Cassels Brewing logo
Cassels Brewing logo

Family-owned brewery born from Christchurch earthquake destruction

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Alasdair Cassels​ literally built his brewery from rubble.

The Christchurch entrepreneur and principal owner of Cassels Brewery Company was interviewing a chef for a job on February 22, 2011, when the ground and walls began shaking violently.

He, son Zak Cassels​ and son-in-law Joe Shanks​ quickly raced to what was then a small, makeshift brewery at The Tannery site in Woolston. They arrived to see the air clouded with dust, buildings half fallen over and every piece of brewing equipment damaged beyond repair.

Despite losing their homes and having no operational base to run their business from, the family saw the Canterbury earthquakes as an opportunity for growth.

“We licked our wounds for a day or two and then got to work,” Alasdair Cassels said.

After 100 intense days with the help of many a tradesman, their structurally sound but broken brewery was reborn to include a bar, café, music venue and restaurant.

Shanks​ brought vital engineering skills to the building of new brewing equipment, from his previous experience as an aircraft engineer at Air New Zealand.

Head brewer Simon Bretherton​, a British expat who had been making beer aroudn the world since his early teens, was recruited. He is credited with improving the consistency and drinkability of Cassels beer.

The family never looked back after the quake.

“Prior to the quakes we were pretty tiny. We invested in beer because of the new bar’s success, so that was a platform for us,” Zak Cassels said.

Now, they export to the United Kingdom, United States and China – the three biggest beer markets in the world.

A recent shift in the attitude of consumers becoming environmentally friendly caused a move for craft beer-buyers to cans over bottles. In response, Cassels recently opened its own $1 million canning plant out the back of The Tannery, following the opening of a $2m bottling plant next door in 2017.

Alasdair Cassels believed the market switch to cans over bottles was a flow-on effect of society becoming greener, as well as the rest of the beer world following the United States trends, which was a pattern often seen in the beer and wine industry.

“The US are generally two or three years ahead of everyone else,” Alasdair Cassels said.

He estimated 40 per cent of New Zealand’s craft beer was sold in cans last year, of which Cassels contributed zero. They began producing their first batch of cans two weeks ago, which will be available in liquor stores and supermarkets across New Zealand from May 10.

Cans were also easier to produce, fill, ship and stock than bottles.

Cassels American pale ale recently ranked in the top 30 in New Zealand’s brews at the New World Beer and Cider awards, of more than 650 entries. The award secured them a period of nationwide distribution across all New World stores.

Cassels milk stout has also been voted the world’s best stout and porter two years running, beating out heavyweights Guinness in the process.