We recently spoke with Bryn from Cassels Brewing Co, based in Christchurch, New Zealand. Having first come across Cassels at a “Meet the Brewer” event held at The Wolf in Birmingham back in August, we were completely blown away by the quality of beers on offer. Their Milk Stout has won a ridiculous amount of awards on the world stage, but perhaps most notably, has been awarded the title of World’s Best Stout & Porter at the 2019 World Beer Awards.
In June 2009, Alasdair Cassels, his son Zak, and son-in-law, Joe Shanks built a wood-fired brewery to serve the local community. Shortly after, in February 2011, an earthquake destroyed the original plant. They came back stronger than ever, and within 100 days had opened a brewpub, ‘Cassels The Brewery Bar & Restaurant’. Then in 2012, they hired Simon Bretherton, previously of Boddingtons Brewery and Little Creatures Brewery, as Executive Brewer.
It’s clear that Cassels is an ambitious brewery, but they are dedicated to using traditional methods, along with modern equipment, to make the best beer they possibly can. Finally, after 10 years of commercial brewing, we are starting to see more and more of their beers stocked in the UK.
Catching up with Bryn over a pint of their Southern Cross Pale Ale we spoke about what we will see from Cassels in the near future, and the challenges they have faced as they expanded into the UK market.
“I suppose, logistically, whilst the UK is a small place, there is a big market. Getting the beer into the right hands is a challenge, dealing with wholesalers or selling directly to bars. It is a major challenge, coming in completely “dry” so to speak, having to make those connections. We are aware that there is an ever-expanding market and you need to know the right people to knock on doors and sell the beer to. Customs haven’t been an issue, it is all very hammered-out, nice and easy.”
In order to get their beer into the right hands, in March 2020 Zak Cassels, one of the owners is flying over from New Zealand for the whole month. Their plan is to hire a van, fill it full of kegs, and drive to the far-flung places that you would struggle to wholesale to. They’re hoping to go to Falmouth, to see the guys at Verdant Brewing, before seeing Black Iris, then driving up to Scotland. Here in Birmingham, they’ll be working with The Wolf to put on an event, though details are sparse at the moment we’re assured it will be a lot bigger than your usual meet the brewer event!
“Zak Cassels, son of the owner, is coming over in February 2020 for a month to tour the country doing some events, we really want to push the story of the family. We want to push our beer to people who truly care about it. The Wolf is a great example of a bar staffed and owned by people that care about the beer they sell and don’t really care about the way that their hair looks on Instagram that day or how many whale’s they’ve got on tap.”
Zak’s visit is also timed perfectly for the release of their collaboration brew with Head of Steam. For the whole of March there will be Cassels tap, and the collaboration brew will be on at every single Head of Steam pub throughout the country.
This is a really exciting time for Cassels, they’re already proving to be a big hit in the UK market, using traditional brewing methods and making unbelievably good beer. We are sure that they’ll become a staple of the UK’s craft beer scene.
Cassels Milk Stout: Coffee pour with a light tan head, there’s chocolate on the nose, along with roasted malt, coffee, and some nuttiness. Really creamy mouthfeel, a slight sweetness with bold coffee-and-cream flavours. Finished off with an earthy, malt bitterness that keeps the sweetness in check.
Cassels Pale Ale: A clear, golden orange body with a small beige head. The aroma is grassy, with notes of white grapefruit and floral hops. The taste is slightly bitter, with citrus, malt, and caramel really shining through. There’s a real crisp finish which makes this pale ale extremely drinkable.
They’re currently stocking their new, Southern Cross Pale Ale at The Wolf in Birmingham, who’ve managed to land one of the 13 kegs made available to the UK. This is a bit more hop-forward than their standard pale ale and was brewed specifically for the UK market. We’re told that this is how their pale ale tastes back in New Zealand, before it makes the journey over to the UK and inevitably loses some of the hoppiness.
Cassels will have a stand a BrewLDN 2020, held at The Truman Brewery on 27 Feb – 29 Feb. As mentioned above, they’ll be stocked at Head Of Steam who will also be hosting meet the brewer events with Zak. Finally, they’re going to be in Beer52’s New Zealand Beer Box, coming February 2020, so watch this space!