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September 13, 2010 | by  | in Opinion |
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What happens when you shake a beer?

On Saturday the 4th, I was one of countless New Zealanders who woke up to the news that a 7.1 magnitude earthquake had occurred in Christchurch. Having family in the Garden City, my first concern was to make sure they, the house and—more importantly—my darling cat were all safe and sound. Thankfully, they are one of the lucky families who have been left shaken, but without any damage to themselves or their property.

Following the reassuring phone call, my second thought was: how have the breweries come through this?

Christchurch boasts probably the largest number of breweries in the country, including craft, boutique and commercial outfits. Like any good beer columnist, I hopped on a plane last Monday, just three days after the big shake, and made my way to the southern city.

Matsons, a boutique brewery, which mainly supplies the Canterbury region with kegs and bottles of its refreshing lager-styled beers, has more recently been looking further afield, and its range can now be found on the shelves at Thorndon New World. The brewer, Colin Garland, invited me for a quick chat at the brewery following the quake.
Colin showed me photos of the brewery one day after the big shake—kegs had been strewn across the brewery floor, and bottles that had been prepared for wrapping and delivery had been smashed.

“I was very nervous coming in later on Saturday to see what I’d find, because we had a great deal of packaged product up high on shelves… and I had anticipated that that might well be all over the floor.”

But Colin said all of the shelving had remained intact, there was no damage to any of the kegs, and there was very little stock loss with the bottles.

“It looked more spectacular than it actually was,” he said.

On Monday morning he found a small crack in one of his brewing vessels, which has been repaired, but hadn’t found any more damage.

Colin said Matsons was trying to operate as normal, but there had been a lot to think about in all aspects of their operation, including waste and washing.

“I’ve used the brewing vessels to boil up a whole lot of water, have cooled it, and that’s basically the use water we’ll be using around the place rather than coming directly out of mains.

“At this stage it shouldn’t impact too greatly on our normal business.”

Colin said he usually brewed two or three times a week, and while he planned to brew at least once in the week directly following the quake, he would have to think about brewing extra batches in the coming weeks to make up for any shortfall.

Matsons got off lightly compared to some of the other breweries.

The Twisted Hop brewery bar, which is my usual hang-out while I’m in Christchurch, was right in the centre of the CBD area which was cordoned off during my stay. Thankfully, while a few beer barrels and bottles were shaken to the floor, the building itself has been signed off as structurally sound. They had hoped to re-open by the weekend, or whenever CBD cordon was lifted.

Three Boys Brewery, which came close to taking out this year’s BrewNZ Champion Brewery award, has had a few issues with some of their fermenters, but looks to have come out of the earthquake largely unscathed.

Rumour has it that Lion Nathan’s Canterbury Brewery had to be closed for a week. I did see that part of the brewery had a good chunk of its windows blown out, and it was definitely closed from Saturday through to the end of the week. That means tens of thousands of litres of beer, which would normally be brewed during that space of time, won’t be making it to supermarket shelves.

So while there may be a few weeks in the not-too-distant future where Christchurch beers are not quite so abundant on liquor store shelves, or as free-flowing from the Wellington bar taps, there will be plenty to be enjoyed in the upcoming summer months. It obviously takes more than Mother Earth to put an end to good beer.

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