What the Hell Happened With Moa?

On Friday February 19 it was announced that Blenheim based Moa Brewing was to be sold. This was not exactly a surprise to a lot of people. For reasons that will become clear, many people had speculated that Moa was at least passively seeking a buyer, and had been doing so for quite some time. What was surprising was who bought it and for how much.

Current Moa CEO Stephen Smith has bought the brewery via his company Mallbeca Limited for $1.9 million, which is (and this is the technical term), a pittance. By my reckoning, the value of the site the brewery sits on must account for a decent chunk of that $1.9 mill. Factor in the other assets – the brewery plant, the taproom and stock on hand (including a barrel program), and the sale price would seem to barely cover the physical assets of the business. What this makes clear is that the Moa brand and all its associated ‘goodwill’ has been sold for essentially nothing.

When Moa floated their IPO in 2012, they offered 12 million shares at $1.25, representing 37% of the company. By my math, that valued the company at $40.5 million. This begs the question: How can it be sold for less than 1/20th of its value nine years later? What the hell went wrong?

Source.

The answer is not entirely straightforward. There were a string of strategic decisions and occurrences that lead to Moa’s downfall in my opinion.

Let’s go back in time to 2010. Moa is a small brewery run by Josh Scott, son of notable winemaker Alan Scott. In August of that year the company was bought into by The Business Bakery, an investment firm started by Geoff Ross, flush with money from the sale of Ross’s vodka brand, 42 Below. This was widely discussed in beer circles at the time, but didn’t make much of a splash in the media. The only article I could find referencing Ross’s buy-in was this one, about a queer-phobic marketing campaign the brewery ran. Which is funnily enough, the harbinger of what was to come.

In researching this article, I found myself deep in Moa’s social media feed. The change in tone from pre-Ross involvement is stark. For all of 2010, through to September most of Moa’s Facebook photos are of their products, their brewery, the fit-out of their tasting room and Josh Scott knocking about having a good time. Come November, they launch a new t-shirt promotion:

Source.

I’m not going to re-litigate the banal bigotry of this campaign. What I will say is that it didn’t feel like the Moa we knew. It felt different and it felt ugly. Scott distanced himself from the campaign:

Moa Brewing Company director Josh Scott, of Blenheim, said he knew nothing of the marketing campaign until he saw posts about it on the internet.

“Absolutely not. We have a whole Auckland office now.”

Source.

That line is telling: this change of course wasn’t coming from the brewery. It was coming from the Auckland marketing team. Moa didn’t continue the campaign, but they didn’t exactly distance themselves too far from it either:

Moa Beer marketing manager Sunil Unka, of Auckland, was unavailable for comment yesterday, but a spokesman told gayNZ.com the company was concerned the campaign had offended gay people.

Moa had not received any direct complaints about the T-shirts, but has offered to send some to the organisation.

Source.

Tellingly, Moa did not remove any of the posts from their Facebook. They would also post pictures of Moa employees wearing them a year later.

The low-carb campaign signalled a change in direction for Moa. But this change didn’t really kick into top-speed until they launched their rebrand in 2011. The change in the tone of their Facebook is abrupt. Looking back at their feed, you can almost hear the gears grind as they change direction.

The decision to rebrand was outwardly a good one. Moa’s identity up to that point had evoked it’s winemaker heritage and it was somewhat fragmented and kind of stuffy. By contrast, the new brand was modern, sleek and fairly well integrated:

The problem wasn’t with the rebrand itself, rather the marketing strategy that came with it. I would describe it as a three pronged approach:

  1. Target a male audience.
  2. Make the Moa brand as visible as possible.
  3. Focus on the export market internationally and the supermarket trade locally.

In each one of these points, we can see a piece of Moa’s downfall. Let’s start with the first one. Moa’s decision to target an exclusively male audience was immediately clear from the get go. In 2011 shortly after launching their new brand, Moa put out a series of online ads, explicitly appealing to men. Here is a representative sample:

On the surface, a brewery appealing to a male audience might make sense. After all, it’s what most mainstream, corporately owned breweries do. Is not the Speight’s Southern Man one of the most iconic kiwi beer ad campaigns ever?

The thing is, targeting such a select audience is something most ‘craft’ breweries don’t do. There’s nothing overtly masculine about Garage Project or Parrotdog. Even Panhead, a brand which evokes traditionally masculine tropes such as motorcycles and hot-rods, doesn’t do so in a manner that explicitly excludes women as a consumer. But that was the approach Moa took. And spoiler alert here: Panhead is going to come up a lot in this story.

What I would call Moa’s latent misogyny became straight-up overt misogyny when they prepared to float the company on the share market, and launched their Initial Public Offering (IPO). This was essentially a prospectus to potential investors, the full title of which was (and I wish I was kidding): “Moa Group Limited Initial Public Offering Investment Statement: Your Guide to Owning a Brewery and Other Tips For Modern Manhood”.

Via the Beer Diary.

A huge quantity has been written about this document. For a rundown of the highlights, including the full PDF of the IPO, I recommend reading this post on The Beer Diary. The only mention of women as potential consumers (not even investors) is in the whole document is in this section here:

Brewers find cider is popular with female and gluten-free consumers. These groups are often complementary to brewers’ traditional sets of consumers and present a new market opportunity.

Moa IPO, p.91

Most explicit of all was this quote from an article which interviews Ross about the document:

[Ross] said the prospectus was targeted at Moa’s prospective investors who were largely the same demographic of young and middle-aged, aspiring, affluent men who drink the product.

Source.

Where this is all a strategic blunder is that it sections off the potential market for Moa beer into a needlessly small demographic. Sure, some women (and other people of different gender expressions) wouldn’t care, but others would and as a result, have since declined to purchase Moa’s products. They’ve been alienated for essentially no real gain to Moa.

This brings me to the second part of Moa’s marketing strategy: making Moa as visible as possible. There are two parts to this plan, the first of which ties into their choice to market to a male audience: Controversy for controversy’s sake.

If you think the low-carb campaign and the IPO were the only time Moa courted controversy, you’d be very wrong. Over the years, there was a cavalcade of needlessly provocative advertisements. It started with the “Finally something drinkable from Marlborough” ads:

Via Moa’s Facebook.

What was on the surface a cheeky dig at wine producers (including Josh Scott’s father and the winery that made Moa possible), was also something of a middle-finger at other Marlborough breweries, such as Renaissance.

