Northern Lights

Co-Director John Gyngell on a remarkable success story

It’s a simple enough question to pose: Do you want to a) die or, b) retire without starting a brewery? It was two years ago when John Gyngell asked a question to his fellow director at North, the group behind the small collection of pubs around Leeds that includes the famous craft beer mecca North Bar. That question ‘do you want to die or retire without having started a brewery?’ was met with a resounding ‘no’ from Christian Townsley. Within months, a site was found and a head brewer in place in the form of Seb Brink. In November 2015, the brewery officially opened.

In two short years since it has become one of the leading breweries in the country. We caught up with co-founder and director John to find out more of the amazing story that started with one of the best beer bars in the country.

“There is a slight myth that has

Northern Lights

Co-Director John Gyngell on a remarkable success story

It’s a simple enough question to pose: Do you want to a) die or, b) retire without starting a brewery? It was two years ago when John Gyngell asked a question to his fellow director at North, the group behind the small collection of pubs around Leeds that includes the famous craft beer mecca North Bar. That question ‘do you want to die or retire without having started a brewery?’ was met with a resounding ‘no’ from Christian Townsley. Within months, a site was found and a head brewer in place in the form of Seb Brink. In November 2015, the brewery officially opened.

In two short years since it has become one of the leading breweries in the country. We caught up with co-founder and director John to find out more of the amazing story that started with one of the best beer bars in the country.

“There is a slight myth that has evolved that we set up to be a beer bar. In fact, our origins lie in Kronenbourg, Fosters and Beamish Red, but pretty soon we just wanted to provide the best of everything, whether it was wine, spirits, beer or service.”

It was 1997, and John and Christian went on a mission to find the best beers they could to stock at North Bar in Leeds, but the real catalyst is a little unexpected. “It was the 1998 World Cup in
France, and we wanted a beer for every nation in the competition, so we went out and started sourcing beers from other suppliers.”

Among the haul were beers such as Chimay, and at this time North Bar was one of the few places in the country with a world beer selection. “Gradually we got into beer, and once you’ve tasted beer like this, you don’t go back,” John remembers. “We moved from Belgian, to Germany, to the Statesand eventually back to the UK.”

In July this year North Bar celebrated its 20th anniversary. The company runs ‘a joyful family’ of seven bars and pubs around Leeds, as well as in Otley and Harrogate. A brewpub was always on the back of John’s and Christian’s minds, even looking to Copenhagen for locations, but as they opened new bars, it
dropped off the radar. That was until John posed
the question.

“Having North Bar, we knew our brewery would have to be extra
good,” says John. “We have probably the most discerning customers, plus our managers and our staff are not backwards about coming forward. They would tell us if
that beer wasn’t up to scratch. There’s no way the managers would have those beers on tap.”

John recounts that one of the moments it all came together was when Seb Brinks, now Head Brewer, made Transmission in his garage, bottled it and took them a bottle. “It blew our minds,” John says.

North Brewing Co started just selling to the North Bar locations, but demand quickly emerged beyond it. Its beer can now be found across the country and drinkers are seriously impressed. Transmission, an IPA that can hold its own against Magic Rock’s Cannonball, is widely applauded. But perhaps most impressive
is the Kölsch Herzog, a notoriously difficult beer to get right, but they have. While keeping a tight, but interesting core range, Seb and the team are continuing to make interesting beers with releases such as Volta, a delicious rhubarb and blood orange sour made from local ingredients.

“It’s a thrilling ride, and we shouldn’t measure ourselves against others, but to be among the top 30 breweries on Untapped at this stage in our business is incredible and humbling. But we do
enjoy what is happening.”


So what’s next for North Brewing Co? “Well, we’re idiots and we enjoy being idiots and causing trouble for ourselves and the
people around us, so who knows? It’s good fun, and I wouldn’t change anything.”

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THREE TO TRY

Norh Brewing Co / Volta / 4.1%

Volta is a light and refreshing sour that has been flavoured with blood orange and forced Yorkshire rhubarb grown just eight miles from the brewery. Orange zest dominates the aroma while rhubarb adds to the tart, zingy finish. We hope this beer becomes one of North Brewing Co’s key beers. We’re big fans of it here and love the fact it uses local produce.

John Gyngell says: “This is a sour beer with rhubarb and
blood orange. It surprises me every single time. The first time we made it, it just won. The second time it was brewed, Seb threw in loads more Rhubarb to add to the bitterness, true to form it was better. That’s the genius of Seb.”

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North Brewing Co / Transmission / 6.9%

North Brewing have come a very long way in a very short time.
They know beer of course, but to hit these levels of Ratebeer love is impressive. Transmission has grapefruit and lemon zest notes that meet juicy pineapple and orange in this 6.9% ABV West Coast IPA. With a light mouth feel and delicate biscuit malts, Transmission is crisp and well-balanced, finishing with a pleasant lingering bitterness.

John Gyngell says: “Before we had a brewery, Seb brewed this in his garage, bottled it and brought it to us, and it blew our minds because it was really, really good. It solidified everything for us. It’s gone from that beer that blew our minds before we started to winning awards. It’s the go-to and it always surprises me when I go back to it.”

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North Brewing Co / Herzog / 5%

Kölsch is one of the most refreshing beer styles. Herzog was fermented with Kölsch yeast at ale temperatures before being lagered for three weeks and dry-hopped with German Tettnang hops. Notes of orange and dried lemon peel mingle with bready malts and a hint of honeyed sweetness in this 5% ABV hybrid of lager and ale. Light and refreshing with a clean, crisp character.

John Gyngell says: “Herzog is the most difficult beer that we do to make and get right. And again I think it stands up. It’s not just me saying that. With Herzog, we’ve been told by people we really respect in the industry that it stands up against Kölsch made in Cologne. Again it’s a little bit weird but we’ll take it. We’re happy.”

 

See our full collection of North Brewing Co beers here.