In the light of DB’s proposal to close the Monteith’s brewery in Greymouth, I thought I’d resurrect this story from 2018 when Monteith’s celebrated their 150th birthday (exclamation mark, question mark) …
I saw a new Monteith’s billboard in Avondale the other day … talks about Monteith’s brewing “since 1868”.
This kind of myth-creation cannot go without some fact-checking. So here goes.
The whole idea of creating a “craft” brand out of thin air was first – and best, in terms of success – achieved by DB with Monteith’s. If you google “when did Monteith’s start” the internet spits out 1868. But Monteith’s the brand has existed only since 1990 and the connection back to the original Stuart Monteith, who didn’t even name his brewery after himself (it was called Phoenix), is tenuous at best.
The Monteith’s website says the brewery was commonly known as “Monteith’s brewery” and that might be the case but I’m struggling to find a West Coast sesqui-centenarian who can confirm this.
In 1927, Monteith’s Phoenix Brewery was one of five – in Reefton, Hokitika and Kumara – that amalgamated to become Westland Breweries, a company headed by Stuart’s son, William Monteith. The new organisation was based at Turumaha Street, Greymouth, but there was no brewery on site, just a bottling plant until 1949 when a centralised brewery started to take over the operations of the other breweries in the group.
One by one, the breweries making up Westland Breweries were closed, with the original Monteith-owned Phoenix Brewery in Reefton pumping out its last beer in 1963, leaving the centralised Greymouth plant the only one servicing the area.
In 1969, the expanding empire of Dominion Breweries took over and the brewery became known as DB Westland Breweries.
Though run under the DB banner, Westland Breweries for a long time produced beers popular on the Coast and reflecting the history of the brewery as a group enterprise: Westbrew Golden Lager, Tira Pale Ale, Westland Extra Stout, Westbrew Bitter, Morley’s Special Stout, Westland Golden Draught, and, yes, Monteith’s Pale Ale.
In 1990, when DB was going through its rebranding exercise, it decided to drop the “DB” tag from the brewery name and “create” some history around one of the original driving forces behind West Coast brewing: the Monteith family. It gambled on renaming the brewery Monteith’s and creating a range of products under that label. Well done guys – it’s been a successful 28 years. That is worth celebrating in its own right but 28 doesn’t sound as good as 150 eh?
The irony is all that created history might count for nothing soon, with DB last month proposing to close Monteith’s small-batch operation in Greymouth.
The proposal to close the brewing operation is a cost-saving exercise heightened by Covid-19
It echoes a similar attempt to shut down the brewery nearly 20 years ago but back then a nationwide protest and a boycott of Monteith’s beers resulted in a swift about-face and the brewery stayed open.
In 2012, DB invested $4m in a revamp of the run-down brewery, creating a stunning new restaurant and bar with an emphasis on tourism.
Gerry Morris, who led the battle against the 2001 closure, highlighted the point about all the history DB has created for Monteith’s: ‘‘How can they not brew in Greymouth, but continue to trade on all of the West Coast history?’’ Morris said.