North Brewing Co.
Catching up with North Brewing Co.
Saturday 08 May 2021
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Among the craft beer faithful of Leeds, there is a sentiment that has passed into the realm of mantra - of creed, even - about the end of lockdown. “Won’t it be great when the pubs re-open?” one will say. “Yes… We’ll finally get to see Springwell,” comes the response. Such is the excitement surrounding North’s new brewery and taproom, that it has come to embody all the frustrated hopes and dreams of Leeds’ more discerning drinkers over this past year.
Well, I have seen the promised land and, yea my brothers and sisters, it is all that has been foretold. The aesthetic similarities with Stone Brewing’s former European base in Berlin are striking. The long, high industrial redbrick of North’s former steelworks echoes the stripped back brick, iron and concrete elegance of Stone’s erstwhile gasworks home. The brew floor is on full display to customers enjoying beers and beats in the taproom at one end; there’s even a slope of cushioned, terraced seating leading up to a mezzanine level.
Where Springwell really stands out though is in how welcoming it feels, even with no customers. There’s no wall of glass plating separating beer tourists from the messy world of beer-making - all the sounds, smells and steam of the process roll around the entire space. The only concession to separation, says marketing manager Sarah Hardy, will probably be “some sort of low fence, to keep the kiddies from running round the brewhouse floor”. A compromise, sure, but probably a wise one.
For anyone unfamiliar with North’s history, these folk know a few things about building and running a good bar. The business started back in 1997, with the legendary (I don’t use that word lightly) North Bar, a bona-fide institution which played a pivotal role in the formation of Leeds’s now-thriving craft scene. Having premiered several huge US brands on UK draught (including Brooklyn Lager and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale) founders John Gyngell and Christian Townsley decided in 2015 to fulfil a long-standing dream and set up their own brewery, North Brewing Co.
As is often the way of these things, the brewery rapidly grew out of hand, with offices converted to hold extra tanks, and beer being plumbed into a neighbouring unit for canning. Even then, it was having to limit its supply to customers, particularly for its specials and seasonals. In short, a move was on the cards.
“John and Christian found Springwell in early 2019,” continues Sarah. “It had most recently been a steelworks, and we’d actually bought some of the steel for our brewery from here. It was originally a Victorian tannery though, so we had to get a full survey of the land, because those guys used some pretty nasty chemicals!
“It needed a lot of preparation, so we didn’t actually get everything confirmed and start moving in until May 2020, during lockdown. It was obviously a bit of a weird time to start building a brand new brewery and taproom, but it’s certainly also kept us busy, and given us the space to get everything set up just how we want it. We’re just itching to let people see what we’ve been up to now.”
There’s a brand new brewhouse too, complete with a separate whirlpool for the first time
On the brewing side, Springwell is a surprisingly huge step up for such a well established brewery. A row of gleaming new 100 hectolitre tanks sit in parade formation along one side of the long hall, with a few of their smaller cousins tucked away in the back. There’s a brand new brewhouse too, complete with a separate whirlpool for the first time.
Wait… what?… North Brewing Co, famed for big, brash pales and IPAs like Sputnik and Transmission - styles practically defined by the use of late addition hops - has only just got a whirlpool?
“Yep!” says Sarah proudly. “People are always surprised by that. Before we moved in here, the guys just did it manually in the kettle. It was back-breaking work and definitely slowed our brewing down, but they did it! This new kit has already made such a difference though - it’s not only less work, but also makes it easier to be completely consistent.”
That’s not to say the move has been 100% stress-free though. There are always kinks to iron out on any new setup, and it takes a little time to dial in the old recipes so they come out exactly the same. One particular ‘feature’ of the brewery (which I am assured is being resolved) is that steam from the kettle currently causes the malt conveyor pipe to get stuck, requiring one of the brewers to finesse it back into action with a technique known by the team as “the Hammer of Thor”.
The versatility and extra capacity afforded by the new kit opens a lot of possibilities for North in terms of style too. As a statement of intent, just look to the latest addition to its core range: Springwell Pils. This supremely drinkable Pilsner is a worthy namesake to the brewery and bar, and I’m sure it will be flowing particularly generously when the large outdoor seating area - complete with food trucks and music - swings into action later this year.
I’ll certainly be heading back down this summer, not only for al fresco booze, but also for the sportive the brewery runs each August with local cycling brand Paria. Cycling, and sustainable living more generally, are a huge part of North’s culture, with around 70% of the staff riding to work, a new solar array sitting on the warehouse roof and a host of other clever carbon reduction initiatives going on behind the scenes. It’s honestly like someone took my fantasy brewery and made it flesh.
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