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Brave New World: Northern Monk Brew Co New World IPA (6.2% ABV)

Craft beer has recently become, if not ubiquitous or always readily available, then certainly a trend of which people are increasingly aware.  There are a number of examples of mainstream breweries and retailers, with varying success, attempting to capitalise on that popularity.   There are also some new breweries that, on closer inspection, give the impression that they don’t quite “get” what is special about craft, but think that the concept might sell.

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Against that context, and admitting that craft is an amorphous concept at the best of times, it might be easy to overlook genuinely interesting new breweries in all the noise.  However, even before trying any of their beers, I was already reasonably confident that Northern Monk Brew Co would subscribe to my own concept of craft because of the involvement of David Bishop, familiar to beer blog readers and Tweeters as keen homebrewer and blogger @broadfordbrewer.  You can read about David being approached by a prospective business partner and his progress with the brewery on his blog.  You can also read an interview with co-founder Russell on This Beer Blog.

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Their first beer is an IPA which was brewed in cuckoo/gypsy manner at Hambleton, which will be the provisional arrangement, along with some interesting collaborations, before an actual Northern Monk brewery is complete.  Northern Monk had a launch party last week at The Sparrow in Bradford.  I wasn’t able to attend, but did pick up a couple of bottles from Friends Of Ham in Leeds.

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IPA is basically the core craft style and I’m happy to say that New World IPA is a great example of what it is intended to be.  The first impression is excellent, with a lovely fresh aroma of pine and apricots.  The taste is well-balanced, with a nice mix of fruity sweetness and a good lasting bitterness.  It’s tasty but not so characterful that it wouldn’t seem “sessionable”, which could be a little dangerous for a 6.2% beer that doesn’t come across as that strong.

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Regarding his short term ambitions, David has said:

So what do I want to achieve?  I want to support my family and I want to do that by getting paid to do the thing that interests and excites me: brewing beer.   How I go about doing that is also important to me and I need a game plan.  Over to Stuart:

“The apparent conflict between idiosyncrasy and balance brings me to the question which I ask myself today. Am I trying to get a number one single or win the Turner Prize? Does there need to be a compromise?”

As a brewer just starting out I want to brew decent, tasty beer.  I want the beer to be good enough to allow us to brew a second beer and so on.  Don’t get me wrong, I want to do the best I can, but I’m not aspiring for a number one single.  Not yet!

So now that we have that first beer, it’s gratifying that it tastes good, the branding looks good and the blurb is refreshingly free of utter marketing bollocks – the reality is that for a new brewery the branding is probably almost as important as the beer.  The bottle isn’t covered in geeky detail about ingredients and IBUs but that’s all on the website.

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On this evidence I’m very happy to say that Northern Monk’s first beer is more than good enough to ensure that people come back for the second.  I very much hope that they do, not just because I like David and want him to make a living doing what he loves, but because, more selfishly, I want to drink more of his beer.

See another (better) review of New World IPA on Booze, Beats and Bites.  Details of the first places that you might find Northern Monk beers in bottles and on keg are on their Twitter (@NMBCo) and Facebook pages.

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Beer For Birds: The Sparrow Bier Cafe, North Parade, Bradford

May 19, 2011 7 comments

Bradford, for me, is an unknown quantity, an undiscovered country.  Despite living in Leeds for 7 years I’ve only been to the centre of Bradford a handful of times.  I know it has some good curry houses, a Media Museum and an IMAX cinema, however I’ve never felt the need to go to Bradford for a drink, in the way that I might get the train to Huddersfield specifically to visit the Grove.

However there’s now a very good reason to visit Bradford: The Sparrow Bier Cafe.  Started by Les Hall and Mark Husak, it officially opens tomorrow, but a little bird invited a few of us for a preview last night.

The bar is on North Parade, close to Forster Square station but also walkable from Bradford Interchange (map).  From the outside it looks minimal and sophisticated, with an elegant dark green frontage and a dapper little sparrow logo (called “Hercule”).  It’s actually a bit bigger inside than it looks, with a second seating area in the basement.

The ground floor was yet to be completely finished, with the floors still needing to be laid.  However you can see that it’s a classy looking place, with the kind of calm colour scheme and unifying design that the Port Street Beer House in Manchester has, and promising a selection of art similar to North Bar in Leeds.  There’s a good selection of music (I remember Love and Nick Drake) which adds to the atmosphere but doesn’t impede conversation.

The selection of beer is very good, including a wide range of American, Belgian, German and other bottles, some of which are regulars and others guests.  It’s also very cheap for what you get.  For example, a bottle of Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout is £4.15 and Silly Saison is £2.20.  By way of comparison, they would cost at least £3.50 and £5.85 in equivalent cafe bars in Leeds.  The train fare was starting to look like an investment.

There are six keg lines and four handpulls.  The kegs included two Meantime beers and three Bernard beers, including the really nice, bitterly noble hoppy Unfiltered.  The cask on this occasion included Thornbridge Jaipur, Ikley Stout Mary, Dark Star Original and Saltaire South Island Pale.  Again these were all very reasonably priced and you can look forward to seeing some exciting new UK craft beers on keg and cask in the future.

 

Beyond the excellent and reasonable beer menu there’s also a good selection of food: sandwiches, pork pies and olives amongst others.  It’s probably sensible to have something to eat because you’ll find yourself not wanting to leave until you’ve tried quite a lot of beers, some of which will probably be of considerable strength.

It was good to spend a few hours drinking and chatting with Rob from Hopzine, Fletch from RealAleReviews, Neil from Eating Isn’t CheatingKeith Wildman from Sabotage Times, Martin Bell and Ian Garrett.  As is evident from Rob and Neil’s posts, we were all pretty taken with the place and didn’t have a bad word to say about it.

I wish Mark and Les all the best with The Sparrow.  You can see that they’ve put a lot of effort, thought and love into the place and it deserves to succeed.  You owe yourself a visit.

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