Then came the awkward flirtation with gang imagery, including (briefly) naming a beer ‘Black Power‘, a gang-patch style logo, and bizarre, black power themed tap handles that looked very much like l sex toys:

Then there was the bafflingly non-nonsensical return to homophobia:

The absolute peak of bullshit controversy-seeking would be the infamous Pakistani Backhander campaign, which I’m not even going to share here (you can find images of it online if you want). Suffice to say, it blended pretty overt racism with again, some weird homophobia, by way of a crude Photoshop job.

And I’m only scratching the surface here. There were many more posts and campaigns designed to garner the brewery attention, which failed to take off. It got so ridiculous that at one point I wrote a parody Moa campaign, which was taken by several readers at the time to be the real thing. As a weird coda, it accidentally found it’s was into a Spinoff article on the same subject as this very post!

The article has since been amended. The fake ad is on the left. The ad on the right was real.

Now there is an adage “There’s no such thing as bad publicity”. Geoff Ross clearly subscribes to this belief:

With recent newspaper headlines such as “Breakfast beer slammed by critics”, “Cashing in on wine’s good name” and “Gay community offended by Moa Beer campaign”, it’s a good job Moa’s new boss, marketing guru Geoff Ross, believes there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

In his book, Every bastard says No, the man who gave the world 42 Below vodka and is now backing Moa gives his key insights into successful marketing.

High on the list is “At all costs get noticed. Be heard. Stand for something”. Judging by the amount of news coverage Moa has been attracting in recent weeks I’d say he’s doing a very good job!

Source.

As someone who was working on the front-lines of craft beer at the time this was happening, I’d have to disagree. The abrupt change left a bad taste in many mouths. It was cheap, inauthentic and ugly, the exact opposite of what we knew and loved from Moa. The end result was that they lost some important customers.

Myself and a lot of my friends stopped buying Moa, and we told our friends not to buy it either. Both bars I have worked at declined to pour Moa beer. I know other bars around the country did the same. As a result, Moa alienated the very people who had up to that point been their biggest evangelists: existing craft beer drinkers. Now hold onto that thought because it’s going to be relevant again later.

For now I want to change course and talk about the other important aspect of Moa’s strategy to increase their brand visibility – sponsorship.

Post Ross’s buy-in, Moa embarked on a staggering amount of sponsorship campaigns: music festivals, dirt biking, showjumping, golf, yacht racing, a rabbit hunt, the Olympics, a trip to Antarctica, The Americas Cup. If they could put their logo on it, they did:

Scrolling through Moa’s Facebook, one of the things that struck me was the literal millions they spent on sponsorship over the years. Now sure, you’ve got to speculate to accumulate. But at the same time, the company posted years of multi-million dollar losses starting in 2012 right up until 2020. Moa losses were such an industry talking point that local satirical site Too Much too Beer wrote a piece about it. With the company losing millions annually for nearly a decade, it begs the question: Maybe you should’ve sponsored fewer yachts?

All this very expensive promotional work realistically was in service of one thing; our final prong of the business strategy: focusing on export and supermarket trade. Right from the get-go, Ross let it be known that he wanted Moa to be New Zealand’s foremost beer-brand internationally. In an interview with interest.co.nz, he said the following:

Every country has an iconic beer brand and we want Moa to occupy that space in the future. Right now there’s clearly a gap in the market for a beer like ours and we believe the combination our branding and our brewing technique to create a high quality product with a long shelf life are what sets us apart. So we think we have all the founding principles to create a really iconic international beer brand right here in NZ.

While we do want broad consumer recognition domestically I would prefer to achieve the sort of success and positioning that Cloudy Bay has gained for itself where around 80% of its product is exported but it is also highly regarded domestically. So in an ideal world we want Moa to become the Cloudy Bay of craft beer.

Source.

Ross wanted Moa to not just recognised, but the most iconic beer in New Zealand. That means one thing: unseating Steinlager, something acknowledged in the same interview:

“While Steinlager has achieved some good success previously, there’s always been the problem with the German name and their primary focus has been principally on the domestic and Australian markets. For us it’s the reverse. We see the US & UK as our primary markets because that’s where the growth will come from while simultaneously retaining a strong focus on our domestic market here.”

So while Steinlager may have once conceived that catchy positioning line “… they’re drinking our beer here” the phrase might be more appropriately attributed to Moa in the future if those backing its high profile listing have their way.

Source as above.

First off, relying on export of beer is an inherently risky proposition. Beer is a lot less stable than wine – it’s more heat sensitive, and has a shorter shelf-life. Selling overseas involves a lot more effort too. Invariably a distributor is needed which involves slows down the whole process and adds an extra company taking a cut of the profit. Ross repeatedly mentioned the US market as a goal. What any beer geek could have told him at the time was that selling beer to the Americans is very much selling sand in the desert.

Export markets are also very fickle. I’ve seen on multiple occasions, breweries offering substantially discounted beer to the New Zealand market when export orders consisting of whole container loads are cancelled at relatively short notice. So while many ‘craft’ breweries do export beer to one degree or another, I struggle to name any brewery that relies on it to the tune of the 80% mentioned by Ross.

Indeed Moa quickly came to realise this, and by 2014 were discussing difficulties with the US market. This in some ways is what precipitated the shift to the local supermarket trade. And around this time, drinkers would have seen a lot of very cheap 12 packs of Moa Methode. By 2016, Moa were proudly claiming to have 11 percent of the supermarket trade.

Here’s the thing about supermarket beer sales: They’re inherently high-turnover with low margin, particularly when you’re dealing with the bulk, 12 pack lager market. Most people shopping in this segment will buy whatever is on special. By focusing on this sector, Moa was directly going up against Lion and DB, in what is essentially a volume game – who can sell more, cheaper. The problem for Moa is fairly succinctly summed up in one of their own (and frankly better) ad campaigns:

Via Moa’s Facebook.

That’s a fairly accurate picture of the situation for Moa. They were attempting to go toe-to-toe with Lion and DB on their own turf. Lion Nathan (owned by Kirin) is the biggest producer of alcoholic beverages in the country and it’s primary production facility The Pride produces hundreds of millions of litres of beer every year, and DB, owned by Heineken is not far behind. Moa was never going to win that fight.

While cracking the off license market is really important, and has been pivotal to the success of breweries like Parrotdog, Garage Project and Panhead, those breweries also worked hard to maintain their ‘craft’ beer bona fides.

