Christchurch Brewery Discusses Effects of Lockdown

Cassels Brewing Co began with Alasdair Cassels brewing his own beer in the early eighties. During a holiday in the summer of 2008, Cassels brewed some beer with his family, and it was so good his son and son-in-law concocted a plan to try their own hands at brewing with a wood-fired kettle. The brewery has grown since then and has obtained world-renowned status.

After years of selling beer at the weekend farmers market in Lyttelton, the 2011 earthquakes in Christchurch toppled the brewery. Once the brewery was rebuilt, Simon Bretherton, now the executive brewer, joined the crew, bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience from his time at Little Creatures Brewery in Perth.

"At Cassels, we make good beer," said Alasdair Cassels, owner of Cassels Brewing Co.

"We know what good beer should taste like, so we don't do a lot of experimenting. Our beer is approachable, in the sense that everyone can drink it."

Cassels supplies liquor stores, supermarkets and bars. During level 4, the brewery was classed as an essential business and was able to keep operating.

"The bar is suffering at the moment, though," said Cassels.

"It's worse than level 2 last time. We can host nearly 300 people, and we're limited to 50. We also have a function business that can cater for over 400 people, but that has gone too."

Despite the on-premise struggles, supplying the supermarkets has helped keep the business afloat.

"Liquor shops weren't open in level 4, so the supermarket was the only place to buy a six-pack of beer. The supermarket supply got busier, but everything else died off.

"The effect of the lockdown didn't lay us flat, but we've lost 40 percent of our turnover," said Cassels.

The brewery covers 2,800 square metres, with approximately 20 brewers and packers, so maintaining social distancing is easy, said Cassels. Cleanliness procedures haven't changed much either.

"Brewing and hospitality, in general, is already very strict about cleanliness and hygiene, so meeting the government standards is easy for us."

Cassels said that they are not wanting for staff in the brewery, but the bar and restaurant are struggling.

"The industry, in general, depended heavily on younger people travelling on their OEs and working. Half our bar and wait staff were generally from overseas, and some of that flowed into the kitchen. Chefs are particularly hard to come by," Cassels explained.

Cassels Brewing Co has claimed the World’s Best Beer Awards for the third year in a row.

"Part of our business plan is to be an international brand, so we seek international acclaim," said Cassels.

"The World Beer Awards had thousands of entries and hundreds of judges, so it's a very recognised international event and a good reference point."

Cassels has won awards with its milk stout and APA beers. As the third consecutive winner of the World Beer Awards, Cassels knows a thing or two about what makes a great beer.

"It has to be very drinkable. You have to like it," he said.

"I like to think of it as an orchestra. The taste of the hops, barley and malts have to bounce off each other to create a symphony.

"If you wanted to play with music and beer, I'd describe the milk stout as a melody, with all its components creating that perfect harmony, whereas other beers, like the APA, are a bit noisier."

Despite exporting to the world's largest beer markets and having multiple world awards under its belt, Cassels Brewing Co will continue to strive for global recognition as it grows.