Industry friend secures the future of North Brewing
Kirkstall Brewery founder Steve Holt has purchased North and three of its tap rooms from administration, the drinks business can reveal.
The news, which will see the Leeds-based brewery continue as an independent brewery and operate from its Springwell site, will mean that the business will also continue to be run by the existing management team led by North co-founders Christian Townsley and John Gyngell.
Speaking to db, Gyngell said: “We’ve been friends with Steve from the earliest days of UK craft beer in the late 1990s and met as Steve was representing Roosters and later Sierra Nevada which we sold at North Bar. When we began the process of seeking financial help, he was the first person we called.”
For North, the past week has, by Gyngell and Townsley’s own confession, been a rollercoaster of emotions with questions and speculation over whether the business would continue.
Last week, as rumours circulated around whether Breal Group had made a move to acquire North and its taprooms in a deal that would “hopefully retain staff jobs” as well as Townsley and Gyngell at the helm, over 18,000 views on X hinted at the way the industry felt about the possibility.
Gyngell explained to db that “the respect Steve has for the North brand, its beer and the team is undeniable and with his help we’ll be able to continue the North legacy and focus on brewing the best beer possible”.
He went on to point out that “the most important part of this is that our team at Springwell can continue to operate as normal. Preserving jobs was the priority in this process and with the exception of the closure of our Birmingham site, that’s what we’ve achieved.”
Holt said in a statement: “We’ve been friends and industry colleagues for almost 30 years, North is an iconic beer brand that had to continue. Together we’ll make sure that North will continue to make some of the best beer in the country.”
The transaction does not include the North Taproom in Birmingham which, regrettably, will close, resulting in 15 redundancies.
Townsley lamented: “This has been an absolute torrid time for the brewing industry which has faced the fallout from Covid, [the] cost-of-living crisis, inflation, Brexit and utility price increases.”
Speaking about the deal, Industry veteran and beer writer Roger Protz said: “Steve Holt is a rock of the independent brewery sector. North Brewing will flourish with his backing and professional experience. I’m delighted Kirkstall have stepped in — better than an investment company out for a quick buck.”
Tom Swiers, head of food and drink at Interpath Advisory who advised North Brewing Co on the transaction, said: “North Brewing Co is a renowned craft brewer that has forged an excellent reputation over the years for the quality and innovation of its beers. We are pleased to have completed this transaction which represents an exciting tie up of brilliant beer brands based here in Leeds. The deal will allow the group to move forward under new ownership and we wish the purchaser and the management team all the best for the future.”
“The complete package”
Speaking about how North is perceived by the industry, author and beer writer Pete Brown said: “North is the complete package. It doesn’t matter if I’m judging beer awards, business awards or packaging awards, they’re always up there for the top prizes. And when they win, which they often do, their peers are delighted for them. Never heard anyone say a bad word about them, which in today’s jaded beer scene, is extraordinary.”
Townsley and Gyngell opened North Brewing Co on a small site in Leeds in 2015, before expanding to a £2.3 million brewery site, named Springwell in 2020, with the addition of a brewery tap at the same address.
The expansion boosted North’s brewing capacity significantly and moved it up from 8,000hl to 45,000hl. At the time, Townsley and Gyngell, who had long been friends, already owned a clutch of venues across north Yorkshire, with their first North bar in Leeds having opened in 1997 on New Briggate — a venue that is often cited as Britain’s first craft beer bar.
Gyngell added: “This has been a horrible time for the team, the stakeholders and the creditors of North, we’ll do everything in our power to put that right” and revealed that “the new business will operate as Vertical Drinks T/A North.”