Remember how I mentioned the Moa had alienated a decent chunk of existing ‘craft’ beer drinkers, including several who owned or operated bars? Well those relationships are actually quite important. A busy on-license, even one that rotates its taps can turnover tens-of-thousands (if not hundreds-of-thousands) of dollars of beer from a single brewery. What’s more, on-license sales can often drive higher off-license sales. After all, drinkers are less likely to invest in a 12 pack of a beer they’ve never had. But that reticence isn’t so high when it comes to buying a single beer in a bar. So if a customer enjoys a beer in a bar, not only are you building a stable relationship with on-license customers, your investing in future supermarket sales later on.

So while the aforementioned Parrotdog and co were working hard to sell in supermarkets, they never forsook the traditional ‘craft’ beer on-license trade. This is something Moa kind of came to realise down the line. At the 2019 investor AGM, Ross said this:

Selling beer at the supermarket isn’t a magic bullet and doesn’t drive gross margin.

Source.

Moa would go on to invest in various Auckland hospitality businesses by purchasing the Savour Group, and when it came time to shear-off the unprofitable brewery, the Moa Group essentially morphed into a hospitality company. Or if I was being cynical, I’d say the corporate leadership transplanted themselves onto profitable hospo co, throwing the brewery under the bus, but I digress.

At this point, the picture should be pretty clear: Moa was spending a lot of money on their brand, investing very heavily in anything that would raise their profile but they were not actually building a stable, sustainable or even particularly functional brewing company. Nor do I think they really ever intended to.

To say they were intentionally losing millions of dollars a year wouldn’t be accurate. Rather I’d say they didn’t mind sustaining those kinds of losses for the first few years because they didn’t intend to be running Moa for very long. I believe that from very early on they planned to sell the Moa to one of the larger brewing companies. After all, this is exactly what happened with the company that made Ross a multi-millionaire: 42 Below Vodka.

I don’t want to go too deep into the history of 42 Below, least we get sidetracked. You can read all about it in Ross’s book. I will say Ross did start it from scratch in 1998, and that hard work and achievement deserves acknowledgement. Having steadily grown the business for seven years, the company was sold to Bacardi for $138 million.

What is pertinent about 42 Below is how they marketed it: controversy. Oodles of it. As much as they could get. And that was fine for selling vodka, but ‘craft’ beer is a different game. For starters and as I mentioned, beer is an unstable product. Make too much and you either have to unload it cheap, or pour it out. Make too much vodka, and it will keep literally forever.

What’s more, and this is where we’re really getting to the crux of what went wrong for Moa, 42 Below was essentially the only vodka game in town at the turn of the millennium. By contrast, Ross was stepping into an already crowded beer market. The same year Moa launched their IPO, Lion was already making their first modern craft beer acquisition – Emerson’s Brewery.

The sale of Emerson’s to Lion for $8 million may well have spurred on Moa, After all, they’d shown they were keen to acquire independent brewers. Why couldn’t Moa also attract a multi-million dollar deal from the brewing giant? The trouble is, while they were busy tarting themselves up and making eyes at Kirin, something else was coming up behind them. Something unstoppable, powered by a supercharged-V8 engine, and going a million-miles-a-minute: Panhead.

To say Panhead killed Moa would be an exaggeration. After all, Moa died a death of a thousand cuts. But the story of Panhead must be a cut felt particularly deeply. Started in 2013 by former Tuatara brewer Mike Nielson, right out the gate their popularity and growth was staggering. The flagship beer, the very hoppy Supercharger APA was the darling of the Wellington ‘craft’ beer scene, but was also one of the first hoppy beers to find huge popularity with everyday drinkers. I vividly remember a customer coming up to the bar, circa 2016 and saying “I don’t like craft beer… do you have Supercharger?” When GABS launched their annual Hottest 100 Kiwi Craft Beers List, Supercharger came top in 2016, 2017 and 2019, as well as 3rd in 2018 and 4th in 2020.

Panhead galloped away and was sold to Lion in 2016, only three short years after it’s founding. The total sale price was $25.1 million. Lion described Panhead as “a runaway train” and “[Panhead] can’t keep pace with demand.”

Now where all this is a problem for Moa, is that it effectively took Lion off the table as a prospective buyer. After all, why would they want to buy an unpopular and unprofitable brewery when they already had two very successful brands in their portfolio?

OK, there’s also DB, New Zealand’s second largest beverage producer. Well, in 2011 they had started their own faux-‘craft’ label, Black Dog Brew Co. to moderate success. Then in early 2017, they bought Tuatara Brewing for $30.2 million, effectively taking them out of the equation as well. This left pretty few options for Moa.

There was always Independent Liquor (owned by Asahi). They had bought Duncan’s Founders in 2012. The success of that acquisition has always seemed somewhat flat. While Founders has become a supermarket staple, it’s never quite risen to the prominence of even Independent’s other faux-‘craft’ label Boundary Road. Independent has not made any moves that would indicate they would want to buy another brewery ever since.

After that, the field gets kind of thin. There was Constellation Brands, a massive American brewing concern with a subsidiary in New Zealand. They bought San Diego based brewery Ballast Point for a staggering US $1 Billion in 2015.

Indeed for a hot minute, it looked like something might be happening there. A distribution deal was set up in 2018 that would see Moa distributing Ballast Point in New Zealand. There was talk this could presage an acquisition. Come 2019 though and supermarkets were selling short-dated cans of Ballast Point at heavily discounted prices. Later that year, Constellation would unload Ballast Point to a virtually unknown brewer in Illinois for a measly US $8.55 million, in a move somewhat reminiscent of Moa’s sale this year.

At this point, things were looking dire. There was always Coca-Cola Amatil. They had bought Feral Brewing in Western Australia. Might they want to get into the New Zealand beer game? Well they did, by signing a distribution deal with relative newcomer Fortune Favours in 2019.

The clock was ticking. Every year Moa went unsold, they racked up multi-million dollar losses and options to sell were running out. Moa had built an essentially toxic brand. Their turnover was high-volume, low-margin and their primary customers were fickle supermarket lager drinkers, more interested in value than quality or loyalty. They were bleeding money and their list of potential buyers was looking very short. It’s not impossible that there was still someone out there that might wish to acquire a New Zealand brewery, but even then Moa probably wouldn’t be top of that list.

