Lion won't 'water down' Emerson's

HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 16:42 06/11/2012

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Lion admits it expected reaction to its takeover of Dunedin craft brewer Emerson's insisting it ''won't homogenise and water it down''.

The Japanese-owned brewer was reacting to news that some bars have already indicated they will no longer stock Emerson's after the sale, and a strong reaction on social media.

While it was ''disappointing'' that some bars seemed likely to drop Emerson's products, the company anticipated a strong reaction to the deal, brand manager Danny Phillips said.

''I think it's really good that people are passionate about beer and passionate about craft beer. We knew there were going to be a range of opinions on it,'' Mr Phillips said.

Founded in 1992 by the profoundly deaf Richard Emerson, Emerson's is one of the best known independent brewers in New Zealand.

Reaction to the sale was swift, with Hashigo Zake, a Wellington Taranaki St pub which immodestly describes itself as a "cult beer bar" saying it was saddened by the news and would stop selling Emerson's beer.

"Hashigo Zake's owners, staff and customers have been big supporters of Emerson's, we've collaborated with the brewery in the past and Richard and other brewery staff have been popular visitors to Hashigo Zake" owner Dominic Kelly said, describing Emerson's as New Zealand's best-known independent craft brewer.

Hashigo Zake would let its stocks run down during November, Kelly said.

"We don't want to find out how long it takes for Kirin to start meddling with the brewery."

Bar operator Joe Slater said the sale would also see Emerson's dropped from the menu of Six Barrel Soda on Dixon St and Monterey on Rintoul St.

"We got Emerson's into Six Barrel because it was well known and user friendly but we only stock independent beer so it will certainly be dropped."

Richard Emerson earlier said it was "business as usual for the brewery.

"The taste, integrity to style, quality and consistency of our beers will remain the same."

Rory Glass, Lion NZ managing director said Emerson's was a fantastic brand.

"It complements Lion's existing beer portfolio well and allows us to offer our customers an enhanced proposition with a leading portfolio of brands across the specialty, boutique and popular craft market."

Other craft brewing figures played down the significance of the sale.

James Henderson, owner of Bar Edward in Wellington's Newtown and The Hop Garden in the capital's Mount Victoria, which serves mainly independent craft beer, said while he would monitor the quality of the products and service, he had no immediate plans to drop it.

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"There's no knee jerk reaction from me. All that has changed [so far] is who the profit goes to, and I don't care about that because I'm trying to make a profit too" adding that if the quality dropped or its founder left he would review the situation.

"If he [Richard Emerson] is no longer part of the business and part of the brewing then that's when I would probably look at changing."

Some fans of the brewery took to Facebook to give their verdict on the sale.

"I feel worried about this. Not hating just concerned about the long saga of takeovers that have drained out greatness and replaced it with mediocrity," Jeff Rowe said.
"If it works this will benefit all lovers of good beer. If not we will be robbed of one of the richest beer experiences we have in NZ. Fingers firmly crossed!"

Writing on his blog for Beer & Brewer, Neil Miller said if Lion left creative control of the beer with Emerson's then it could emerge as the "first genuinely national'" craft brewery, but this was not a given.

"A number of seasoned drinkers are reminded that a similar business model was mooted for Mac's and it gradually became integrated into Lion, the regional breweries (Nelson and Wellington) were closed and production was centralised," Miller wrote.

"For those reasons, many Emerson's fans (and there are a lot of them) are genuinely worried about the brewery's medium-term future." 

Mr Phillips said Lion the company was ''absolutely committed'' to the Emerson's proposition.

''We're absolutely committed to making sure we keep the beers the way that people love them. Clearly there's a bit of noise around it at the moment, so hopefully if we can prove some of those people wrong, that our intent is to maintain the essence of everything that's great about Emerson's and not homogenise and water it down like some people are saying.''

So had Lion watered down or homogenised Macs?

''No I don't think we did, no,'' Mr Phillips said, before adding that it was not possible to draw parallels between what Lion had done to Mac's.

''It's apples and pears.''

- © Fairfax NZ News

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