How to Name a Beer

It was almost a year ago that I published a post laying out the difficulties of naming a brewery. Eleven months later, and with a bunch of new breweries popping up in New Zealand, none of which have ‘dog’ in the name, it’s high time we discussed the other side of the coin.

Beer names are an integral part of a brewery’s brand and identity. Just like a good brewery name, a good beer name attracts customers and ultimately, can sell more beer. And just like naming a brewery, there are certain pitfalls that brewers both young and old can fall into.

The advice I’m going to share with you is not meant as the be-all-and end-all, only a guideline. They’re my opinion only, and your gas mileage may vary. I have, however, built these guidelines over years of interacting with customers, and seeing what does and doesn’t seem to work. Of course, no offence to any brewers I use as examples. It doesn’t reflect on the quality of your beer, and if you’ve been calling your beer by a certain name for years, I am by no means suggesting you change it.

1. Make it Catchy

I realise I’m starting with a rule that’s incredibly difficult to define. What makes something catchy? Seems like almost a “I know it when I see it it” situation. But let’s take a stab at defining it anyway.

A good place to start is keeping it short and simple. Beer names can be longer than brewery names, sometimes substantially longer. Choice Bro’s I’m Afraid of Americans would be a good example of a long name that I think works (we’ll get to why names work soon).

Im_afraid

the art works nicely too.

But there is always a limit, and in my experience, if a customer can’t pronounce and/or remember the whole name of a beer from the time they’ve read the menu to when they make it to the bar, they’re less likely to order it or recommend it to a friend. The Moon Dog/Yeastie Boys collaborative beer Peter Piper’s Pickled Pepper Purple Peated Pale Ale (AKA The 7 ‘P’s) suffered from this.

Beyond keeping it short, what else can make it ‘catchy’? Hard to say. Poetic devices tend to help. Things like rhymingassonancealliteration and consonance can help. Names like Pils ‘n’ Thrills, Double Trouble, Red Rocks Reserve, Sauvignon Bomb employ these devices.

Likewise, humour can be a great tool for naming beers. In my experience, people can remember jokes easier than names. Puns and in particular beer-related ones, are often popular – like Four Horsemen of the Hopocalypse. But humour can be a double edged sword. Which brings me to…

2. Keep it Classy

Beers do need to be named in a manner that make them sound appetising. You might think it’s really funny to name your Porter with cacao nibs ‘Chocolate Starfish‘ (and so might your close friends), but be warned, a lot of people will be put off by the name and/or assume your beer literally tastes like arse. Also, I’m going to assume the people making/naming the beer are exactly the kind of horrific Dudebros we’ve all spent so long trying to exorcise from our industry and community.

Simple crassness aside, keeping it classy is a good principle to guide not only naming, but all sorts of branding and marketing decisions. I’m talking about controversy here. Stirring up controversy with a name that could be (or just is) sexist, racist, homophobic, etc. may be a cheap way to get media attention short term, but is a bad foundation for building a long-term customer base.

I won’t go into detail but I think we all know of breweries that have adopted this technique in the past. Ask them how it’s gone. Or I suggest reading Jim Vorel’s really excellent piece on the subject.

3. Themes are Good. sometimes.

Many breweries have themes to name their beers. For example Choice Bros. Uses Bowie lyricsPanhead has a hotrod motif (Super Charger, Blacktop, Boss Hog and so on), whereas Bach Brewing uses a beach theme in their beer names (Crayporter, Kingtide, Driftwood). Themes can be a great way to get build a consistent brand across a range of beers and in your customers consciousness. But they can get you into trouble in two different ways.

ParrotDog beer nice.

ParrotDog beer nice.

The first is slavish adherence. Breweries who stick too closely to a naming theme can end up painting themselves into a corner. ParrotDog for example, used almost exclusively dog or bird themed double-worded names for their beers (BloodHound, DeadCanary, BitterBitch). But coming up with names that fit that scheme is difficult, and we gradually saw them shift away from it with names such as RiwakaSecret, Pandemonium, and the RareBird series. Coming up with new beer names is hard enough, and imposing arbitrary restrictions on yourself only makes it harder.

The second way naming themes can get a brewery into trouble is when they make each of your beers essentially indistinguishable. For a really great illustration of this, we need to look overseas. Russian River, from Santa Rosa California. Their Barrel Aged/Belgian inspired range all have names that end in ~tion. As in: Redemption, Consecration, Damnation, Sanctification and so on. Now I’ve had a decent number of these beers, but I couldn’t tell you which ones. They’re all really excellent beers, but they’ve all sort of blended into one in my memory.