Then Covid-19 arrived and the world changed. With massive global uncertainty, it’s hard to imagine any company wanting to shell out tens of millions to acquire a struggling brewery. I have to suspect the global pandemic was the final nail in the coffin. Moa had to be cut loose, lest it bleed them dry. Which brings us up to today.

Moa’s future is uncertain. It may rise again under new ownership, maybe it will go back to it’s regional roots and be just another local brewery. Or possibly will fade away like its extinct namesake. I do know that the former Moa Head Brewer (and top-bloke) Dave Nichols departed the company late last year to start his own brewing operation in Marlborough. I greatly look forward to what develops there.

I often like to wrap up my writing with a “what did we learn?” reflection. Looking back I think Moa’s strategy was a poor one from the start. Getting to the point where you could be sold should never have been the goal. Building a stable, sustainable business should have been their primary aim. If they had maintained their integrity with the existing ‘craft’ beer market and used that as a foundation for their growth, things may have panned out differently. To that end, perhaps the takeaway should be “don’t be a dick?” It would be a fittingly kiwi lesson. That, and perhaps “sponsor fewer yachts?”

New Zealand’s Oldest ‘Craft’ Brewery: Further Discussion

Over a year ago I wrote this piece on what I considered to be New Zealand’s oldest ‘craft’ brewery, which has since become one of the most popular articles I’ve ever written. Since then, a few interesting points have been brought to my attention, which warrant further discussion. So let’s start with something that has been in the news lately…

Mike’s Went into Liquidation

White Cliffs, better known as Mike’s Brewery, was and (spoiler alert) still is my original pick for oldest brewer. Founded in 1989, it narrowly boxes out Sunshine Brewery for the title by two months.

Many of us were surprised and perhaps a little dismayed to hear in June that White Cliffs would be going into liquidation, due to outstanding Customs and Excise debt. But this wasn’t to be the end of Mike’s Beer. Owner and operator, Ron Trigg announced that he would be starting a new company (Mikes Holding’s Limited) and buying back White Cliff’s assets from liquidators, essentially starting Mike’s again, now unsaddled by historical debt.

I’ll be honest – it’s a somewhat dubious bit of company law that allows this and it can, to put it bluntly, be used by the unscrupulous to bilk creditors. I’ve criticised another brewery for doing this sort of manoeuvre in the past; which makes it a difficult move for me to support. But on the other hand, that not necessarily what’s happening with Mike’s. In fact it was revealed by Ron in an article in The Pursuit of Hoppiness Magazine, that Mike’s Holding’s Limited has taken on approximately $100,000 of debt from White Cliffs (Summer 2016, p. 47 link to the issue here). So it seems that Mike’s is trying to do the right thing by their creditors.

On balance, I’m happy that Mike’s lives on. The Triggs are friends and good people, and I don’t want Mike’s to disappear.

But what does that mean for their status as ‘Oldest Brewery’? If a brewery goes out of business, then starts up again with the same name, from the same location making the same product, is it fair to call it the same brewery? To make a call on the matter, I had to go back to my original criteria for judging oldest brewery – continuity of supply. Could I, as a punter, reasonably expect to go buy a beer, and it to be the same product?

The answer for Mike’s is yes. The product hasn’t changed; it’s the same beer, made by the same people, in the same place. What’s happened is some shuffling of paperwork, to write off an insurmountable amount of debt. Many consumers will never know it happened…

So Mike’s can, in my opinion, hold onto it’s Oldest Brewery title for now. But there’s another brewery that quite a few people have brought up, which I really should have addressed in my previous post.

What about the Shakespeare?

The Shakespeare Hotel was founded in 1898, and is often touted as having the oldest licence to sell alcohol.

The Shakespeare Hotel’s brewery was commissioned in 1986, three years before Mike’s, making it at the time, the first modern brewpub in the country. The original brewer was one Barry Newman. When I was writing the original post, I admit I dismissed The Shakespeare out of hand.

While The Shakespeare is currently a functioning brew pub, it was shut down some time in the 2000s and brewing did not take place there for several years. In fact it was Ben Middlemiss of contract brewery Ben Middlemiss Brewing who was instrumental in getting it going again:

It was once the most famous brew-pub in the city, but the brewery side of the operation was neglected and ended up being shut down. [Ben] Middlemiss asked if he could use it to make his own beer. “The owners weren’t interested in having the brewery going again and they seemed happy with me doing it myself, but the punters started to ask ‘When is there going to be beer again?'”…

Eventually [Shakespeare] beer did flow again, the Dogberry Pale Ale coming out just before Christmas 2011. (Donaldson, 2012, p. 127).

Obviously, a brewery closing down for a period of time will break the all-important criteria of continuous supply (this is one of the reasons I disqualified McCashin’s earlier). So I crossed The Shakespeare off the list.

Sometime after I published the previous post, I spoke to Ben about The Shakespeare Hotel and learned, to my surprise, brewing was shut down there as late as 2009. This means that far from being a long leave of absence, it was a period of roughly two years that no beer was produced, not the five or six years I had assumed earlier.

More recently though, when I spoke to Ben again, he dropped this bombshell:

When we refurbished and resurrected the brewery, Frances McCullough, the actual owner of the Shakespeare building and various other pubs around Auckland, was still pouring some of the beer left in the tanks from when Barry Newman  [The Shakespeare’s previous brewer] was still working there. I made them take it off as it was in a very bad state.

On the one hand, this revelation kind of puts a new spin on things. The rule of continuous supply may well have been nominally satisfied over almost all the two-year period the brewery was shut down. On the other hand, I also feel that to say The Shakespeare was still a functioning brewery, just because they hadn’t run out of beer yet, is kind of following the letter of the law, rather than the spirit, particularly if the beer should have gone down the drain a long time ago.

With this in mind, I can’t in good conscience, say that Shakespeare is a better candidate for the longest continuously operating brewery over Mike’s, who have delivered essentially the same products, fresh to customers uninterrupted, over the same time period.

And finally… Anchor Brewing

Almost a year after I published the original post, I was contacted via the comment section by one Warwick ‘Jamie’ Jameson, claiming that the true oldest, still operating ‘craft’ brewery is actually Anchor Brewing, also known as The Village Brewery, established 1984.

