In August 2016 Northern Monk, a local brewery from Leeds, started a project to promote local artists – be their muse in music, art or any other form – to the wider populus using the form of beer. I mean, who can resist a beautiful beer, with the artwork that goes along with it and the states of mind this all conjures up. That interaction will stay with you for aeons and so elevate everyone involved to a bigger fan base. This was their Patrons Project, and it started back then with local coffee curators North Star Roasters producing three coffee porters. These beers all had a unique single-origin coffee bean to create the beer and the can had a ‘peel-to-reveal’ label with some impressive artwork to tie all the contributors together. Now we are at the second stage of their Patrons Project and with version 2.01, they have got together with the Nomad clan – a bunch of street artists from Manchester – and Against the Grain Brewery – a not so local Louisville smokehouse in USA – to create a beer unlike any other; a big-hitting 10% brute called Smokin Bees, which is an imperial whisky smoked honey porter.
This beer, again, comes in can form with the ‘peel-to-reveal’ artwork produced by the Nomad Clan chaps, giving it a distinct feel that showcases their Northern roots. Their illustrations send a social message, raising awareness about the socioeconomic strife that befell the region including the fishing industry’s demise, job losses from mill closures, inner city social deprivation and more.
Against the Grain is a smokehouse in Louisville, Kentucky, USA, which also has a brewing arm. They smoke their own malt in-house to give their beers a very distinctive personal touch. Brian from Northern Monk loved this so much that he decided to work in collaboration with them to develop a way to smoke the malts for this beer in Leeds by using used whisky cask wood chips.
Onto the beer itself then… It begins with a very subtle smoked aroma that lingers almost ghost-like, to be joined with malts and rich caramels. Rich and thick, it serves as a good portent of what is to come. The liquid issues forth from the can like an obsidian stream, thick, oily and glistening. Once tried you almost have to stop and go back for a second taste; yes, you did taste that! Huge flavourscapes reveal themselves to you in slow undulating fashion; firstly, the rich billowing vistas of caramel and malt lay a good solid base. Big, earthy molasses add further complexity and build the scene up to its fullest, allowing the other flavours to meld with each other uninterrupted. And they do so with aplomb. But, as you drink, it’s most definitely smoke which you get, picking up the detail in the flavours with more clarity.
But it’s not just a simple smoke – the slight alcoholic nature proves to be whisky, deeply subtle yet, without it, the structure of the beer would be reduced. It adds deep complexity and interest to this beer where a simple smoke would fall short. As we travel through this now emerging realm of beer, over hills of malt and through smoke filled skies, we emerge at the end. A beautiful flower meadow, filled with bees, creates a really subtle honeyed aroma and taste. Impeccably light and created with such a deft hand, the lightest of touches played out by the wildflower honey adds a mountain of taste to this already beautiful beer, counterpointing the smoke and malt with ease.
The huge alcohol, at 10%, never interrupts any of these flavour points, only elevating them to untold heights and allowing them to mingle and merge on the palate wonderfully. Never feeling like it’s sweet, the honey just sets off this journey through the land of Northern Monk to a T. You shudder, take a second look at the can artwork and wonder if you have been transfixed, Wonderland-style by the intoxicating 10% liquid inside. Perhaps Lewis Carroll knew this beer was coming as it certainly deserves a label on it that states ‘Drink me’!