Likewise when naming beers, numbers are not your friend. Founders for example, uses years to name their beers – 1946, 2009, 1854, and so on. Again, I’ve had all of them, but could I tell you which one’s which? Nope.

4. Does it Do What it Says on the Tin?

In point five of How to Name a Brewery, I elaborated on the need to choose adjectives carefully – if you use an adjective in your brewery name that could theoretically apply to beer – a flavour, colour or aroma, customers will assume that it applies to your beer.

Now forgive me if it seems like I’m stating the obvious, but this principle applies doubly to beer names. The reason I am stating the obvious is that breweries still do it with surprising regularity. Infringements on this principle can be relatively minor – for example Townshend Black Arrow Pilsner which customers occasionally mistake for a dark beer, but because of the word ‘Pilsner’ mostly gets away with it. But sometimes a misplaced descriptor can cause real havoc with customers.

Pictured - one of my favourite Pilsners in New Zealand.

Pictured – one of my favourite Pilsners in New Zealand.

I still have vivid memories of pouring a beer at Hashigo (quite a few years ago) that committed this sin – Liberty Brewing Sexual Chocolate1. Sexual Chocolate was a beer that, although somewhat sexy, was not very chocolatey at all (it was a hoppy Brown Ale). Customers would order a Sexual Chocolate, and then almost immediately return it, claiming I’d poured the wrong beer: they were expecting a chocolate porter.

Eventually I started warning customers: “this beer is not very chocolatey, do you want to try it before you order?” If your beer needs to come with a disclaimer, then you should probably reconsider the name. I like to call this the ‘Does it do What it Says on the Tin?’ test.2

So let’s review. You’ve brewed a beer, picked out a name that’s short, punchy, uncontroversial, and accurately sells the beer’s attributes. But you’re not there yet, you have to do one more thing.

5. Google It

Maybe I should really say Untappd it, but either way, check to see if any other brewery is using the same name. On this one I’m talking from experience. Many years ago, I made a video of a collaboration brew between Garage Project and Nøgne Ø Brewery. The beer needed a name and I suggested Good as Gøld, without checking it on Untappd or RateBeer. Silly me, because it already existed. I really should have checked.

Eventually, the beer would be called 'Summer Sommer'.

Eventually, the beer would be called Summer Sommer.

Stouches over names are fairly infrequent, but double-ups can happen quite often. If a name seems absolutely perfect, there’s a good chance that someone else has got to it before you. Which isn’t to say that double-ups are necessarily a disaster. If a little brewery in another country that will never ever be seen in New Zealand is already using a name, then go right ahead anyway. But if it’s another NZ brewery using it, you need to start again, out of courtesy if nothing else.

It is, however, a different matter if it’s a really famous or iconic beer from another country. If an NZ brewery ever dared to name a beer, ‘Pliny the Elder’, ‘Heady Topper’, or ‘Sculpin’, then they fully deserve to be dragged over a bed of hot coals.


Coming up with names for anything is hard – just ask any parent. Some breweries have a knack for it, while others seem to struggle more. These guidelines are a good place to start, but they’re also not bullet proof. I can think of some absolutely terribly named beers out there that don’t technically break these rules, but are still somehow clunky, unappealing, or just sound wrong.

If a brewer ever wants to run a name past me, feel free. You can reach me on twitter any time.


 NOTES

1. There seems to be no record of this beer online except in DEEP in Hashigo’s newsletter archives

2. Strangely enough, Yeastie Boys did the exact same thing with their beer Kid Chocolate, which had almost nothing chocolatey about it at all. Yes, that was released seven years ago. I have a long memory and I’ve been doing this for a long time. 

What Your Beer Choice Says About You

Today the world of beer has become fragmented. Where once in New Zealand it was ‘lager’, ‘draught’ or if you were very lucky, ‘dark’. But now we have any sort of beer you can imagine (and several you can’t). But how does your beer choice reflect on you?

The internet is full of silly great advice for American beer drinkers, but what about the humble Kiwi? What do our beer choices say about us? Well, fret no more. Here’s the definitive list:

Lager/Pilsner

You are most likely right-handed. Also you like lager.

Source.