I honestly didn’t know what to make of this claim. I’d heard of Anchor Brewing – it’s still listed on Beer Tourist, and Martin Craig of Beertown had recently unearthed an article he wrote in 1993 about the brewery. But as far as I was aware, Anchor closed some time in the 90s. In fact I had it listed in The Craft Beer Graveyard. Was this true? I started digging.

From what I can tell, Anchor was indeed opened in Porirua in the mid eighties. Jameson says 1984, all other sources, including Richard Brimer’s Microbreweries of New Zealand (1995), and the Companies Office record it as opening in 1985, but let’s not split hairs.

Some rather fabulous Anchor Beer labels I found in the depths of Google. Note the VERY early use of the term 'Craft'.

Some rather fabulous Anchor Beer labels I found in the depths of Google. Note the VERY early use of the term ‘Craft’.

Anchor focused on making ‘Real Ale’ styles, and Jameson made some fairly bold claims about his beer. Not only did he state that “our beer is consistently the best in the world in terms of hop aroma and flavour”, he also claimed that it gave drinkers immunity to the common cold (Brimer, 1995, p.44). Unfortunately I can’t confirm either assertion.

But what about Anchor being the oldest still operating brewery? While Anchor still exists in the Companies register, Jameson says he sold the brewery in 1996 to “fund my ongoing scientific research into the true medicinal properties of beer”. Specifically how ‘hop related components’ may relate to a cure for AIDs. Whilst I must refrain from speculating on the matter, wouldn’t that be something? Jameson states that he is currently writing a paper on the subject for peer-review. I look forward to reading it.

I can find no evidence of any beer being produced or sold by Anchor or the Village Brewery after 1996. With no beer being produced for twenty years, Anchor Brewing must unfortunately, stay in the Craft Beer Graveyard.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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

Richard Brimer, Anne Russell, Microbreweries of New Zealand, 1995, Random House.

A full bibliography can also be found at the end my previous article on this subject, here.

 

 

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.

The Craft Beer Graveyard

Have you ever stopped to wonder how many ‘craft’ breweries we have in this country now? The ANZ report from 2014 lists some 97 breweries/brewing companies of one sort or another. That’s pretty damn high, well done New Zealand! At the same time I first read that list, two things occurred to me.

First: there are breweries missing. I could think of at least two breweries that should be on that list. Second: there are breweries on this list that shouldn’t be there. At least three were known to be out of business at the time of publication. And that really got me thinking: How many breweries have gone out of business in this country? I could think of about five off the top of my head. How many more were there? Ten? Fifteen?

I brought this question up with some Beer Geek friends at the pub, and we started making a list. Twenty breweries in, I realised this was a bigger job than I’d bargained for. So I started digging.

The most complete list of New Zealand Breweries I could find, both current and defunct, is on RateBeer. But even this is missing some that I know have gone under. So I did some more digging, and I made a list of my own.

I’ve compiled every single ‘craft’ brewery I could find, paying attention to the ‘who’, the ‘where’ and the ‘when’. This is possibly the most comprehensive list of defunct breweries in the country. In saying that, there may be errors. I’m not a journalist, I don’t do this sort of thing for a living. I’ve also put some limitations on what counts as ‘craft’ (a few exceptions are made for certain reasons):

  • 1) They are independently owned. Lion, DB and Independent are forever creating and dissolving new ‘brands’, most of which are of little interest to ‘craft’ drinkers. So for example I haven’t included The Temperance or Estadio, which were the predecessors to Black Dog here. Conversely, I probably would make an exception if Black Dog were to close, and put them on the list, because they are of interest to the ‘craft’ crowd at large.
  • 2) I’m only including breweries that have shut down since 2009. This may seem a bit arbitrary, but I have done so for good reasons. Firstly, if I went back much further this list would be impossibly long. If I went back to the 50’s and 60’s, when Lion and DB were shutting down their competitors left, right, and centre, this list would be massive!
    Secondly, I put 2009 as the year the ‘Craft Beer Revolution’ started in New Zealand. Personally, I don’t like to think of it that way. Rather I think of 2009 as ‘The Year The Game Changed’. I have several reasons for thinking this, maybe I’ll write a post about it one day…
    Again, there are some exceptions to this rule, e.g. Historical significance. So Bean Rock Brewing will not be found here, but Limburg Brewing is (see below).

Finally: Caveat Lector. I’m suspect I’m digging into some unpleasant, even painful memories with this post. I’m not doing this to gloat; I’m interested for posterity. Don’t shoot the historian.

Alright, let’s do this.

The ‘Craft’ Beer Graveyard

666 Brewing

Type: Contractor
Formed by Graeme Mahy. 666 was always the brewery without a brewery. Mahy was the original brewer at Moa, before working at Murray’s Brewing in Australia. After that, he knocked around New Zealand trying to find a location to set up shop. A couple of years was spent contracting and collaborating and generally making good beers. 666 was shut down last year when Mahy decided to return to his old post at Murray’s.

Last seen in the wild: kegs are still out there but will be in in rapid decline over the next few months.

Ad Lib Brewing Co.

Type: Contractor
Ad Lib Brewing was Fraser Kennedy and Hayden Smythe. To my knowledge they produced three beers under the label.

Last seen in the wild: Went out of business 2012, Isolated bottles appearing as late as 2014.

Ale Brewing Chaps

Type: Contractor
The Ale Brewing Chaps was an initiative of five people: Ben Middlemiss, Vrnda Duncan, Alan Knight, Jerry Wayne and Rob Hillebrand. The idea was to brew beers for festivals. The brewery they used still exists on Waiheke Island, operated by Wayne under the name Relativity Brewing.

Last seen in the wild: December 2014.

Anchor Brewing

Type: Brewery
I’ve only included this brewery because it exists as a weird listing on Beer Tourist. No reliable online information could be found. Asking a few of my friends that have been in the industry longer than I have, I discovered that they were based in Porirua in the 80’s-90’s, not in Hunterville, as Beer Tourist suggests.

Arrow Brewing

Type: Brewpub
Based in Arrowtown, started in 2008. Seems to have gone out of business some time in 2013.

Last seen in the wild: Bottles still surfacing as late as January this year. Tap seems to have dried up in 2013.

Nope.

Nope.

Beltane Brewing

Type: Contractor
Formed by Vicki-Marie Yarker. They produced a wheat beer that I remember pouring at Hashigo. A rampant infection turned the beer into foamy acid in the kegs. They also produced a ‘snakebite’ cider.

