How Northern Monk triumphed in the Ward Hadaway Yorkshire Fastest 50

In the series ‘Inspiring Growth’ Greg Wright, in association with Top 100 UK law firm Ward Hadaway, talks to business leaders who are bringing jobs and investment to the region.

(From left) Russell Bisset and  Brian Dickson of Northern Monk with Jonathan Pollard, of Ward Hadaway. Picture: Eddie Garvey
(From left) Russell Bisset and Brian Dickson of Northern Monk with Jonathan Pollard, of Ward Hadaway. Picture: Eddie Garvey

The articles, commissioned by the Leeds-based law firm celebrate entrepreneurialism, and shine a spotlight on business success.

Alongside Jonathan Pollard, Corporate Partner at Ward Hadaway, this week we talk to Northern Monk Brewery, the overall winner of Ward Hadaway’s Yorkshire Fastest 50 2021. The Yorkshire Fastest 50 revealed last week recognise the fastest growing most profitable, privately owned companies in Yorkshire.

The entrepreneurs behind the most successful crowdfunded brewery in history have collaborated with some of Yorkshire’s biggest brands to boost the company’s sales during the pandemic.

The pandemic has failed to halt the growth of Leeds-based Northern Monk, which has been crowned as the overall winner of Ward Hadaway’s Yorkshire Fastest 50 2021.

“When you start from such humble beginnings, I think you always retain a tenaciousness and a desire to succeed even when faced with extraordinary challenges,” said managing director Russell Bisset, who founded Northern Monk in his mother’s cellar in 2013 alongside Brian Dickson, the company’s head brewer.

“Our vision is clear. We want to create the best beer experiences in the world. And while people may think that’s about high-end boutique ale for beer aficionados, it’s a lot simpler than that.

“The best beer experience can be enjoying a pint of crisp lager on a Sunday afternoon in great company. We recognise the whole spectrum of the beer experience which has been fundamental to our success.”

Following a small investment from a family friend, Northern Monk secured its first premises in 2014. It wasn’t long before a bigger facility was needed. To enable this next phase of growth, Bisset decided to crowdfund.

Northern Monk became the most successful crowdfunded brewery in history, raising an astonishing £1.5 million in just under two weeks.

Today, Northern Monk’s primary production facility is a 10,000 sq ft site that boasts a state-of-the-art brew kit. It will soon include a skate park, a gym, an on-site refectory and even a walking meeting track for its workforce, once the current works are complete.

Mr Bisset said: “Our team are our brand heroes; they own the narrative of Northern Monk’s story. Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are today. As a leader, it’s so important that my employees recognise that they’re the people making the company’s success happen.

"We empower them as much as we can and celebrate victories, however small, across the entire workforce. Our supporting culture goes back to the origins of the business. When we first started, so many people were offering to help and provide services for free to get us up and running. We want to foster that community spirit.”

Jonathan Pollard, a corporate partner at Ward Hadaway, said: “Northern Monk is a great example of a young, thriving company that’s flying the flag for Yorkshire’s business community with a fresh and energetic approach. Combined with an unrivalled ambition to not just become the UK’s leading brewery, but a great employer too, the company has demonstrated why employee engagement is vital to the growth and prosperity of any business.

“They value their employees immensely and invite them to further grow the company together. That encourages productivity and a supportive culture. This approach has created a commitment to succeed that runs deep across the business - the perfect recipe for long-term, sustainable success.”

The brewery has grown steadily in the last 12 months, adding 15 people to its workforce.

Mr Bisset added; “Covid-19 has been our hardest test yet but the team have been excellent and we’ve adapted well. We’ve focused more on our direct-to-consumer market and we also partnered with Tesco to get our beer on shelves.

“Our growth in online sales has been astronomical, with our direct- to-consumer sales increasing by 325%. We’ve also collaborated with some of Yorkshire’s most innovative and progressive brands including Aunt Bessie’s, where we created a roast dinner in a can, and Yorkshire Tea to celebrate Yorkshire Day.”

"The region is brimming with talented, energetic companies and the success many have experienced in one of the toughest years in history is testament to the resilience, unique character and undeniable talent of Yorkshire businesses.”