Fig. 1: A Lager                                                    Source.

Pale Ale

Your height is probably between 132-192 centimetres tall. You like hoppy, pale beers.

Fig. 2: A Pale Ale Source.

Fig. 2: A Pale Ale                                                  Source.

Wheat Beer

Bad news: you probably have herpes, most likely without knowing it. And you like wheat beers.

Mild/Bitter/ESB

Good news: you are probably immune to leprosy. You’re also a fan of traditional English ales.

Fig. 3: An ESB Source.

Fig. 3: An ESB                                                                                             Source.

Stout/Porter

If you’re European, there’s a statistical certainty you’re a descendant of Charlemagne. And you like dark beer.

IPA

If you’re male, there is a ~1/200 chance you’re a direct descendant from Genghis Khan. If you’re a Chinese male, that figure goes up to ~1/12. You’re also an IPA enthusiast.

Fig. 4: An IPA Source.

Fig. 4: An IPA                                                                                    Source.

Black IPA

You’re a weirdo.

Sour/Wild Beer

Your liver is worth ~$157,000 (US) on the black market. Of course, drinking too much of that sour beer you love may decrease that value. The good news is, it should increase its value as foie gras.

Fig. 5: A sour Beer    Source.

Fig. 5: A Sour Beer                                              Source.

Barleywine

You’re hopefully too smart to fall into lazy stereotyping of beer drinkers according to style, glass preference, gender, class, race, ethnicity or any other silly, arbitrary, irrelevant factor.

And you like Barleywine.

Fig. 6: Several Barleywines     Source.

Fig. 6: Several Barleywines                                                     Source.

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Cat Beer.gif

Scott was right – it’s just not clickbait without a cat gif.

Podcast: Will it Shandy?

There’s something not many people know about me. I love shandies and radlers – the humble blend of beer and lemonade. Phil Cook, my friend and colleague also shares this passion.

We got together one warm summer’s evening with a selection of beers that might be considered ‘unconventional’ blending material, in a quest to answer that age old question that has plagued humanity: “Will it Shandy?”

 

Will it Shandy can be streamed here, or over on The Beer Diary. To download, click the icon in the top right corner, under the Soundcloud logo or go here.

Our title track is Square Beer by The Coconut Monkeyrocket.

Let’s Talk Rationally About: Beer Social Media

I’ve noticed a lot of articles going past my feed lately, focusing on negative issues and trends of the ‘craft’ beer industry. Now normally I’d be all over this sort of thing – I consider myself very much the social commentator and I have a reputation for having the least rose-tinted glasses of anyone in the industry.

The trouble is that frequently the articles are sweeping generalisations about the industry that I think just don’t stack up. Chief among offenders is that glossy heap of clickbait dross the Thrillist, but also a number of personal blogs voicing similar opinions, which I would like to provide a counterpoint to.

So today I want to rationally discuss an assertion I’ve seen several times:

Untappd is damaging ‘craft’ beer.

Originally I was going to say ‘beer social media’ is damaging ‘craft’ beer. I’m going to be discussing this in the New Zealand context (although I suspect what I’m going to say will hold true in many other countries). BeerAdvocate never really caught on down here, and RateBeer is virtual ghost town these days, so Untappd is pretty much it.

For those not in the know: Untappd is a website and app where users can ‘check-in’ beers at different locations, win badges for drinking different beers, rate beers, and share all this info with their friends.

The general crux of assertions I want to talk about is that Untappd is ruining beer culture by creating a customer base more obsessed with clocking up unique check-ins and winning badges than actually enjoying beer (I like to call these people ‘badgers’). Brewers in turn, will sacrifice quality by pandering to the badgers by making endless new and novel beers in pursuit of check-ins, instead of focusing on the quality of their brews.

So a question we need to ask is: are Untappd users just after the kudos and badges, or are there other, less ‘pathological’ uses for the app, and do said users constitute a serious threat to the ‘craft’ beer industry?

Well, I can only talk from my own experience on this one. I use Untappd myself, and I keep my eye on check-ins at Golding’s. Now I do agree that ‘badgers’ definitely do exist. People even go so far as to check-in beers they’ve never had (ask Garage Project about it), presumably to look cool.

The pertinent question here is do badgers constitute the majority (or even a significant proportion) of Untappd users? Whilst I can’t say definitively one way or another, I suspect not. At least certainly not in my experience.

