Patrons Projects: Smokin' Bees (ft. Nomad Clan & Against the Grain)

photo of beer cans with smokin' bees art and honey

Beer has a way of elevating the experience of enjoying virtually any medium of creative work. While you're listening to music, watching a film or reading a novel – you name it, it's better with beer. So for us as creative craftsmen, it makes perfect sense to align ourselves with like-minded artists and thought-provokers, whatever form their muse might take. Northern Monk is nothing if not an ambassador of the creative community. So it is with this aspiration that we initiated the Patrons Projects to showcase local creative talent through one-of-a-kind collaborations with our partner Patrons.

Back in August, we kicked off the series with a suite of three coffee porters, each infused with a unique varietal of single-origin beans as curated by North Star roasters. Each variant features an inspirational photograph by our Patron Tom Joy on a cutting edge "peel-and-reveal" label artwork. With No. 1.01-1.03 still on shelves, we're doubling down with two more this autumn (including one with James Butler and Siren). Without further ado, we present you Patrons Project 2.01 in collaboration with street artists Nomad Clan and Against the Grain Brewery.

SMOKIN' BEES IMPERIAL WHISKY SMOKED HONEY PORTER

The Patron:

Our Patron Nomad Clan is a Manchester-based duo of internationally acclaimed street muralists Cbloxx (Joy Gilleard) and AYLO (Hayley Garner). Together, they deliver an unmistakable visual style. Each of their murals transports onlookers and passersby into the Clan's plane of imagination, flavoured with encounters with the people and places that have touched them in their adventures. Beyond their dashing style, the substance of their work tells the stories of the murals' environments, evoking an inimitable sense of place.


(photo by Street Art Atlas)

The Nomads proudly celebrate their northern roots through depictions of the locale's historical scenes and portraits of characters in tales circulating local watering holes. All the while, their illustrations send a social message, raising awareness about the socioeconomic strife that befalls the region including the fishing industry's demise, job losses from mill closures, inner city social deprivation and more.

Following the release of Smokin' Bees in October, Nomad Clan will embark on what is sure to be another seminal chapter in their journey. This time, they're visiting Lodz, Poland to paint their largest mural yet for Urban Forms Foundation! Joy Gilleard (Cbloxx) is certain that this gig is one to remember.

"It's a dream come true for us. They have hosted some of our all-time favourite street artists including Etam Cru, Aryz, Os Gemeos and Roa."


(photo by: Tom Joy)

For the can label artwork of Smokin' Bees, Nomad Clan lends their signature flair to their visual interpretation of an "imperial whisky smoked honey porter". The beer itself was brewed in collaboration with Against the Grain Brewery hailing all the way from Louisville, Kentucky USA. A long-time friend of Northern Monk across the pond, the folks at AtG champion all things that are good in life. It doesn't matter what kind of beer, they make it damn good earning themselves nation-wide acclaim in the red, white and blue. And in true Louisville spirit, the only way to enjoy their beers in their native brewpub and smokehouse is with their equally tasty barbecue!

The Project:

Now for the main event. The description of Smokin' Bees is just as mouthful as the actual brew. Coined as an "imperial whisky smoked honey porter" at 10% ABV, the idea behind this beer germinated when our head brewer Brian Dickson visited Louisville back in April. Having worked and travelled with AtG's jovial crew for three full weeks, he was inspired by the way that AtG imparts a distinctive character into their malts by smoking them in-house in their brewpub's smokehouse kitchen.


(photo by Tom Joy)

This experience convinced Brian that he must try to emulate the same technique back home in the UK. And thus, Smokin' Bees was born when the brew teams at Northern Monk and Against the Grain worked together to develop a recipe for a rich and roasty imperial porter based on a smoked rendition of our house malted barley. But whereas Kentucky is the Eden of world-class American bourbon, we've kept it closer to home by using wood chips from Highland Scotch whisky barrels for smoking the malt.

And there it was, a comforting classic porter with smoky overtones of high-calibre single malt Scotch... You wish. To the 100kg of whisky smoked malt, we added an equal measure of wild flower honey at the end of the boil to add even more depth to the base flavours with that lip-smackin' sweetness and floral fragrance. NOW Smokin' Bees is ready for Nomad Clan to twist and turn into a can label masterpiece.


(photo by Street Art Atlas)

Nomad Clan have been good friends and at times colleagues of ours. However, the Patrons Projects present the first opportunity for us both to combine creative forces to craft something fresh together. For Joy and Hayley, to work on a smaller scale project like Smokin' Bees in the comfort of their studio, sketching, jamming to playlists, and enjoying the odd beer in the sun was a welcome change of pace from a year's worth of painting colossal murals on the sides of buildings.


(photo by Tom Joy)

The synchronicity of our collaboration is on point, if only because it involves everything Joy and Hayley love – anything smoked, whisky, honey and especially porter, a favourite bevy of theirs. What more, the Nomad Clan are also geeky fans of the artworks on Against the Grain's tins and bottles as well as their beers. Bringing it all together, Joy Gilleard elaborates on the motif behind Nomad Clan's artwork for Smokin' Bees.

"We're based in Manchester which has various heraldic emblems, most famously the worker bee. The bee was adopted as a symbolic motif for Manchester during the Industrial Revolution when it took a leading role in production and innovation – truly a northern powerhouse!"

And the synergy that binds the Monks and Nomads together.

"This is thematically perfect for us, since our work is largely inspired by heritage and especially our northern roots, which complements Northern Monk's ethos perfectly. Beer and art are pretty much married, so it made perfect sense for us to print something cool on a can! We're proud to be a part of the Patrons Projects. It's great to see all these different creative energies coming together to produce exciting cutting edge beers."

But ultimately, it's all about expressing themselves and having fun.

"It gave us the opportunity to playfully create some quirky smoking bees, complete with all the typical northern 'old bloke' trims you would expect. Flat caps, mustaches, Rose tattoo (I argue it's a Yorkshire rose but AYLO would say Lanc!), pipes, cigars, grumpy faces, war relics, etc. We were both reflecting back a lot on our grandparents during the design process, which I think shines through in the artwork."