The social media beerosphere has been buzzing with news that the Cock & Bull group, a popular chain of broadly English-style pubs in Auckland and Hamilton, has been sold and the new owners are cancelling the range of house beers. Those beers, which are contract brewed by Steam Brewing Company, include Monk’s Habit, probably New Zealand’s most medalled beer, and Fuggles, a regular winner at the NZ Beer Awards.
Barb from the BeerIQ blog did the leg work and broke this story. She called up the contact person from the new owners, the Nourish Group. He confirmed that house beer production was to be stopped and that a new, presumably exclusive, contract had been signed with brewing giant Lion.
Like most craft beer lovers, I am deeply saddened by this news which I have to say largely slipped under the radar. I have been to the Cock & Bull a number of times and they made some of the very first craft beers I tried.
I well recall my first taste of Monk’s Habit, sitting with Luke Nicholas (Epic) and Father Chris O’Leary (then Limburg, now Emerson’s). They had half pints, I had a full pint. They looked sceptical about my ability to handle such a punchy brew. That first sip of the heady Monk’s Habit was probably the precise moment I began my journey towards becoming an unreconstructed hop head.
Luke Nicholas got his start brewing the Cock & Bull beers and I have always enjoyed the work of Shane Morley, the current brewer. While they made some very fine beers it is true they made a lot of mainstream beers like their Classic Draught. The high sales of those mainstream products often cross-subsidised the more boutique styles. Now, they are all going to go the sad way of the Australis Brewery and instead Auckland will have another couple of Lion bars.
In the course of researching this post, I checked the Cock & Bull website’s News section. While the sale of the group and the impending demise of every beer listed in the Beer section did not warrant a mention, there was an article saying “We are proud of our brewers, who, year after year, produce fabulous brews and receive accolades both nationally and internationally.” That was less than a year ago but it now seems quite ironic.
In the same article, there was a fascinating snippet which needs further investigation. It says “Steam Brewing Company is wholly owned by the Cock & Bull Group.” If true, that means Nourish Group now owns Steam, one of the country’s biggest contract breweries. That could have implications for the entire industry. I will post more on this shortly.