There are many legitimate uses for Untappd. My personal reasons are multiple:

  • It’s a handy memory aid. “I think I’ve had that beer?” *checks Untappd* “Oh yeah, I tried it April last year”.
  • It’s great for socialising. I feel like popping out for a beer – “Hey Dave’s just checked in at Malthouse”.
  • It’s a useful research tool. Who makes a beer, how strong is it, what style is it and where can I find it?
I may occasionally also use Untappd for bragging purposes.

I may occasionally also use Untappd for bragging purposes.

Most of the activity I see on Untappd seems to broadly fit into the categories above, which are as good a reason as any to use the app. Even if that’s not the case, and a majority of users are just badgers, is that something we really need to worry about? I mean, how many people are actually using Untappd total in New Zealand?

I couldn’t find any accurate user data on this question. Whilst Untappd has over 1 million downloads, user data is, very sensibly, confidential. So I took a different approach. I went onto Untapped, and had a look at check-ins of certain beers. Then I cross-referenced them against a section of locations, both nerdy (Hashigo, Golding’s, Vultures’ Lane , 16 Tun) and non-nerdy (The Kelburn Village Pub, Southern Cross, Wellington Airport Mojo). My goal was to see how many check-ins a single keg might generate.

The most check-ins I found was ~20, from a keg of very nerdy beer that was on tap at Hashigo. The fewest I found was none – for a keg of beer that I knew happened to be on at the Golding’s on a certain date. The average though, was about five check-ins.

So out of the ~120 serves of beer in a 50 litre keg, ~4% of them generate Untappd check-ins. That’s nothing; and frankly, I think that’s a gross overestimate. Most of my data was scooped from places that would have the highest number of Untappd users in their customer base. Think about the many thousands of litres of Tuatara Pilsner, Panhead Supercharger, and Emerson’s Bookbinder that are sold through supermarkets and happily drunk without generating a single check-in.

I would be willing to bet that less than 3% of ‘craft’ beer drinkers regularly use Untappd. I would stake that the percentage of drinkers who are ‘badgers’ would be less than 1%. How can such a tiny group of people possibly constitute a threat to either beer industry a whole? It’s irrational.

Furthermore, I think that the whole argument presents incredibly patronising (if not downright insulting) view of brewers. Whilst I know a few brewers who sometimes take their Untappd check-ins a little too personally, none of them would ever compromise on the beers they make in order to satisfy the whims of a minority anonymous of app users.

You know what I think this all boils down to? Technophobia. It’s the same illogical fear that said Facebook was going to ruin our ability to socialise. That texting would kill the English language. That video games would turn us into psychopaths. It’s boring, it’s old, it’s run of the mill.

In the end, we should all recognise Untappd for what it is: a useful tool for professionals, a fun diversion for drinkers, but ultimately and particularly for brewers, so much pointless white noise.

The Alpacalypse is Nigh

I never thought I might find a sideline as a T-shirt designer. Well, a few months back, I launched the Craft Queer Project, which was a roaring success, I’m happy to say.

Not long after that, a friend of mine was telling me about an awesome T-shirt she’d seen a guy wearing. She’d tried to order one for herself online, but the shop was sold out. This was the brilliant Alpacalypse T-shirt from Threadless (which is in stock again, by the way).

Now this was at Marchfest, and I’d had a few beers. So maybe I wasn’t thinking straight. Anyway, at the time, I loftily promised to design her very own, custom Alpacalypse T-shirt.

Well, it’s taken a few months (because I basically forgot about the project), but…

The woolly beasts of burden have had enough! They’re out for blood and they’re on the rampage… THROUGH WELLINGTON!

Alpacalypse Poster Small

Shirt Model 2.jpg

 

The inspiration for this shirt was classic Hollywood monster movies, such as King Kong, The BlobCreature From The Black Lagoon and also Japanese Kaiju films.

Now, if Hollywood has taught us anything, it’s that a good film needs a sequel. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, the horror, the suspense, the spectacle of…

LLAMAGEDDON!

Llamageddon Poster Small

 

Shirt Model.jpg

This shirt is inspired by classic Sci-Fi, ranging from Star Wars and Forbidden Planet through to Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Due to popular demand, Alpacalypse and Llamageddon T-shirts are available from my Print Mighty store. You’ll notice they’re slightly cheaper than the other shirts. I’ve opted to print them on the lower quality cotton to achieve a faster-wearing ‘vintage’ effect.