Last seen in the wild: September 2012

CORRECTION: despite a hiatus of somewhere between 3-5 years, it seems that Beltane has not ceased to exist. I’ve been informed that they currently have a new beer aging in port cask. 

I greatly look forward to it’s release. 

FURTHER CORRECTION: I have since learned that there were in fact two batches of Wheat Beer produced by Beltaine. Only the second one showed signs of infection.

Bear Empire

Type: Contractor
Details are elusive, but seems to have started in 2012 and been the enterprise of one Wade Kirk. They made a ‘Black IPA’ and a ‘Red Pilsner’ (?!). Their logo looked a hell of a lot like the Bear Pride Flag.

Last seen in the wild: Check-ins of the Saboteur Red Pilsner from 2015 cannot be trusted, as at least one has a picture of the wrong beer. Last reliable check-in is from November 2013.

Brewery Britomart

Type: Brewpub
Started circa 2011 by Lawrence Van Dam and John Morawski (who now has a contract brewery called ‘Laughing Bones’). They made a Dubbel and a Belgian IPA that were mysteriously similar in ABV and colour, which I always suspected of being the same beer with different hops. Britomart went out of business in early 2013.

Last seen in the wild: Strangely it seems that a few kegs have surfaced recently and have gone on tap at Vultures Lane.

CROOKED CIDER/CROOKED ALES/50 KNOTS BREWERY

Type: Cidery/Brewery
I’ve written a little on the history of Crooked here. Technically they’re still producing cider, but they make the list because it really only still exists in name. The original orchards and brewery equipment is gone and the current product bears little resemblance to the original.

Last seen in the wild: Still in production.

An old piece of %0 Knot's equipment recently spotted at another brewery.

An old piece of 50 Knots’ equipment recently spotted at another brewery.

Geek Brewing

Type: Contractor
Started in 2012, Geek was the product of Andrew Cherry. They made one very nice Coconut Porter before disappearing.

Last seen in the wild: Isolated bottle appeared December 14.

Green Man

Type: Brewery
Based in Dunedin, Green Man was the brewery that kicked off the whole ‘Radler’ debacle – a textbook case of the mega brewers trying to muscle the small guys. I fondly remember voting in favour of the SOBA initiative to go to bat for Green Man in the IP court at the AGM, circa 2009; a memory I look back on with irony, as I always disliked the brewery.

There's a lot of history in this one image.

There’s a lot of history in this one image.

Frankly, their beers were at best pedestrian; at worst a parade of infections and brew faults. We all knew that Green Man wasn’t going to last in a market with consumers increasingly demanding quality. Having said that, they did circle the drain for about two years longer than I thought they would.

Last seen in the wild: Still available in many places.

Golden Ticket

Type: Contractor
Launched by Nathan Crabbe and Ally McGilvary in 2009, and went out of business some time around 2012. Nathan left to take up a job at Harrington’s, then set up Resolute Brewing (see below). Their beers were pretty good, except ‘Summer Babe,’ which I remember smelling like vomit Parmesan.

Untitled

A very dormant Phoenix…

Last seen in the wild: Some seems to have cropped up in California last year (?). Otherwise, last seen in this country November 2013.

Hophugger

Type: Contractor
Hophugger was a subsidiary of Timaru based company Treehugger Organics, and appeared around the summer of 2012/13. They were one of the first beers I ever reviewed (back when I still did that).

Last seen in the wild: October 2014.

Hopmonger

Type: Contractor
Formed by Edward Valenta in 2013, at that time working behind the bar at Pomeroy’s and as Assistant Brewer at Twisted Hop in Christchurch . Ed formed the company to get a bit of brewing and business experience before moving back home to the States.

Last seen in the wild: September 2014.

Hops Valley

Type: Microbrewery
Started by Tony McDonald and Cory Watts in 2012. I will always remember Hops Valley as the brewery that had an IP dispute with Yeastie Boys over the original Gunnamatta label.

Frankly I think Yeastie Boys made a good call not using this logo.

Frankly I think Yeastie Boys made a good call not using this logo.

Last I heard of them, they were attempting to sell their company on Trademe for way too much money (considering it consisted of a Farrah homebrew kit and a logo). They did eventually find a buyer, who has yet to surface.

Last seen in the wild: August 2014.

Island Bay Brewing Company (AKA Bennett’s)

Type: Contractor
Bennett’s Beer is the stuff of legend amongst the old guard of the Wellington beer scene. Maurice Bennett set up the company in 2006. Instead of the popular method of contracting we see today – sending a recipe to a brewery and having them make your beer for you, Bennett just bought beers off other breweries and stuck his label on them [EDIT: with the breweries knowledge and consent. He may also have had some original recipes, it’s not entirely clear]. They were Harrington’s and Tuatara’s beers specifically, but I’ve heard stories of Bennett running out of beer mid-festival and attempting to buy kegs off other stands to wheel over to his stand and sell.

Bennett’s shut up shop some time around 2010, but the legacy lives on, in other contract breweries that are more about having a beer with your name on it than quality and passion for the product.

Last seen in the wild: Two isolated Untappds from the last two years. Ratebeer puts it at 2010.

Kakariki Beer Co.

Type: Contractor
Started in 2013 by Simon Crook, an ex-LBQ bartender. This was a single-beer entity: Goldilocks Blonde Ale.

11084238_776197679143193_2632479218104073296_n

Last seen in the wild: October 2013.

Kiwi Brewery

Type: Brewery
The only reference I can find online to Kiwi Breweries is that it was in Morrinsville, and that its equipment was sold to Croucher Brewery. However, the Companies Office reveals that the directors were Gary and Valerie Hallett, that the company was registered in 2003, and last filed in 2010.

Last seen in the wild: No idea.

Limburg

Type: Brewery
Limburg is an often forgotten piece of brewing history. People with long memories rave to me about Limburg Hopsmacker, possibly the first modern APA brewed in New Zealand (although that may be Emerson’s APA). The company was the efforts of Craig Cooper and Chris O’Leary. It operated from 1998-2006.

Admittedly, this is outside my range here, but they are included here because of their historical significance: After the close, O’Leary went to become Brewery Manager at Emerson’s and Cooper went to work in Australia and Canada before founding Bach Brewing.

Last seen in the wild: Funnily enough, I have the last reliable check in of a Limburg beer – September 2013, a bottle of Oude Reserve 2004 from Dom Kelly’s cellar. More recent check ins are harder to verify and may be Bach Brewing beers with the same name.

