from the North of England – has expanded to include influential bars and bottleshops that have stocked Northern Monk over the years. National account manager Clym Buxton says a recent collaboration with The House of Trembling Madness, in York, has seen the resulting DIPA fly off shelves, and another beer brewed with the iconic and influential Leeds-based bottleshop, Raynville Superstore, garner an immediate cult following. 

“We’ve been fortunate enough to work with all sorts of really cool venues over the years, so regardless of size, we wanted to champion these bars, pubs and independent bottleshops by brewing a new collab beer with a different venue each month,” says Clym. “Given the kind of climate we’re in right now, we felt it was really important to shine a light on the work these venues do, and support them in the way that we can.” 

Another adjustment to the brewery’s regularly scheduled programming is the way it uses its Old Flax Store Series, a line of beers which traditionally visited a different country with each release, celebrating beer and food from Japan and Rwanda to New Zealand and Sweden. This avant-garde arm of operations, which is based in the brewery’s original site – the Old Flax Store – will remain the seat of experimentation for Northern Monk, and continue to produce specials and collabs, but will swap focus on high ABV beers for more sessionable styles. 

“Again, we've changed this into a kind of session series, in line with feedback and a lot of trends now looking at lower ABV and more sessionable styles. For example, we’ve done a Belgian table beer with the cycling brand Rapha recently and that’s been really well received because it fits perfectly with people’s drinking preferences right now. We still do heavy hitting DIPAs and TIPAs, they’re not going anywhere, but we are dialling back.”

In addition to lowering the ABV range included in this series, the brewery will release just one new beer a month, as opposed to two or three. But far from indicating a contraction of the brewery’s wider output, this shift makes room for other, exciting changes. This year, a stalwart of Northern Monk’s core range will pass the torch to a beer that has been beloved by supporters, ever since the day it was first brewed.

Eternal, a 4.1% session IPA, has been a cornerstone of the brewery’s core range since it won the World Beer Cup in 2016, and launched Northern Monk into the international spotlight as the first English brewery to ever take home top prize in an IPA category. That year became a pivotal one for the brewery, as co-founder Russ Bisset took a trip to New England and Vermont for research and development, returning to Leeds with a vindicated love for the hoppy, hazy style Northern Monk would become known for. 

In the years since, Northern Monk has always, albeit inconsistently, done a couple of yearly releases of its Great Northern Lager, usually selling it in keg, sometimes in can, but always on an ad hoc basis. Customers have pleaded for it to be made available more regularly, and in can form, having rendered it the most popular tap in Northern Monk’s own bars from last December. Now, in its tenth year and with more than twice the capacity it had 12 months ago, Northern Monk is gladly conceding. 

Northern Lager will soon take Eternal’s place in the brewery’s core range, with Eternal changing direction in its own way, soon to be made exclusively available in cask, a format that Clym says, lends itself beautifully to the beer. Tearing ourselves away from a conversation about cask’s cult following, and how fitting it is that beer as beloved as Eternal should graduate to such an iconic category, Clym continues. He says that “the lager has always done well for us, and for that reason we’ve always brewed it when we can, but four, five, six weeks is a long time for a beer to be in tank, and ties up a lot of capacity. 

“Historically, we just haven’t been able to spare that space, but we’ve always aimed to reach a point where we could offer it year-round. We’re already excited about the decision to rotate the lager into our core range, it's just been a long time coming around, purely because of capacity constraints.”

It goes without saying that success does not have a linear trajectory, with milestones and destinations looking different for every brewer and brewery. But hearing this, one can’t help but wonder if, with a number of UK craft giants ageing into their second decade in 2023, the scales might shift more significantly towards styles, like lagers, that need a little more time and attention to produce. 

Only time will tell, but to keep thirsts quenched in the meantime, and celebrate a decade’s hard graft, the brewery is releasing a 10th Birthday beer series over the course of this year, celebrating people, places, styles and ingredients that have featured heavily in Northern Monk’s story to date, and made England’s North as crafty and creative as it is.

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