Sitting at my office desk in Holbeck, just over the south side of the River Aire from Leeds City Centre and the main commercial and leisure hub of the City, I have justifiably been constantly checking and re-checking my twitter feed for the last few weeks in eager anticipation of the opening dates for Northern Monk Brew Co‘s Refectory.
While this area of Leeds is far from a beer desert, it’s an understatement to say that the prospect having a multi-tap bar in the area has been causing a minor meltdown in the minds of LS11-based beer geeks.
Since beginning as a nomadic, collaborative project, Northern Monk have been sporadically creating interesting beer with a variety of well respected and established Breweries across the UK. At the time Northern Monk set its stall out as Nomadic Brewers, putting hard work and effort into working on unfamiliar equipment and trying to create something unique and original. At the time of release, New World IPA and Strannik both struck me as accomplished, if not necessarily especially innovative, but with plenty of promise
So far so good, you might think. However, another facet of Northern Monk’s approach was also their clear ambition to continue expanding their range, and perhaps it was with this ambition in mind that news emerged that they were looking to put down brick and mortar and finally have a solid location for their own brew kit.
In between this announcement and securing a site, Brian Dickson, formerly of the Grove, Huddersfield and their in-house Brewery, was appointed as head brewer, and spoke on their blog of not only his desire to create left-field offerings but also of good brewing practice and the importance of learning how to produce consistently good beer.
A few months came and went, but in March of this year it was announced that the site at Marshall Mills in Leeds had been secured and that work would begin in haste on installing the new equipment. Further collaborations with Four Pure and Atom Brewing followed, building the anticipation of the first brews coming from the new HQ.
Finally over the last few weeks, all was slowly revealed and ‘The Brethren’ who had signed up for their mailing list in the early days were invited to preview nights at the Refectory on the 22nd and 23rd of October. My diary was cleared (it was already pretty clear) and I ventured down with a few work colleagues to see what was on offer.
The building itself is an old flax mill, part of the industrial heritage of the area and one of the few buildings that survived the creep of offices and apartment blocks. Nestling just along from Temple Works, the location certainly has a singular sense of place in contrast to the re-imagined surroundings of the City.
Entering the building, the Brew kit and malt sacks are immediately visible before the staircase leading to the Refectory. We were met with a friendly welcome and a token for a half of one of the house brews, and I immediately chose to go for Monacus NZ Pale on cask. At 4.5% abv this is a light, supple pale with a sweet citrus aroma, easy on the palate and suppable beyond belief.
Having quickly finished my first drink, I sprung straight back to the bar and from the 16 Keg choices on offer I chose to go dark and stormy with another house beer, Chennai Export Porter. Dry-hopping was clearly a strength of the Brew team in this occasion, as a smooth caramel/choco aroma was neatly supplemented with a dank, almost spicy finish.
For a quick contrast, I moved onto a half of a collaboration beer – a Kiwi Saison brewed with the staff of the Grove and the people behind Indy Man Beer Con. Saison has had a popular year and a half amongst Brewers and Drinkers alike and I sense that while adjuncts are still favoured for new brews, focus has also moved back to the main qualities of the traditional saison. This beer combines both a trad approach with a subtle and refreshing Kiwi influence, I just wish the nights weren’t drawing in so I could enjoy this in more balmy conditions.
Moving on from Northern Monk’s creations, I was pleased to see Summer Wine’s Twiggy English IPA on the bar. Using all-English hops, it struck me as almost unusual that what some brewers consider old-hat and ancestral in terms of ingredients was used in such a succulent and substantive way. Which, of course is odd in itself. Further proof if any were needed that great things come from Holmfirth.
In between beers, The Grub and Grog shop provided us with samples of the dishes from their menu. Having had their delicious stews and sandwiches at Street Food events across Leeds over the last year or so, I’m very much looking forward to popping round for lunch on a regular basis.
My night was drawing to a close, so I quickly ordered a Baby Faced Assassin by Roosters to cut through the Ox Tongue Hash and finished off with a Mocha Porter, another in-house Beer. The coffee and chocolate flavours convinced me it was time to give up while I was ahead.
Lightly toasted, I skipped off in town to ride the Arriva trundler back to no-man’s land.
A good evening was had, and my enthusiasm for the opening was not left waning. Having an up and coming Brewery producing progressive beer on my daytime doorstep isn’t something everyone can boast of, and I can see my after-work future being spent in the Refectory for some time to come.