Northern Monk – The Patrons Project pt.1
For the first of our “Across the Pond” Features, we're taking a trip to England to visit Leeds based brewers Northern Monk. I was fortunate enough to live in Leeds for three years while at university, but unfortunate enough that those years came to an end before Northern Monk really got themselves established. As the UK craft beer industry boomed, the North’s answer to Mikkeller has gone from strength to strength and has since taken the kingdom by storm. Their success is as much due to the quality of their beers as to the strength of their can designs and the reputation they’ve built.
Last year they commenced their Patrons Projects series – a range of collaborative, creative, craft brews showcasing the craftsmanship of Northern Monk’s brewers and local artists alike.
“The Patrons Projects were initiated with Northern Monk's aspiration to become an ambassador of the creative community, for as creative craftsmen, we have an obligation to align ourselves with like-minded artists and thought-provokers.”
In essence, the Patrons project is the embodiment of what this blog aims to celebrate: the canvas that is the can and, of course, the beer (or beverage) within. These cans take it a step further with Peel-and-reveal labels that let you take in the artwork in all its glory and, post-peel, reveal a bit more about the creative process behind the beer.
The first batch of Patrons Project beers I came into contact with were brewed in collaboration with Leeds-based photographer Tom Joy and acted as a sort of mini photo exhibition that traded gallery walls for fridge shelves. At the time of release I worked in an independent liquor store selling exclusively craft beer and these cans took my breath away, as did the beer itself. The idea of can as canvas is fully embraced both outside and in. Tom Joy’s evocative photos adorn three iterations of a coffee porter each infused with a different single-origin coffee bean from local coffee roaster Northern Star.
Next up came two collaborations with Manchester based street artists Nomad Clan and Kentucky based brewers Against the Grain. Smokin’ Bees is an imperial whisky smoked honey porter made with organic honey and whisky barrel chips and features a stunning pen and ink illustration that brings together elements of the artists’ northern heritage with the delicious ingredients in the beer. PBJ is a somewhat more playful and incredibly indulgent peanut butter brown ale presented to you by a big surly peanut lit by the light of a neon jelly sign. What’s not to like here?
A hoppy Kraken ambushes a wayward ship on the first beer of Northern Monk’s 3rd Patron series, Attack on the Bounty. James Butler’s bold black ink work brings extra life to this Pina colada IPA – as if it needed it – and equally ties in quite neatly with Siren’s famous illustrative oceanic branding. Beers 3.02 and 3.03, “Tropical Death Party” and “Black Hole Sun” continue the story of these unfortunate seafarers in two more super fruity black IPAs. For more of James Butler’s work, check him out on Instagram or head to easytigertattoo.co/james
Patrons Project 4.01 is a Passion Fruit Lassi IPA featuring the mind-blowing art of Drew Millward, which was recently followed up with a Pineapple & Grapefruit Juice IPA with yet more eye-burstingly bright print work. Rumour has it when asked what sort of beer they should brew, his answer was simply “Um Bongo”. 4.02’s primate adventurer peeks out from an avalanche of tropical fruit over the city skyline drenched in colours not dissimilar from the classic Um Bongo adverts. I would like these prints on my wall. All over my walls. I would like every surface covered.
Northern Monk’s Patrons Project is pushing the boundaries of craft beer, can design… and craft beer can design. Peel-and-Reveal labels make these beauties virtually collectible items and I know that if I was in England still, these glorious works of art would likely have been peeled off and stuck over any available surface. It’s a game changer for both the artists and the brewers. Each can release guarantees the artist an in-person audience equal at the very least to the size of the can run, with the addition of all those who pick up the can and marvel at it in the shops, plus all those craft beer / design fans across the world on Instagram and other social networks. For brewers the eye-catching designs guarantee some “oohs and ahhs” if not immediate purchases and set them well apart from the rest of the beer fridge. What better way to start this blog off?
Join us soon for Part 2!