This issue goes to press just a couple of days after the death of Doug Myers, the man who transformed Lion Breweries in the 1980s.
Myers is best known for the daring overnight raid he made to take a controlling share in Lion Breweries in 1981 and then reinventing the brewery as an Australasian giant.
History buffs will know 1981 was a watershed year for New Zealand beer – it was the year Mac’s broke the rampaging duopoly that had dominated the post-war brewing industry. But 1981 was equally important for Myers’ rise to the top of Lion. On the one hand his vicious rationalisation of Lion’s assets saw him close breweries in Wellington, Palmerston North, Hamilton and Hastings. He was going to close Speight’s as well but that brewery basically gave the middle finger to Lion’s Auckland executives and went its own way – and in doing so forged such a strong identity it became a national brand for Lion.
The positives of Myers’ reign are more subtle and more important.
Well before the craft wave we’re now riding, Myers recognised the value of quality. When he took over as Lion’s managing director, both Lion and DB were sharing the same continuous fermentation technology and were churning out mirror-image commodities.
Myers brought in Chuck Hahn and ditched continuous fermentation, going back to batch-brewing. As Myers told me back in 2011, he saw clearly there was no future in two breweries making the same thing and competing on cost.
“Making it all taste the same suited the time when you had to drink your 50 gallons between 5pm and 6pm and get it down very quickly,” he said of the six o’clock swill era, “but once you had the whole evening to drink, maybe you didn’t want the same flavour.”
The six o’clock swill, to rather simplify things, was responsible for a dumbing down of our drinking culture that has taken close to 50 years to correct but Myers deserves huge credit for seeing, 35 years ago, that if brewing was going to survive it had to move away from the mentality of “shovelling the stuff at folk” and towards making beer taste better.
Myers was a ruthless businessman but he was an important figure in our brewing history and I for one, will raise a Steinlager in his honour.