THE WORLD THAT WAS, AND THE WORLD THAT IS
In 2013 we had £5,000. At that point we were a team of two, and from a damp cellar in the North we set out to create some of the best beer experiences in the world.
In March 2020 we had £1M in the bank (following investment), a team of 75, tap rooms in Leeds and Manchester, and we were delighted to have been recognised as the top food and drink business to work for in the Sunday Times Top 100 Best Small Companies list. We had a pilot brewery and production brewery, with our HQ just a couple of minutes away from our original Old Flax Store site. We were still on our journey with a long way to go, but 2020 was set to be a milestone year.
Our surroundings had changed, and we were incredibly proud of what we’d built with the help of the dedicated team around us. It was starting to feel like, maybe, that initial 2013 dream was starting to become reality...
Then COVID-19 hit.
On the 23rd March, we lost 60% of our business overnight. Our Refectory bars were to shut, and our sales into the on–trade (pubs and bars) both direct and through distribution, were to close with them. On that final day, a number of us chose to leave our cars at home, allowing for one last visit to the Refectory to enjoy a final pint before lockdown hit.
It often doesn’t feel very real starting a business, and truly appreciating what you have is a life’s work for many of us. What we’d built over the past six years suddenly felt very real. We were dammed if we weren’t going to have a last pint of Faith in our tap room. At that time, it felt like it could be our last. On that walk in, we reflected on the notion that you should look at the team around you as you would a team on an expedition. Are these the people you want to be stood shoulder-to-shoulder with, halfway up a mountain, when the rations are low and a storm rolls in? This would be our biggest test yet.
We were also close to signing on a site in Kingsland Rd, Shoreditch, London. Northern Monk LDN was to be our outpost in the Capital. A celebration of all we’d learnt in seven years of brewing, in the centre of a true world city (with a big slice of Northern-ness in there too). We’d paid the deposit on the brew kit. The plans were coming together. We were excited. Unsurprisingly, this plan was one of the first to hit the ice. It’s now unclear if these dreams will ever become a reality, although rumour is that another brewery is now looking at the site. Hopefully a pandemic won’t hit their plans. If you’re a member of our 2018 crowdfund investor community and you have any questions about this, please feel free to send us an email.
Whilst we have clearly moved on from that damp cellar of 2013, our drive, ambition and scrappy start-up mentality remains. We were determined to make this work.
Our business has been built on the spirit of community. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and it’s taken a small village’s worth to get us to where we are today. From the family who gifted our £5,000 start-up funds, housed our initial operations and dried our first cans off the canning line with an army of tea towels, to friends that offered design services for free, or breweries that collaborated with two guys driving around in their parents’ beat up Toyota. Now was our time to double–down on giving back. And that’s exactly what we did.
- We were conscious of the strain that our NHS was under, and wanted to support where we could. Faith has been a light at the end of a tunnel for many of us, and we wanted to share that light. We offered 5,000 cans of Faith to front line care workers for free. We put our Faith in you to help us spread the word and get them to NHS and front–line care workers, which you did. Thank you. This was an uplifting day during a difficult time.
- We pulled together to make sure that we could continue to donate £5,000 grants to charities and community projects via the For The North Foundation. 33 of us split the ascent and descent of Everest via our staircases to ensure that our latest grant recipient, Rooted, were still able to receive the funds, with our usual means of fundraising being closed.
- We added an extra tier to our Patrons Society programme. The Carthusian (named after monks who lived a life of solitude) box was designed to be a great value offering, giving a little extra to subscribers with zero shipping for a set amount of time, delivering more beer to your door, in a completely safe way. This was also designed to help our brewery friends, as we included their beer in the boxes. We asked for no discount, and paid upfront to assist cash flow.
- We released LDS AS ONE, a beer designed to support the hospitality industry in Leeds, an industry which has supported us over the years. All stock was supplied to venues for free, so they could keep all proceeds, or gift the cans to their staff.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, we gave more money to charity and community projects than we made as a business.
Northern Monk looks markedly different to the way we thought it would at the beginning of the year. Gone is our brewery and tap room in Shoreditch, along with our plans for a tap room in Edinburgh, but thanks to the dynamism, determination and belief from our team, as well as your support, we continue to grow.
We have adapted our plans. Our focus is on capacity (we haven’t been able to keep up with demand for months), and quality. Despite the ongoing change, one thing still stands – we’re determined to create some of the best beer experiences in the world. The cornerstone of that will always be the liquid. So, here’s what we’re doing:
- With both quality and capacity in mind, we’ve invested in a new brew kit. A brand new BrauKon kit will be shipped to us from Germany in the new year. BrauKon are world leaders in quality, and have supplied to some breweries that are an inspiration to us. Most noticeably Allagash in Maine.
- We’ve made some new hires. There are few breweries that have achieved the level of quality we aim for, at the scale that we’re set for. We’ve broadened our horizons. Tanya will be joining us to head up our Quality Programme. She’s coming over from Goose Island where she fulfilled a similar role, including the world-renowned barrel programme. James has joined us from Boston, bringing with him experience at Great Divide, Connecticut Valley and Trillium. We’re really excited for these two new Monks to join the team.
- We’re increasing the size of our quality lab, creating a dedicated sensory room and bringing in-house micro capabilities. We’re also installing a fully automated yeast propagation system to ensure optimal yeast health for fermentation, and a Hop Rocket to optimise dry-hopping impact.
We’re driven to be the best employers that we can be, creating the best beer that we can, giving back where we can. This means investing in our site, and the place that the majority of us call home. Introducing our Abbey. Northern Monk Campus. FT our own skate park, CrossFit gym, on-site Refectory, walking meeting track, and as many green–focused solutions that we can cram in.
2020 hasn’t been what any of us expected, by a long shot. Thank you to everybody that’s supported us, and the industry, during this time. Bring on an exciting next chapter.
Keeping the Faith.