Since then, understandably nervous residents and visitors have been rocked by 570 aftershocks… and counting.

While there was a bit of coverage regarding the damage to the Canterbury Draught brewery and some spectacular footage of bottles breaking in warehouses and supermarkets, there has not been much attention paid to how the smaller brewers fared during and after the big shake. *  This post provides an update on five Christchurch brewers and one distributer whose products are proudly on sale at Malthouse.  It is based on phone interviews with each of them conducted yesterday (local time). 

First up was the irrepressible Dick Fife from Dux de Lux.  He reports the brewery and bar are “safe and secure with very little loss of product.  Lots of glasses were broken and a couple of bottles of red wine and champagne but it was nothing compared to some of our hospitality colleagues.  We were shut for a while and did lose two days of trade.”  The bar and brewery are now open though half the indoor space and half the courtyard were still cordoned off.  Dick was hopeful this would be lifted after the building was officially assessed today.

Dick seems almost embarrassed to admit he wasn’t in “shaky town” when the quake hit but he was quickly on the scene.  Since then, the Dux has been operating on a reduced business model and he says the limited cashflow is the biggest challenge.  “It’s been hard on people but we are holding our own.  There is a still a large amount of unknowns around which is always tough.”  One of my spies has visited the re-opened Dux and reported that it is as good as ever but “unfortunately they haven’t lost the ability to brew Ginger Tom.” **

Probably the most affected brewery was the Twisted Hop in Poplar Lanes.  They were closed for a week but are trading again now.  Martin Bennett says “The building has survived remarkably well.  I guess all the earthquake strengthening we did paid off!  Bottles fell off the shelves in the chiller room but didn’t break for some reason.  We have been affected more by the fact that people couldn’t get to us.  The centre city was cordoned off and we still have five huge cranes around us putting big bits of metal around the tops of buildings so hunks of masonry don’t fall off onto people.”

The Twisted Hop has an unexpected problem.  “We actually have more beer than we know what do with.  We rely on a certain amount of beer being drunk every week to free up the firkins.  Because people couldn’t get to us, we have all these beers ready to go into barrels but no barrels to put them in,” says Martin.  I’m sure there will be no shortage of volunteers looking to help.

At 5am on the day of the quake, Ralph Bungard from Three Boys was in his car driving to check the damage at the brewery.  “It was like rush hour, everyone was out and about checking on their businesses.  We fared alright to be honest.  There was some structural damage, a few bends and breaks, to the fermenters but we didn’t lose any beer.  The two smaller fermenters were free standing and even though they weigh two and half tonnes each they moved around the floor.  The legs buckled but both held on.  Any more shaking and we would have been in a lot of trouble.”

“The empty kegs were all over the floor, there was a bit of movement in the chiller and some stuff off the shelving.  The filter fell onto the bench which was just about the worst place it could fall and it broke.  The quake also broke our two electric jugs and our $40 coffee machine.  It was lucky we were in a big tin shed which made a bit of difference – anything with concrete or brick around here got hammered.  The worst thing was the big aftershock on Tuesday which was situated just up the road from us.  It was more frightening and worse in some ways.  It knocked down stuff which had not come down during the original quake.  If it had been any longer we would have been in big trouble.”

An aftershock also knocked the power out while they were making their first post-quake beer.  They decided to improvise the recipe and make a special beer to mark the occasion.  It is a joint venture with the Twisted Hop so each will put their own spin on the base Double Golden Ale.  The cask-conditioned version will be Twisted Hop 7.1 Magnitude while the keg-conditioned one will be Three Boys Aftershock.  Each will use a different mix for dry hopping.  About 20 kegs of Aftershock will be ready in two weeks and Malthouse will be opening the chequebook *** in an attempt to secure a keg.

In the scheme of things, Wigram Brewing describes itself as pretty lucky.  Paul McGurk says “the fermenters went for a bit of wander, a couple of dozen bottles fell out in the rigger room and a few CO2 bottles fell over and their regulators broke off.  It was quite rocky but we didn’t even lose the power.” 

“It did however knock the sales out of our business for a whole week.  We couldn’t really go around Christchurch selling our beer, no-one was in a drinking mood.  Sales are back up to normal levels now.  In the bigger picture, everyone was pretty lucky.  People should know Christchurch is still open – it’s a not bomb site,” he says.

Carl Harrington from Harrington’s Brewery did not feel the quake at all.  That was hardly surprising as he was eight hours into a twelve hour flight to Shanghai.  They were visiting a number of factories over there.  “It was front page news in China and on TV.  We were at a bit of a loose end worrying about everyone back here.  Seeing the pictures, it was pretty tough,” he says.

When he got back he went for a drive and says he couldn’t believe the damage.  “We think of ourselves as pretty lucky.  Nothing happened to the brewery.  There was a bit of tank movement but no cracks in the walls.  Just very lucky mate.  Around town, there were lots of breakages at our bottle stores.  However, there was a solid turnover last week.  I think people are getting together socially, having a few beers and talking about it.  Being out of the country was almost worse, it was quite weird.”

At Beer NZ headquarters, Craig Bowen reports that one bottle of Captain Cooker fell over but did not break.  “We were pretty well-off really.  That was all based on the location of the store and the fact the beers were still in cartons.  The pallets were racked four high up to the roof and they didn’t move an inch.  We were back into it on Monday morning and it was pretty much business as usual, just a few freight delays.  It’s probably going to be our biggest month.”

His experience illustrated the nature of the earthquake.  “The worst damage was in concentrated areas – it’s so random.  One side of a street might be written off and the other side is hardly touched.  If our store had been a couple of miles the other way we might have had thirty pallets on the floor.  Overall, everyone’s still pretty positive and chipper.  There have been some great war stories around the place,” Craig says.

Our thoughts are with the people of Canterbury during this difficult time.

Back in Wellington, the shiny new Malthouse Modus Hopperandus is currently pouring Christchurch’s own Wigram British Imperial Stout (8%) through a bed of Mojo coffee beans.  Rumour has it that because of limited logistical links with the Mainland, Colin will next attempt to improvise the trophy-winning Three Boys Pineapple Lump Porter by running a keg of Three Boys Porter though the Modus stuffed with pineapple lumps.  Oh the humanity. ****

* The notable exception being Denise from Salient who jumped on a plane to Christchurch the following Monday to research her beer column titled “What happens when you shake a beer?”
** He is aware of my strongly irrational feelings about Ginger Tom
*** Beware of moths
**** My plea for the Modus to be used exclusively for hops and more hops was ignored within a fortnight.  That is longer than I expected to be honest.


Beer Writer
Real Beer New Zealand
Beer and Brewer Magazine


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