The canning revolution at Northern Monk

Northern Monk cans

In a Q & A session with industry specialist The Can Makers, Russell Bisset, director of Leeds craft brewery Northern Monk, tells how cans have changed the way his company approaches the market.


Tell us about Northern Monk, yourselves and your ethos? 

We started Northern Monk in 2013 and we initially used other brewery facilities to get started. We collaborated with other breweries to get going, but we found that we wanted more control over the quality of the product. 

I decided to start looking for premises so we could truly achieve what we wanted as a brewery. It had to be somewhere in the north that had character, that celebrated the northern industrial heritage and craftsmanship, while being quintessentially British. 

Why and how did you get into brewing?

I came up with the idea for Northern Monk Brewers in 2008 with a colleague. We entered an entrepreneur’s competition and did really well, but didn’t quite win. 

At the time, in our opinion, there was no-one doing anything particularly progressive with beer and there was a bit of a negative stigma around beer as well. I saw this as a market opportunity. We want to be progressive but still British when it comes to our branding, the ingredients we use and our brewing processes. 

I continued with the day job, but wanted to escape the corporate world, and in 2013 my gran sold her property and split the money between the grandchildren. I decided to use my £5,000 to start the brewery — I soon found £5k is not enough! We managed to secure extra seed funding from the Business Enterprise fund and worked farmers’ markets selling beer to get going. 

Northern Monk cansHow did you first get into canning your products? Why did you choose to use cans? 

Cans are a fairly obvious choice for us. We were inspired by the US market where cans have been a go-to for craft breweries for some time. Cans give us a better 360-degree canvas for our brand so we can reflect our character in our packaging. They’re better for the beer as well as it protects from light and UV. They are also lightweight and have environmental benefits because they are infinitely recyclable.  

Cans as a packaging option also echo our brand passion for the outdoors. You can take cans out on a hike and they really match our ethos of evolution and tradition. The can completely embraces that. 

In ten years’ time there won’t be many glass bottles on the market as glass simply won’t be around — cans are the future. 

How are you currently canning your beer? 

We use a Wild Goose line to can our beers. It’s an automated system, producing 330ml and 440ml cans, that’s completely in-house. We chose to keep it in-house to keep control over the production. We’ve grown so rapidly that we now, in fact, have two production sites. We also use mobile canning if we have a backlog to get through, and luckily, we have a good relationship with the canners we use. 

What’s been your proudest moment?

I think gaining recognition from some of our peers has been special, particularly from the Alchemist in the US (one of the first companies to put beers in cans). We visited them and shared some samples, and their founder John Kimmich, who is a bit of a hero of ours, was impressed. When he came to the UK, he then asked for more samples. Which we happily provided. 

What’s next for you?

We are doing some exciting things with our packaging. We are the first brewery to use a peel-and-reveal label on a can from CS Labels and they’re going down well with our customers at the moment. The peel-and-reveal format means we can have a clean front cover showcasing the art, with more details on the beer on the inside. We are currently looking at other innovative elements to add to our packaging. 

We’ve grown in capacity by 750% in last two and half years. With such quick growth, there have been a few headaches and we are finding our feet, but we are expecting even further expansion. 

What advice would you give to brewers looking to get into canning? 

Just go for it. Cans are the future. The global beer market will soon see all products in cans and less and less of the glass bottle.

Northern Monk cans