NMBC thinking creatively with collaborations

It would be a good quiz question for those people who think they know a thing or two about beer – what do Henderson’s Relish, Aunt Bessie’s Yorkshire puds, Ronseal and Seabrook crisps have in common?

The answer is they are all brands that have worked with Northern Monk Brewing Co. in Leeds to produce collaborative beers. Like every other brewery across the UK and beyond it produces a seemingly ongoing stream of collaborative brews but NMBC has cleverly gone beyond the concept simply being about craft brewery mates having a lark in the brewery and cooking up a brew while they are slapping each other on the back.

The first of these quirky tie-ups involved Henderson’s, recalls Russ Bisset, co-founder of Northern Monk Brewing Co., who says: “I wanted to try and recreate iconic northern food and beverage experiences and have people look at beer differently. It’s mostly about fun.”

The brewery had made a bit of a name for itself with its Neapolitan ice cream beer that cleverly conjured flavours of vanilla, chocolate and raspberry. The evolution of this is its Flake & Juice brew that launched in 2022. Approaching small family-owned firm Henderson’s was undoubtedly a step into Heston Blumenthal-land, or just plain silly to some people, but the result was an impressive Bloody Mary Porter.

The key is to undertake trials and “unapologetically” seek to mimic the flavours of the collaboration brands. “We want everyone to at least try it. When we produce a cheese & onion crisp flavour beer then we’ll maybe do only one brew. One sip might be enough for some people. It’s about the experience and showing that beer can be many things and one of those things is fun,” says Bisset.   

He refers to the collaboration undertaken with Seabrook crisps that is again family-owned and based in nearby Bradford, which resulted in a pair of beers – the 5.4% cheese & onion lager and a 5% Prawn Cocktail Gose. It certainly created a stir at my local pub and the cans sold out in incredibly quick time.

The link with Seabrooks dated back to the early days of NMBC when Bisset met with the CEO when he was looking for some business advice. It was the same informality that led to the tie-up with Aunt Bessie’s. NMBC and Aunt Bessie’s had both sponsored a Yorkshire food festival and a chat with the marketing people at the food brand sparked a conversation about potentially working together.

The brewers came up with a two-course roast dinner of beers comprising a 5.7% Roast Dinner Brown Ale brewed with Yorkshire pudding and roast potatoes and a 5% Jam & Custard Pale Ale evoking flavours of Jam Roly Poly from including plum, apricot and strawberry into the brewing process.

“Where these beers catch the imagination is when they recreate nostalgic food and beverage experiences. Everyone has had a jam roly poly and it blended well for a beer. I’m not so sure about the Sunday roast though!” suggests Bisset.

Diverting away from this into a wholly different category was the collaboration with Ronseal. “It was one of our guys’ ideas and it was done through their PR agency in this case who thought it was quite a good idea.” The two brews were a 4% Medium Oak Best Bitter and 5.8% Harvest Gold Saison that mimicked actual colours in the Ronseal range and with nothing at all complicated about the beer styles because they had to stick to the famous Ronseal strapline of “Does exactly what it says on the tin”.

Although Bisset says no further such unique collaborations are imminent he remains open to the prospect and is proud of the creations to date because he believes such activity helps to keep the beer sector “fresh and interesting”. “To recruit people from macro lager we have to stay relevant and interesting doing things that encourage people from outside craft beer to engage with it,” he suggests.

Glynn Davis, editor, Beer Insider