This months Beer52 cases are landing in the hands of our subscribers across the UK from today and one of the phenomenal beers contained within is a delicious new west coast IPA made by the guys from North Brewing Co in Leeds. Named in FERMENTs May edition as ‘Ones To Watch’ they are certainly living up to the hype and we caught up with director Christian Townsley to see how they were getting on. We started like all good stories do – with the beginning…
CT: We had serious ambitions of opening a brewery since around 2005, when we opened The Cross Keys. We then opened Further North, and so on and so on. The company was being run by just myself and John, we ran all ‘head office’ departments, and I guess we were just consumed by opening and operating bars. Over the years we kept going back to the idea, we even looked very seriously at a few different acquisition opportunities. Eventually, the number of bars we owned had grown to a size that we figured could sustain the brewery as a customer base, it became a no-brainer and we took the plunge.
B52: The ‘North’ bars are obviously a key part of your story, do you still see a correlation between breweries and bars? Do you think starting with the drinkers experience in a bar and possibly working backwards in production into making a brewery is an important step?
CT: Absolutely! We’ve always felt that top quality service is the number one priority, and we’ve spent 19 years serving products that match the delivery. Now we brew them too, and the delivery of our own products is even more important than that of other breweries’ that we stock, because we’re even more answerable. Over almost two decades we’ve built up trust in our customers that we will serve them well and serve them great beer, now that promise extends to the production and delivery.
The other factor in the operation is that we know what we expect when we’re buying beer, so we know what publicans etc. want when dealing with a brewery, again it amounts to service.
B52: We love drinking in breweries and seeing that process and being able to taste the beers, was that in your minds as well when you decided to have to tap room in the brewery? Do you think that it is important people are getting an education on beer as well as enjoying it?
CT: I think sitting in the brewery pretty much in amongst the vessels, sometimes in the company of the brewer (perhaps while they’re brewing) is a huge part of the experience. It’s fun, and we always wanted that connection, a bit of a beery/geeky Willy Wonka’s factory feel, who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?! Also, it encourages our customers to connect with the brand, actually seeing where the investment is, understand the value in what they’re drinking. In terms of the educational aspect, I think that’s important to some customers and less so to others. Our background is friendly, no-pretence hospitality, and while we’ve had a plethora of spectacular, geek-worthy beers over the years, it’s just beer right? A good pint is more than just the ingredients and the way they’re put together, it’s the service, the company and the surroundings. In short, a tap within and feeling very much a part of the brewery, was always an integral part of our plans.
I nearly wept when I first tasted it, I honestly thought it was one of the best beers I’d had that year
B52: Transmission is obviously a new step for you, how did that come about and what made you want to make an IPA?
CT: It was the first beer Seb (Seb Brink, Head Brewer) made for us! When he came on board as our head brewer he asked what beer we’d like first, we said a big juicy IPA, and that was what he brewed. I nearly wept when I first tasted it, I honestly thought it was one of the best beers I’d had that year, poor John had a cold and couldn’t get anything. The hops are balanced, the beer is bright and has that authentic west coast IPA, tropical fruit character and I don’t think it’s chewy like some big IPAs.
B52: Its been available and loved in bars, but this month in Beer52 boxes is the first time its been sold outside that environment, what do you see as the merits of putting it in our boxes and whats the next step for this beer?
CT: Getting distribution all over the country of one of our flagship beers is really exciting, we want to deliver great beer to people all over the UK and this is an easy way for beer lovers to get their hands on it. This is our first canning of Transmission, and we worked hard on the packaging with talented design company Refold so that we had a design that matched the quality of the beer. The Beer52 run has completely wiped out our can stock of Transmission, so we’re already looking at our schedule to get it canned again and have it as a part of our permanent range.
B52: There is a lot of things happening in the UK (leaving the EU) and in the US (dropping profits in the craft beer markets) which can effect our industry. What do you see as the key issues it will face?
CT: The day after the referendum Rich Burhouse of Magic Rock noticed that a container of doliums had gone up by £800. At a rough estimate I’d say that’s 4p a pint to the consumer in the pub. We’ll also probably see the cost of European hops, malt and fuel going up. The UK craft brewing industry doesn’t operate on vast profit margins, those costs will inevitably find their way to consumers. In addition to direct costs, lots of Europeans work in hospitality, if that changes the industry will suffer, it will become much harder for small businesses to recruit (it’s tough enough already). If it’s harder for Europeans to travel here to work we’ll see less innovation. So I guess the key issues will be rising costs and the challenge of recruitment.
B52: Whats on the horizon for North Brewing Co, in terms of beers, bars, or as a brewery?
CT: We’ve had a really fun 8 months since opening, brewing some interesting one-offs and collaborating with some great breweries, Lervig, Drygate, Brewdog, but some of the flexibility of the brewing schedule has gone as demand for our beers has increased. We’re now approaching capacity on our kit, in order to manage our growth we’re going to have to acquire more equipment, in particular FVs. Fortunately we anticipated this and signed the lease for the unit next door, so we have space to grow into! We invited Port Street Beer House (Manchester) over to do a collab for a tap takeover coming up on July 28th, and another tap takeover in the pipeline for The Rake in London, both venues have phenomenal reputations in the beer scene. We’re selling beer locally now and working with distributors, so our draft beer can start making it’s way around the country. Following a number of launch events, gigs and a successful Leeds Feast we’ve a host of other exciting events lined up at the tap including Oxjam, some film nights and a BMX stunt competition on site!
B52: Great! Thanks very much for talking to us!
CT: No problem at all Ben! It’s easy to blather on about something you’re passionate about!
We’re are extremely proud to say you can try out TRANSMISSION when you receive your box this month, let us know your thoughts on Twitter – @beer52hq
You can also find a list of all the North Brewing Co bars by clicking here
Thanks for reading!