As always, custom pieces are available on request.

No further sequels are in production at the moment. Although there are more members of the Camelid family yet to be exploited…

Bactrian to the Future, anyone?

 

Who is New Zealand’s Oldest ‘Craft’ Brewery?

Longevity is not the same thing as quality, especially in the beer industry. After all, Tui has been around for donkey’s years. I set out to learn which ‘craft’ brewery is the oldest because of a realisation that I could think of at least five breweries that were all trying to claim the title in one way or another. Frankly, I didn’t believe any of them. Heritage is perceived as a valuable marketing tool and it’s no surprise that several different outfits are vying for the position oldest ‘craft’ brewery.

But which one really is the oldest? Let’s take a look at the contenders. But first, some terms:

Oldest – I’m defining oldest as: “The brewery that has operated as a commercial brewing entity continuously for the longest period of time”. By ‘commercial brewing entity’ I mean a business that has been making beer under a ‘brand’ name. To put it simply – was the brewery, throughout the history they claim, making beer; and could I reasonably expect to go and buy one?

The reason I’m defining it this way is because all the breweries I’m going to look at in the course of this article have changed hands at least once in their history. What I want to do is differentiate between breweries that have been sold and continued operating as essentially the same business, and breweries that have changed ownership and subsequently become a new brewery altogether.

An illustration of the difference would be the cases of Emerson’s and Monkey Wizard. Both were sold to new owners, but Emerson’s stayed Emerson’s. You can drink the same beers, with the same label. You can go to the Emerson’s Brewery.

Monkey Wizard on the other hand, as soon as it was sold, ceased to be Monkey Wizard. You could no longer reasonably expect to go and buy a Monkey Wizard beer and you can’t go to the Monkey Wizard Brewery. Instead, you can go to the Hop Federation brewery. It’s a whole new entity, making a different range of beers under a different name. Monkey Wizard was founded 2006. Hop Federation uses the same premises and equipment as Monkey Wizard, but it would not be reasonable for Hop Federation to claim to have been founded 2006 (and very sensibly, they don’t).

Apologies for going on at length about this, but the distinction will become important later on.

‘Craft’ – I’ve always put that word in quotation marks because there is no agreed on definition of the term, nor do I ever think there will be one. I’m using it here as a collective term to broadly describe beers that are part of the ‘craft/boutique brewing sector’.

As such, these beers are not separable from the rest of the market in any quantifiable manner. ‘Craft’ beer isn’t definable according to quality, ownership, production method, style, or any other measurable way. Instead I’m using the ‘Obscenity Method’: what is ‘craft’ beer? I can’t describe it, but I know it when I see it.

Some people may take issue with this approach. If that’s the case, I make no apology. These are my opinions and yours may differ. Caveat lector.

So let’s get down to assessing some of the cases for New Zealand’s oldest ‘craft’ brewer. Let’s start with the easiest to dispel.

Hancock & Co. BrewingHancock

The claim: According to their website and this rather painful Youtube video. Hancock has been busily brewing ‘craft’ beer since 1859.

How it stacks up: complete bullshit.

Hancock Brewing was indeed founded in 1859. It was in Auckland. Importantly it was one of the ten breweries that merged to become New Zealand Breweries, and ultimately the company known today as Lion.

As such, the company that was Hancock is still operating (as Lion), but Hancock itself ceased to exist as commercial brewing entity. So why is it back?

Well, Lion sold the brand which it still owned the rights of, and new beers were launched under the name, brewed under contract at McCashin’s in Nelson. So as a commercial brewing entity, the Hancock of today can only claim to have existed since 2011.

Founders Brewery

The claim: 1854, from their website.

Founders-brewery

How it stacks up: Also bullshit.

If you read their ‘history‘ page, you could easily believe that the Duncans/Dodsons have been handing down a brewery from generation to generation for over a century. They haven’t.

As before, there is a grain of historical truth in this one: an ancestor of the contemporary founder of Founders brewery did indeed have a brewery, although he didn’t found it, he bought into it.

Joseph R. Dodson bought into Hooper & Co., a Nelson brewery. He later then sold these shares and leased the Bridge Street Brewery, only to buy back into Hooper and Co. a few years later.

In 1879 the name of the brewery was changed to J.R. Dodson and Sons and the story runs more or less as the website claims, until 1944 when it merges with the Raglan Brewery (which Dodson Senior had also helped set up) to become Nelson Breweries Limited.