Matson’s

Type: Brewery
Matson’s was a Christchurch-based brewery that never really made (or attempted to make) inroads into the ‘craft’ beer scene. In many ways, they were more like a macro brewery: all but one of their beers were 5% or lower, most (if not all) of their beers were lagers and several of them were actually made by blending two beers together.

The only beer of theirs I ever poured at Hashigo was the surprisingly good Pine tree Black, a beer by then-brewer Colin Garland.

Matson’s went into liquidation and was bought by Harrington’s, their brand dissolved, and their considerable capacity absorbed into Harrington’s.

Last seen in the wild: still plentiful in bottles, but will become rarer over time.

Monkey Wizard

Type: Brewery
Built by Matt Elmhirst in Motueka. Monkey Wizard was sold and taken over by Simon Nicholls to become Hop Federation.

Last seen in the wild: November 2013.

MUBS (Massey University Brewing Society) AKA Half Tanked Brewing

Type: Contractor
This is an odd one. This is the ‘Commercial Brewing Arm’ of the Massey University Brewing Society (ostensibly a homebrew club). It was lead by Simon Crook, who later went on to start Kakariki Beer Co. (see above) and like Kakariki, was a single batch entity: ‘1’ Pale Ale. Presumably it was meant to be followed by a beer called ‘2’, or maybe the name was meant to be prophetic.

Last seen in the wild: December 2012.

Yes, beer is made in tanks, that's a very clever pun. But could you have chosen slightly less punchable face to market it with?

Yes, beer is made in tanks, that’s a very clever pun. But could you have chosen slightly less punchable face to market it with?

Naturale

Type: Contractor.
Brewed out of Roosters in Napier. I feel like I’ve wailed on Naturale a bit too much this year, so I’ll keep it brief. Started circa 2011 by Tony Dapson. Went out of business the same year. Currently trying to rebuild on Indiogogo for the sixth time.

Last seen in the wild: November 2011.

Pink Elephant

Type: Brewery, now a contractor
Pink Elephant was founded by Roger Pink in Nelson, circa 1990. Pink Elephant is an odd one, insofar as it’s a brewery that’s done the reverse of what most breweries do these days. It’s gone from being a actual brewery, built of steel and concrete, which has been shut down in favour of becoming a contract brewer.

And I guess that’s why they make this list, because the ‘brewery’ that was Pink Elephant no longer exists, even if the ‘brewing company’ does.

Last seen in the wild: Still out there.

Rascal’s Brewing

Type: Contractor
Started 2013 by Vance and Wendy Kerslake. This was another single beer entity. Unusually their first and only beer was an Oktoberfest (amber lager).

Last seen in the wild: July 2014.

Resolute Brewing

Type: Contractor
Formed by Nathan Crabbe (see Golden ticket). After Resolute he went off to brew for Four Avenues. 

Last seen in the wild: Whilst bottles of cider kept appearing as late as 2014, the records indicate it was last on tap in October 2013.

Revolution Brewing

Type: Contractor
Formed by Brendon Mckenzie, circa 2010. A single batch of beer produced – ‘ANTIFA Amber Ale’.

Last seen in the wild: There are literally no records of this beer online.

Rogue Brewery

Type: ?
This is another strange listing on Beer Tourist. I have no idea where or when Rogue Brewery actually existed. There’s no record of them in Ratebeer or Untappd. There is a registered company under the name at the Companies Office, but nothing else can be found easily.

Secret Seven

Type: Contractor
I’d consider the Secret Seven a failed experiment. This was a single-batch contract brewery which came with a manifesto stating that beer should be about quality and not personality. I agree with many of the points they raised. I dislike the culture of star-struck fanboys that crops up from time to time in this industry (worst example: Garage Project’s 24/24). And I actively despise brewers who want to wrap themselves in the cult of personality, because the brewing industry in New Zealand is no place for wannabe rockstars.

I think though, that Secret Seven missed an important point: yes, ‘craft’ beer has been built on quality, but it’s also been built on stories. People love to connect to the Who, the Where and the Why of the beer they drink. Frankly the story of ‘some Schmos made some beer’ I find neither compelling nor particularly original.

And for that matter, who do they think in the ‘craft’ beer sector is using bikini models, I wonder? Actually Island Bay Brewing (see above) pretty much did this…

Last seen in the wild: Their Amber Ale ‘S1’ (Like MUBS I assume the plan was to make S2, S3, etc.) was last Untappd December 2013.

Shitwhistle Brewing

Type: Microbrewery
I’m not even going to bother looking into this one. Apparently it’s a legit surname, but whatever. Here’s their FB ‘About’ section:

Please do not to slap the next Dave you meet after reading this.

Please do not to slap the next Dave you meet after reading this. Also: 1895? Pull the other one.

Last seen in the wild: The brewery doesn’t exist according to Untappd. There is only one lonely Ratebeer entry from from our friend Jono, dated June 2013.

Southstar Brewing

Type: Contractor
Formed in 2012, this was Kiearan Haslett-Moore’s contract label, mostly for collaboration purposes. He’s since gone on to set up North End Brewing, and so Southstar has faded away.

Last seen in the wild: July 2014.

Stewart Brewing

Type: Contractor
Not from Stewart Island but named after the brewer, Tim Stewart. Founded in 2013. Made some really nice beers. Info on this one supplied by Jules Van Cruysen of XY Eats and Kiwi Craft.

Last seen in the wild: April 2015.

The Little Empire

Type: Brewpub
Strictly speaking this was Lion Nathan, so shouldn’t be on my list, but I included them from interest sake – because The Little Empire was the label of The Crown Brewpub; which was the name of the bar that took over The Brewery Britomart. I’m presuming they’re extinct because of this post on Facebook:

Crown

It’s unclear what’s moved into the premises, but with no check ins or updates on Untappd, we can assume the label is no longer current.

Last seen in the wild: October 2014.

Cider House Orchard (Three Rivers)

Type: Cidery
Another one I wouldn’t believe existed, if I hadn’t had their cider. I maintain they were well ahead of their time. After it’s sale, Cider House became Crooked Cider (see above).

Last seen in the wild: Ratebeer puts their end at December 2008, but I know I was drinking them regularly at Hashigo in early 2010.

