Northern Monk Interview: Composing a Heavy Metal Brew

To coincide with the release of Communion Pale Ale, a collaboration brew between Leeds’ Northern Monk Brew Co. and Swedish heavy metal stalwarts Opeth, we spoke to brewery director Russell Bisset about brewing like rockstars, beer can bling and Howling Yorkshire brews.

How did Northern Monk and Opeth initially come together? A Swedish metal band and a Leeds brewery seem like an unlikely combination.

There’s a number of us in the brewery that are partial to a bit of Opeth. When we found out that the band’s management were local and we had mutual friends we got in touch to see what we could do.

Obviously there are several brewery to brewery collaboration beers out there, how was the experience of collaborating with individuals outside of the brewing community?

The guys at Opeth rock (pardon the pun). When the band came over to meet us and taste the beers we had a blast. We went through the range and they got involved on the brew day. In the evening after some extensive beer tasting we went for a meal which was accompanied by a seriously heavy metal soundtrack on portable speakers. A number of people came and asked us which band we were in and we were asked to leave. We stopped short of throwing a TV through the hotel room window. Being a monks this wasn’t in line with our usual behaviour but it was fun to lead a rockstar life for a night. On a more serious note I think that collaboration is all about a meeting of minds, the further apart you draw your creative inspirations from the better. What really counts is a commitment to a progressive and quality driven approach which we share with the band. We frequently collaborate with people outside of the beer industry but this was without doubt our most heavyweight collaboration to date.

An dark imperial stout felt quite thematically fitting to Opeth and their music. Why a Citra IPA this time round?

When we spent time drinking with the band we talked a lot about the best kind of beer to accompany a gig. A 5.1% Hoppy Pale was the resounding victor in a vote held by team Monk and team Opeth and so Communion was born.

Obviously the quality of your first collaboration proved that Northern Monk & Opeth are capable of making some really great beer together. However, are you conscious of the reputation that brewery and band collabs have, and that some craft beer purists, and Opeth fans, might be skeptical of the product?

100%. We set out to make one of the most credible, progressive Beer and Music collaborations in the world. Aside from Mother Puncher (Mastadon X Mikkeler) it’s a pretty bleak market. As long as all parties brought their A game and the same approach they take to their main “craft” it was always going to be good. We’re pretty stoked with the results.

The cans look awesome. Can you give us any insight into the process of designing the can’s imagery?

Thanks! Opeth have got an awesome logo. We combined that with our base can design and added a touch of gold for extra bling. After some concern that it looked a bit like special brew we’re now big fans of the cans.

What’s it like being able to introduce Opeth’s massive fan base to Northern Monk beer?

We’re really excited to get our beer into Opeth’s fans hands globally. It’s nice to be involved in a slightly different sector of the market and take an approach that embraces this metal head in us. Check out our Communion tees designed by Northern Monk Patron James Butler.

How do you feel about Communion cans being distributed nationwide inside HonestBrew Howlers?

We’re really excited about the Howlers. Drinking beer is about an experience. This starts with the packaging and appearance and leads up to the beer (obviously the most important bit!) But each part of the experience plays its part. Cracking a Howler has to be one of the most innovative ways to kick start that experience

What do you think the collaboration says about Yorkshire’s brewing and craft beer scene right now?

There’s nowhere else in the world we’d rather be brewing than Yorkshire. The scene is thriving here and we’re honoured to be a part of it.