Nelson Breweries operated until 1969, when it was bought out by DB and closed down completely. This is where the dynasty ends and Founders start playing fast and loose with the truth.

When the website claims that Nick Duncan was brewing from 1969-2004, this is technically true, but he wasn’t brewing for Founders, he was brewing for DB, at Tui and elsewhere. This is a bit of a sneaky claim, akin to if Fork Brewing claimed to have been established in 2001 – the year brewer Kelly Ryan also went to work for Tui. Similarly, the claim on the website that John R. Duncan has been brewing since 1987 is also misleading: he was brewing for Mac’s between 1987-1999.

The modern entity that is Founders Brewery, now owned by Asahi, was started from scratch in 1999 by John Duncan. The supposed heritage claimed by the website actually spans five breweries and disguises a gap of 40 years.

Not really. Source.

Not really.                                          Source.

Monteith’s

The claim: Founded by Stewart Monteith in 1868.

How it stacks up: More bullshit, but not necessarily in the way you might expect.

Stewart Monteith didn’t found a brewery in 1868, he took one over – the Phoenix Brewery in Reefton. Through various mergers and closures, we end up with the Westland Brewery, which was absorbed into Dominion Brewing in 1969.

So in a certain manner, some sort of brewing has been happening out of what is now the Monteith’s brewery for over a century. But the Monteith’s that we know of today, although having the appearance of a family-owned brewery that has been been taken over by a corporate brewer (a la Mac’s and Emerson’s), was a was itself entirely an invention of DB. They took a name from history, stuck it on the wall and said it had always been so. As such, the ‘commercial brewing entity’ that is Monteith’s has only existed since 1990.

Mac’sMac_s Shield

The claim: 1981

How it stacks up: Accurate, but…

Mac’s was indeed started in 1981 by Terry McCashin. It was the first independently owned brewery to open since Lion and DB had set about closing down or pushing out all of New Zealand’s small breweries decades before.

As such, it is fantastically important part of New Zealand brewing history. I don’t want to understate the importance of Mac’s to the contemporary beer industry. I recommend you read Michael Donaldson (2012) and John McCrystal and Simon Farrell-Green (2013, see bibliography) to learn more about it.

But was it a ‘craft’ brewery? I don’t really think so. Certainly not by modern standards. Which isn’t to say that Mac’s couldn’t have become a contemporary ‘craft’ brewery; I just don’t think it ever did.

In 1999 Mac’s was sold to Lion, which doesn’t rule it out of being a ‘craft’ brewery (look at Emerson’s). In fact many have said the quality of beer improved after the sale; another reason I’m reluctant to grant early Mac’s the ‘craft’ moniker.

It’s not that Mac’s is owned by Lion. Nor is it that the beers are no longer made in their traditional location in Nelson. Nor is it the fact that they are now brewed in several different locations that churn out products for a range of different labels, all owned by the same conglomerate. Nor is it even the fact that all character and personality (both literal and figurative) has been divorced from the beer so that it now exists only as part of ‘brand portfolio’ with a marketing team behind it. It’s none of those things. It’s kind of all of those things together.

Don’t get me wrong, I bear no ill will towards Lion (I applauded them at the BrewNZ Awards a few weeks back), and I don’t dislike the Mac’s beers. I’d drink a Hoprocker over quite a few ‘craft’ beers of less reliable quality. We’re just back to the old situation of ‘I know it when I see it’ and when I look at Mac’s, I don’t see it. I see a ‘brand portfolio’, consisting of reliably faultless, not very inspiring, but basically fine beers. And that’s OK.

Of course feel free to disagree with me on this one. If Mac’s fits your own internal obscenity definition, then call it case closed. I can’t and won’t argue with you. If like me, you want to keep digging, then read on.

McCashin'sMcCashin’s

The claim: 1981

How it stacks up: I won’t say bullshit on this one, but it’s not the whole truth.

According to the website, McCashin’s was started in 1981 by Terry McCashin. It was the first independently owned brewery to open since Lion and DB had set about closing down or pushing out all of New Zealand’s small breweries decades before and if you’re getting the feeling that you’ve heard this story before, then you’re not wrong.

This is the story of Mac’s. So what’s the deal?