Two Fingers Beers

Type: Contractor
Started in 2012 by Lawrence Oldershaw, Two Fingers is the most recent brewery to make this list, closing in February 2015.

Also spotted at another brewery.

Also spotted at another brewery.

Last seen in the wild: Still plentiful, but will gradually die out.

Velvet Worm

Type: Microbrewery
Velvet Worm is an odd one. They appeared in 2012 in Dunedin, started by a chap called Bart Acres and fell off the radar in 2014. I had them on the first draft of this list (their Facebook page was gone and their beers began to drop off on untappd), but took them off when I discovered that a company still existed under the name Stacpoole’s Brewing Co. and listing John Barton Stacpoole Acres as a Director. So I assumed that there is a direct continuity between the two, and possibly even a continuation of the Velvet Worm brand.

I was tipped off again by Jules Van Cruysen that Velvet Worm is no longer an active band. A complete rebrand of a brewery is fairly drastic an action, and probably justifies the old label making this list.

Last seen in the wild: April 2015.

Waituna Brewing

Type: Contractor
Waituna made the ‘Taakawa Indigenous Ale,’ a Golden Ale spiced with Kawakawa. Waituna never really appeared on the ‘Craft’ beer map (I don’t think I ever tried it). Started circa 2002, went out of business 2011.

Last seen in the wild: One check in from December 2014, the previous ones from 2011.

West Coast Brewery

Type: Brewery
I umm-ed and ahh-ed over whether to include West Coast Brewery on this list, as there is still an entity that has been operating more or less continuously under the same name and in the same location. I included it though because West Coast was put into liquidation in 2012. Here’s the story:

West Coast was started in 2007 by Paddy Sweeney, a self-styled West Coast Larrikin, a claim I’ve always found puzzling, since he lives on the East Coast. Of Australia.

Anywho, the story of West Coast Brewing is the story of a bluffo-Kiwi-Bloke vs. bureaucracy and red-tape. At least that’s the book version, anyway. No really, he wrote a book about it.

Apparently the red tape Sweeney was rebelling against was paying those pointless taxes the government keeps banging on about, because West Coast ended up massively in the hole to the IRD.

The future of the company is unclear at this stage, but several moves to buy it back have been made by the original owners. Ultimately I include West Coast here because it’s been run pretty hard into the ground, and only really exists because of the strange vagarities of New Zealand Companies Law.

Last seen in the wild: Still brewing, may very well pull through.

Wests

Type: Contractor
Wests is a ‘beverage company’ (soft-drinks manufacturer) claiming to have been around since 1876. They’re still operational, but make this list because in 2004 they released a ‘Wests Ale’. I know this is a little before my remit, but I’ve included Wests because it’s fascinating example of a company outside the industry dabbling in beer.

Last seen in the wild: January 2004.

Yellow Cross

Type: Brewpub
Yellow Cross, a brewery I admit I’ve never heard of, and stumbled across by accident. It seems like rather a tragic story: The only record of them is a Facebook page (no Ratebeer or Untappd). The page reveals their location used to be in Christchurch on Lichfield Street, between Poplar and Madras Streets. The page was updated regularly until February 2011. Many readers will be able to connect the dots here. Two weeks after the last posting, a massive earthquake totalled that entire section of the city.

Yellow Cross

Many breweries were damaged in the Christchurch earthquakes, but no other breweries to my knowledge were completely put out of business.

Last seen in the wild: February 2011, I guess.

UPDATE: An ex-Cantabrian has informed me that Yellow Cross was a meat-market club. Others have have informed me that it was a DB-subsidiary.

Post Mortem

So how many breweries is that? For those who haven’t been counting or just skimmed the list (I don’t blame you), it’s thirty nine. That’s thirty nine ‘craft’ breweries (broadly speaking) that have gone out of business during the course of the ‘Craft Beer Revolution’ (broadly speaking).

That’s a hell of a lot. It’s more than anyone I spoke to predicted; most people guessing about half that number. And I know that I’ve missed breweries off this list. There will be breweries out there that appeared and disappeared without leaving a trace, and even brewing companies that never even made any beer before they shut down. Likewise, although no one wants to admit it, there are small breweries out there that are currently circling the drain, and will go down in the next year or two. Conversely, there may be breweries that will rise, phoenix-like again. But I’m sure this list is at best, a low-ball estimate.

But what can we take away from this list?

When I started researching, I thought I would find one or two common reasons why breweries close. In reality there are many reasons, many of which could apply to both stainless and contract breweries: buyouts, poor business management, unsustainable business models, changes in life situations, falling-outs between partners, moving on to other project and so on. I didn’t find any single cause of brewery closure.

What I did find though, is that there’s noticeably more contractors (22) than steel-and-concrete breweries (17). This is not entirely surprising, considering the sizeable commitment of setting up a brewing-plant, compared to the relatively minor paper-shuffling it takes to start a contract company. With more skin in the game, physical breweries tend to stick around longer.

What’s more interesting, is the relative ages of the different types of breweries: the majority of stainless breweries that have closed in the last six years opened before 2009; before the start of the ‘Craft Beer Revolution’. Conversely, most of the of the contract breweries opened after 2009.

If I can wildly speculate and generalise for a moment, I’d like to posit two ideas.

First: the older stainless-steel breweries are more likely to close down because they have not been able to keep up with changes in the market place. Examples of this I think are Matson’s and Green Man. Both had been around for quite some time and been fairly successful in their day, but neither of them made particularly good beer or much of a splash in any other regard. When the market changed and consumers of ‘micro-brewed’ beer (to borrow an Americanism) began demanding more quality and innovation, their markets began to dry up.

To put it bluntly, those breweries that fell behind, were left behind.

Now my second point: the majority of contractors that have shut down, were started after 2009 and seem to have been short-lived. We see multiple companies that produced one or two beers, or even just one or two batches of beer before closing. That’s indicative I think, of the type of light-weight business model that contract brewing employs; and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

But…

I think the time is also coming where we in the New Zealand brewing industry need to have a discussion about contract brewing. That discussion is too big to fit into this post. Maybe I’ll write about it soon. But I’ll offer up one suggestion here: starting a contract brewery is a hell of a lot easier than actually running a successful brewing business. A lot of people that get into the brewing game are not adequately prepared for the realities of the industry; and with relatively little at stake, they don’t last very long.

But whatever. This is all speculation. For now, I hope you’ve enjoyed this stroll down brewing memory lane. Or at least found it interesting.