The beer culture is transforming in front of our eyes; moving towards fine tasting and appreciation for unique flavors and the crafts behind the brewing. During recent years the interest for micro brewing as well as small scale brewing has increased, and statistics show that people are willing to pay more for quality brews. Christian Townsley, one of the founders of Leeds based North Brewing Co and North Bar, tells about his journey towards becoming a brewer.
Twenty years ago, July of 1997, Christian Townsley and his companion John Glyngell opened up the North Bar in Leeds. They had been working together at a music venue in the city; and wanted to improve the city’s bar scene by creating a space with an international vibe. “We wanted some place that was a bit more continental. A bit more European than what was on offer at that time. “ Says Townsley. The idea of creating a new type of bar in Leeds was born.
However, groundbreaking ideas often come with uncertainty, especially in the beginning. Townsley describes the first months after the opening as scary. Long and hard days without any customers led the duo to come up with new, inventive ideas.
“We would sit in the window with a beer, just myself and John, to make it look like there were costumers in the bar, and then when a costumer would come in, one of us would get up and serve them. It was quite funny.”
The interest of having a wide range of international beers grew with the company over time, as they started to discover the beauty of Belgian, Dutch and German beers. “We got really excited by the beers.” he laughs. “Our passion for more interesting beers was growing, and that complimented the continental environment that we were hoping to create in the bar. So that was really a happy accident. “
Townsley and Glyngell had filled a gap of something that had been missing within the Leeds pub scene, and the response from the Loiners (demonym; name for citizens of Leeds) did not wait long; already after a year things started changing for the better. “We became known as the place that stocked an interesting range of beers. There wasn’t anywhere else in Leeds or anywhere else that had such a diverse selection. “
“Having seven bars was really a help”
The idea of providing their customers with an own high quality brew started to evolve a couple of years after starting their business. They already had gotten the confidence that they could provide their beer loving customers with a fine selection, but after the experience they had gained made the next step feel even more natural.
“We could buy beer from elsewhere and be confident that it is good, but we couldn’t have any more confidence than actually make the beer ourselves. And also we are just excited about it. We love the industry. And we love beer. We just really wanted to have a more active role in the process. Rather than just be delivering beer to costumers but to actually make the beer were exiting to us.”
Their long awaited dream of starting up a brewery finally came to realization and in November of 2015 they opened up their brewery and tap room. By this time they already had a faithful and returning clientele and that security made the launch of their new business less scary than it had been the first time: especially since they already had seven bars where they could sell the brew. “The funny thing is having opened the brewery, having seven bars was really a help.” Townsley laughs.
“We weren’t really selling beers to anybody else and that that helped us manage; to improve our consistency and work out our route at the market and to get things quite straight before we started selling it to costumers outside of our bars.”
The recognition did not take long- after a little more than a year from their opening they were voted as the “Best New Brewer” in West Yorkshire by ratebeer.com.
“Simple process, but lots of science involved “
On Fridays and Saturdays the brewery transforms into the Tap Room, where the customers enjoy North Brewing’s own beer, as well as other brands, next to the actual beer tanks from where they produce their own ales.
Andrew Jordan, is the tap manager at the Tap Room, and present when CulTour visits the Tap Room. When explaining all of the equipment he makes the process of brewing sound easy, but summons it with the explanation: “It’s a simple process, but lots of science involved.”
There are surprisingly few working at the brewery; altogether five people. “One brewer, one assistant brewer and one junior assistant brewer. It’s just the three of them doing the beers.” Jordan continues.
“There is one person who manages the brewery- all the import and export of beer to Europe as well as the rest of England. And on the bar side; there is me. Not a lot of people really- which I like.”
Regarding the future of North Brewing Co. there seems to be a key word: collaborations- a way for different breweries to introduce and exchange concepts. “We are constantly looking for working with other breweries. It keeps it interesting and gets you new ideas to new beers that you maybe wouldn’t do.”
Their plans for collaborations are reaching across Europe, and the countries currently scheduled are: The Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden.
Risky business- in a friendly environment
Last year a research concluded that the United Kingdom now has more than 1700 breweries, making it the country with the most craft breweries per capita. Today there are approximately 25 breweries per million people in the UK. An interesting comparison in this context might be with the United States, which is the country in the world with the largest amount of craft breweries, with 15 craft breweries per million persons. Recent statistics shows a visible trend in the UK, with an increasing amount of craft breweries by 10 percent last year, but according to experts what we are seeing now might be the beginning of the peak of the markets capacity.
“I suppose that it is a slightly risky business to get involved in right now. When we opened North Bar I think there was about 500-600. Now it is maybe three times that.” Townsley remarks on the industry’s current situation, and means that the key to success is not simply handed without any effort.
“It is hard work, physically demanding and a really tough industry, but people are friendly and help each other. It’s a wonderful place to be. We are all here and all competing for the same costumers but we work together and collaborate and share ideas. I think that is really good for the industry. That will help it to keep it growing.”
Townsley’s own prediction about the industry’s development however is that there will always be room for quality products and genuine hand crafted beer. As long as the dreams are there, as well as passion for brewing, there is still plenty of room for the ones that desires to join the brewing community.
“Essentially beer is quite easy to make, but making good beer is challenging and making great beer all the time is hard. I think there is room for more good breweries and I think some of the bad breweries will drop off. There is still a lot of room for growth in the industry.”