Photography by Mark Wheelwright
Daniel explains the origins of his nano-brewery, The Break Brewery, as a result of various travels for his day job as a food journalist. His foodie pilgrimages round the country, sampling some pretty exciting fare from various food and drink producers, inspired his need to get stuck in himself. ‘I was bored with just sitting, writing about it. I was jealous! I wanted to have a more hands-on role’. Beginning as a home brewer with a kitchen full of steam, Daniel sold his brews to friends, and with a rather positive reception, set his sights on a 100 litre set up, called a pilot system kit that breweries like Northern Monk use to experiment with flavours and brews. Daniel saw the potential in such small batches; the ability to concentrate efforts in few but well crafted beers.
Daniel’s progression into nano brewing (think half the crop of a micro brew, known in the US also as a pico brew) saw the evolution of The Beak Brewery, which is led by the philosophy that he ‘can’t possibly achieve the consistency that the large breweries have, with all their equipment, the ability to manage temperature etc, which is really all part of the charm’. This spontaneity is reflected in Daniel’s personal reverence for Belgian style Lambic beers, which are known for their spontaneous fermentation with wild yeasts and bacteria, which resist the kind of carefully planned brewing of other distinct beers. Daniel tastes every single batch before it reaches any of the eight or nine places that now retail his beers. As a result of this increasing demand, he approached the next obvious step of investing in a brewery in a slightly alternative way, choosing instead to Cuckoo brew, the beery equivalent of hot desking. The brewer travels around the country, briefly adopting a brewery to house their next batch, before moving on to pastures new, all the while still managing, bottling and promoting their produce. ‘For me it’s the freedom that this allows: I feel really lucky to brew in England which- it’s not probably very fashionable to say- is my favourite place in the world in terms of beer production and styles’. Daniel explains the back and forth between the UK and US brewing, with the recent renaissance of brewing owing largely to the ‘kick in the arse’ that American microbrewing has inspired. This is then filtered through the rather reserved British style of ‘subtle, floral, earthy’ hops in comparison to the more ‘resinous, tropical’ hop flavours, produced in the US. Daniel’s rather sensual approach to beer flavours is certainly telling of his lauded career in food journalism.
Photography by Mark Wheelwright
Another aspiring Cuckoo brewer, Matt Gorecki, is a veteran in all things beer, having worked at North Bar for a number of years as well as working as a consultant for breweries around the area. He has known longer than most the value of good quality beer and the importance of the change within British drinking culture, which Daniel adds is now slowly taking its cue from a more European philosophy. Matt recalls; ‘We used to do beer dinners really regularly and food and beer matching seemed like a very obvious thing, but it seemed to take ages for people to really cotton on’. Drinking for pleasure has been resurrected slowly from the ashes of cheap lager fuelled sessions, something that the slower, more considered process of craft brewing is encouraging. ‘It starts a conversation too, and the conversation is getting better and better. What was good four or five years ago is completely different from what motivates people now’.
We discuss the democracy of the beer industry, and the efforts to avoid a certain ‘winification’, although I add that there often is the risk that a subject that attracts excessive geekiness should always remain mindful of avoiding insularity. Pricing also attracts this kind of inclusivity debate, as Daniel rightly reminds us that you can go out and sample from the best quality beer in the world, ‘which might have taken three years to mature and blend’ for £3.60 and yet the same could not usually be said for the world’s best wine. The issue of pricing is further touched upon whereby the face of drinking culture is often directly affected. Daniel reminds us succinctly that we are too often occupied with the price of something, not the quality. The supermarket megadeals of hideously cheap packs of Carling swiftly rolled in when the smoking ban of 2007 thwarted the classic pub culture. Now however, with venues like Northern Monk making it appealing to once again don your trousers and venture out to socialise over a pint (or a third) and the introduction of bottle shops and Growlers, there is a reinvested confidence in people buying their good quality beer from their local independents. This approach Matt credits to the kind of pre-war inspired ‘thinking outside the box’ to compete with supermarket fuelled home drinking, so that punters are now taking the independent brands home with them. ‘I’ve got a friend that lives really near Magic Rock brewery and he just goes along, fills up his growler and takes his beer home with him. It’s great’.
Examining the shelves of Northern Monk’s bottle shop, it is bejewelled with various appealing looking bottled beers, alongside various cans from the likes of Beavertown’s Neck Oil, or Gamma Ray. We discuss this resurrection of the infamous ‘tinny’, which has had a slightly grubby legacy until the potential of both the quality and freshness it ensures has been increasingly more capitalised on. The visual novelty of the little vessel also allows a lot of fun to be had with design and illustration, which tends to err on the side of the less serious. Daniel points out that this intrinsic relationship between beer and design is really just a continuance of the seventeenth century elaborate and beautiful designs that almost ‘look as though it could have been designed by some East London hipster’. Over the course of the twentieth century, this aesthetic, Daniel ruminates ‘kind of went to shit’, with a weird insistence that men who drank beer would also appreciate lewd illustrations of, in Matt’s words ‘buxom wenches’. This kind of outdated and presumptive sexism, Matt tells me is humorously called out in ‘a blog called ‘Pub Clip Parade’, exposing the ridiculous maintenance of the pub as the ultimate ‘male bastion’. Daniel romances on the female orientation of the brewing process; the hops and the yeast being female elements in the process, and the historical role of brewing being traditionally left in the hands of the female ‘brewsters’ whose husbands served on the bar. Today, the appeal of beer is so universal in sheer choice of flavour, marketing, and attention paid to detail that gendering the stuff seems slightly inexcusable and, Matt says, ‘a waste of time and resources’.
As we are deep into our conversation about equality and marketing and other very important issues, Brian the brewing wizard at Northern Monk makes an appearance in oversized wellies, breaking away from the alchemy going on downstairs in the brewery. An affable and vaguely eccentric chap, today he and the team are brewing up a storm in collaboration with imminent new arrivals Shuffledog. They are busy peeling plums when we arrive, which makes for interesting speculation. This collaborative element is also pleasant to see, epitomising the friendliness of the beer scene. The brews concocted will be featured at Shuffledog on August 13th for Northern Monk’s Titanic 17 Tap Takeover, an increasingly common practice amongst brewers and bars. Another exciting event for one’s beer calendar is also Northern Monk’s ‘City of Industry’ Festival, homage to the kind of industrial yet progressive philosophy that drives their franchise. Set to be a ‘formidable’ collaboration between numerous Leeds independents, the three day festival will showcase music, food and obviously drink, utilising the seldom used event space within the refectory. Northern Monk makes the perfect venue for our discussion. As a site of heritage, innovation and quality it encompasses all the qualities that encourage the brewing and beer culture in Leeds and beyond to flourish.