Meet our Brewer. One year in…
In 2014, Northern Monk’s head brewer Brian and I (Russell) were working from my parents’ kitchen (where I’d moved back to to save money), driving round the North delivering casks out of a beat up Toyota Corolla (Which we’d borrowed to save money), doing weekly farmers’ markets with friends (in an attempt to make money, although most ended in beer swops with other traders and a fairly serious bottle share and probably lost money) and collaborating with friends in the industry to brew, after not being able to find a host we felt could deliver the quality we were looking for when cuckoo brewing.
I think the perception of Northern Monk has always been that we’re bigger than we are, perhaps because our graphic design and website was (and still is) done for free by family and friends of the family whilst we got going. It’s fair to say our beginnings were humble. We always knew where we wanted to be and have worked our collective habits off in the process to get there. There’s a few more of us now, we have a couple of sites and even the trusty Corolla would struggle to make it to some of the export markets we now work with. It’s fair to say things have changed for the monks of the North. Every day brings new lessons and experiences but we’re slowly working to where we want to be.
We decided to ask Brian a few questions about his experiences to date…
Your experience in brewing came from cuckooing and volunteering at breweries across the UK. What was it like when we finally got our own set up? What’s been your favourite piece of kit? What is the worst piece of kit?
It was of course a proud moment when we started mashing in for the first time, but we were soon having to learn every in and out of the set up, making adjustments (piping the heat exchange the right way round), learning about maintaining the kit and finding ways around obstacles as they came up. The copper’s trub filter rapidly became the bane of our lives whilst the jet washer and squeegee will always be jointly fighting for our affections!
I know you can’t have favourites but who do you think would win in a fight out of Mannequin Skywalker and Dave (our residents monks, see them at the brewery or events across the country)? Bear in mind that Mannequin Skywalker now only has one arm and lost his beard in a tragic accident.
Dave would be too distracted sticking his own beard back on. Mannequin Skywalker would use the force to beat Dave about the head with his unattached arm.
You’re squirrelled a lot of stuff away to the brewery “lab” over the past year. What do you think is the best item you’ve liberated? When can we expect “Brian Dickson – Serial hoarder” the documentary to be released?
I have the finest collection of scissors in the Northern Hemisphere.
We’ve brewed 40 different beers since we got started. What’s been your favourite? What are you looking forward to brewing next?
I’m probably most fond of the Pear & Hawthorn Wit, which was put together at very short notice and turned out really nicely. I’m looking forward to having enough hops to brew Dark Arches regularly!
It’s been a real rollercoaster, trips to A&E, lost batches of beer, events in Berlin, Barcelona and Zurich not to mention most famous The Turkish Baths in Manchester… What’s been the greatest high and what’s been the biggest low for you?
Barcelona was a big high, showcasing my own beers in my favourite city in the world. The first major fuck up, accidentally draining an entire batch of Dark Arches, was about as low as it gets.
We’ve got some big plans for next year, what styles / beers are you looking forward to brewing the most?
I can’t wait to finally venture into the world of sours, and I have all kinds of plans for a Refectory Berliner Weisse. It’s also the year we get a series barrel ageing project up and running and maybe even, finally, brew a pilsner.
Setting up our brewery in a listed former flax mill was single handedly the most inspired / stupid decision we ever made. What’s the most frustrating element of the limitations of our building?
So, so many. The floor has been a pain right through, from trying to get all the glue off at the beginning to trying to move 18 full 9g casks across a stone floor full of potholes with a second-hand pallet truck. My back will forever remind me of those glorious times…
Desert Island. Only one can. New World, Northern Star or Eternal? Go!
Grub & Grog Shop Yorkshire fries or Dominos pizza?
Funniest thing about working with Tyler?
Listening to his phone conversations with his wife. “F**k You” “F**k You” “Love you bye”
Most Rockstar Brewer thing you’ve done? Least Rockstar brewer thing you’ve done?
Farah Fashion photoshoot / Standing on the tops of bars from Barcelona to Clapham. Least? Cleaning out the drains…