As we’ve established, Mac’s was sold in 1999. Note – this was the brand only, the brewery premises (the old Rochdale Cider Factory) remained in the hands of Terry. A ten year restraint on trade was put on Terry, and his sons Dean and Todd.

Mac’s was brewed in Nelson by Lion from Rochdale until 2004, when it was moved elsewhere and the plant was mothballed. No brewing would take place here by anyone for several years.

Fast forward to 2009, and the restraint on trade on Dean ends. He and his wife Emma take over the brewery location and equipment from Terry and Bev. They started a brewery called ‘McCashin’s Brewery’, and launch a new range of beers in 2010 under the name of ‘Stoke by the McCashin Family’.

Now this company claims to have been brewing since 1981. That’s not technically true. What is true is that the equipment they use was commissioned in 1981 (in fact the premises dates back even further, to the 1940’s). However no trace of any company trading as McCashin’s Brewery or making beer under the name McCashin or from the Rochdale Cider Factory can be found before 2009. All intellectual property associated with McCashin’s Brewery and indeed the company that owns it (660 Main Road Stoke Limited) are registered from 2009 onwards.

We’re back to the Monkey Wizard situation – existing brewery premises, but a new brewery operating out of it. With this in mind, and the fact that no beer was commercially brewed at Rochdale for a period of seven years – therefore failing the ‘can I go buy one of their beers?’ test; the claim of McCashin’s Brewery to be the oldest ‘craft’ brewery doesn’t quite hold up.

So it’s at this point we reach the end of breweries who claim to be either ‘first’, ‘oldest’ or ‘Established [1800-and-somethingsomething]’, and yet we are still no closer to finding a satisfactory answer to our original question.

But I can think of two other potential candidates that are worth investigating.

Sunshine BrewerySB_Logo_RGB

Sunshine Brewery was started in 1989 in Gisborne by Geoff Logan and Gerry Maude. They made a handful of beers, notably Gisborne Gold (Lager), Gisborne Green (Pilsner) and Black Magic (Stout). I’ve always had a soft spot for Sunshine – I drank a lot of Gisborne Gold in my formative years at university.

In 2013, Sunshine was sold to Martin Jakicevich, the operations expanded and a revamped range of very nice beers was launched, including the revival of several classics of their range, such as Black Magic.

White Cliffs Brewery

White Cliffs, better known under the name Mike’s Brewery Also started in 1989, by Mike Johnson in Urenui, Taranaki. They made one beer back then, Mike’s Mild Ale, which was apparently praised by Michael Jackson and is still available today. White Cliffs has changed hands twice in its history – in 2003 to Stephen Ekdahl and Sharol Cottam, then again in 2007 to Ron Trigg.

Ron has turned the old brewery into a stalwart of the contemporary beer scene.

So we have two breweries both started in 1989. Digging through online records wasn’t much help. So I got in touch with the current owners of both breweries. Whilst no documentation of exactly when beer was first sold could be found, anecdotally, we might have an answer: Sunshine was first brewing in September 1989, with first beer sales happening a few weeks before Christmas (end of November/start of December). White Cliffs on the other hand, was brewing test batches in June/July the same year, with first sales happening in mid-September.

So it seems that White Cliffs/Mike’s wins out by two months, which in brewing terms (And certainly brewer-founding terms) is a nose. With this in mind, perhaps the gentlemanly thing to do would be share the title between them. In the end what makes me happiest is not that both breweries have been around a long time, but that today they are both making great beer.

Bibliography

Names, dates, places and other assertions have been pulled from:

Gordon McLauchlan, Beer and Brewing – A New Zealand History, 1994, Penguin Books.

John McCrystal & Simon Farrell-Green, The First Craft Beer: The McCashin’s Story and the Kiwi Brewing Revolution it Sparked, 2013, Random House.

Jules Van Cruysen, Brewed: A Guide to the Craft Beer of New Zealand, 2015,  Potton & Burton.

Kerry Tyack, Kerry Tyack’s Guide to Breweries and Beer in New Zealand, 1999, New Holland Publishers.

Michael Donaldson, Beer Nation: The Art & Heart of Kiwi Beer, 2012, Penguin Group.

The following websites were also useful:

The Prow. A website devoted to the history of the top of the South Island. Particularly this page on the history of the Dodsons/Duncans.

The Companies Office

The Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand

Lion. Particularly their history resources.

DB. And their history resources too.

Other websites are linked in the main body of this article.