A northern venture

Hugo Fountain of our marketing team takes the train north with beer buyer Freddy Bulmer to visit Northern Monk brewery and hatch some symbiotic plans!

Stop press: this exclusive collaborative beer is now available to buy! This deliciously daring small-batch brew is priced at £8.95 per 750ml bottle, and as we want as many members as possible to try it, orders are limited to 12 bottles per member. We hope you enjoy it!

Hugo Fountain Hugo Fountain

Now is a very exciting time for the UK beer scene, there are more craft breweries than ever who are putting out more great beers than we've ever had before. The range of styles and flavours is amazing, as is the degree of experimentation going on up and down the country.

Most importantly, quality is truly fantastic and we couldn't help but get in on the action at The Society. You will have noticed that we've been improving and expanding our beer range over the past year or so, getting in more craft beers, making beers available to buy by the bottle and releasing specific brewery-focused cases. We have been so happy that it's not just us here in Stevenage that have been enjoying this revolution, but many of you are as well.

One brewery that we've been working with in particular is Northern Monk. Last year we put together a focus case from them chok-a-blok with their hoppy goodness: a great range of pale ales, IPAs and a porter which were all top class.

We feel it is important to visit our suppliers at The Wine Society to get to know them and their products even better. Of course when it comes to beer, we are fortunate to have so many great breweries on our own shores, making a quick trip even more tempting!

With this in mind, a trip to Northern Monk's brewery in Leeds beckoned. It's on the train-line from Stevenage after all.

Left to right - Billy Marshall (National Account Manager), Freddy Bulmer (your beer buyer) & Brian Dickson (Head Brewer) Left to right - Billy Marshall (National Account Manager), Freddy Bulmer (your beer buyer) & Brian Dickson (Head Brewer)

Dreams of the north

We met up with our contact at the brewery, Billy Marshall, along with head brewer Brian Dickson and over a hearty beer and charcuterie-fuelled lunch we discussed all things craft beer; likes, dislikes, theories, hopes and most closely held dreams.

During this light-hearted conversation we started hatching plans for a small joint venture that should allow us to share our expertise, try out some new things and hopefully put something nice in the fridges of our beer and wine loving members. Freddy Bulmer, our beer buyer had already had some initial talks with the guys at Northern Monk before, and picks up the story below.

'I had been up to visit the team at Northern Monk previously. We had started buying a few of their beers so I thought I should pay them a visit. On that occasion we started talking about our respective industries and some ideas started to take shape between us. We talked about how we might brew beer in barrels – Northern Monk had only used ex-whisky barrels before, but never wine barrels – I said I'd look into seeing if we could source some for them with our connections in the wine trade.

'Back in Stevenage I asked my fellow wine buyers who to talk to about getting some pre-loved barrels for 'our friends in the north'… Marcel Orford-Williams suggested someone likely to help and sure enough this supplier (whose name must remain a secret) was all too keen to be involved, generously offering them as a gift (barrels, even pre-loved ones don't come cheap!) asking only that we don't reveal their source and that Northern Monk pay for the shipment.

Stainless steel tanks at Northern Monk Stainless steel tanks at Northern Monk

'We couldn't believe our luck and once the barrels were in situ I went up to Leeds to see the process. The beer underwent a first fermentation in stainless steel using saison yeast and then went into our own very special barrels for the second fermentation using Champagne yeast.

'I went back again subsequently to taste from the different barrels (the beer remained in wood for several months). It was fascinating to taste the difference between the various barrels, we hadn't expected to see that. The final product was a blend from all the barrels and, I have to confess, was even more successful than we could have dreamt it would be.'

Freddy Bulmer
Beer Buyer

Out onto the streets of Leeds

Back to our visit to Northern Monk in August. From here we set out into the streets of Leeds heading to the new Northern Monk premises via one or two other hotspots in the Leeds beer scene. I am not terribly familiar with Leeds, only having visited a friend nearly 10 years ago in my first year of uni, but it felt different from how I remembered it with many more funky bars, cool restaurants and interesting-looking shops than I recall.

Northern Monk have experienced rapid growth in the last couple of years and have now moved into a bigger brew site, however as we can see here they are already struggling for space again! Northern Monk have experienced rapid growth in the last couple of years and have now moved into a bigger brew site, however as we can see here they are already struggling for space again!

Visiting the brewery's new site was a great experience. Having only just moved in recently the team were still getting up to full speed with the bigger setup here, compared with their original location. There was some canning underway while we were there and it was interesting to see that even this process was fairly labour intensive. Having met the brewery dog (an imperative I feel for all breweries), we then got down amongst the tanks, barrels and various other pieces of machinery all newly installed and sparkly-shiny.

Seek and yee shall find Seek and yee shall find

Visiting Northern Monk really brought it home to me just how vibrant and youthful the craft beer industry is, full of enthusiastic young people doing what they truly love and pushing themselves to produce the best product that they can.

Just like making wine, a huge percentage of the brewing process is cleaning! Just like making wine, a huge percentage of the brewing process is cleaning!

I'm sure that not all breweries can be like Northern Monk in this respect, but for me the guys and gals working here couldn't have personified more accurately what I think of when talking about craft beer. They started from nothing and through hard-work, grit and a love of their high-quality product, they have built up a great business in a matter of years. They were really inspiring and we are glad that we will be seeing more of them again in the not too distant future.

Just like making wine, a huge percentage of the brewing process is cleaning! Just like making wine, a huge percentage of the brewing process is cleaning!

A dream is born! Wine and beer meet – a new concept in beer is launched!

On the 7th of June 2018 we will be hosting a tasting and dinner at Northern Monk's tap room in Leeds. This will be to launch the beer that we developed in collaboration with them and a celebration of this joint venture, born out of a convivial lunch last year.

The beer, which we have called Patrimoine, has undergone a second fermentation in oak barrels supplied by us and previously used and seasoned with wine made by one of our longest-standing producers. Using a Champagne yeast to brew the beer, it has been created in a style which nods towards the previous incumbent of the pre-loved barrels.

A combination of modern, zany, anything-goes creativity from this talented bunch of brewers in Leeds and age-old tradition and the heritage of a premium, but not-to-be-named much-loved wine. A whole new take on the word craft and an incredible flavour as a result!

We hope to see many of you there as possible for a terrific evening, but if you can't make it do not fear, the beer will be available to purchase online the next day.

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