Bars to drop Emersons following sale to Lion

Some Wellington bars are to stop selling Emerson's beer after the brewery announced its sale to liquor giant Lion this afternoon.

Founded in 1992 by the profoundly deaf Richard Emerson, the Dunedin company announced today that it will be sold to Lion Breweries, itself owned by Japanese drinks giant Kirin.

The reaction was swift, with Hashigo Zake, a Taranaki St pub which immodestly describes itself as a "cult beer bar" said 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 Newtown and The Hop Garden in 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.

"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."

The Dominion Post