The Mogul of Malt, David Cryer is celebrating 25 years of selling malt to New Zealand's craft brewers.
He looks back on starting Cryer Malt, serving as Brewers Guild chair, and establishing Beervana.
“I’d worked for a currency trading company in the 1980s, then the 1987 financial crash happened and I went and worked for my father’s wool trading company. In September 1991 the bank stepped in and bankrupted him.
“My cousin was married to PJ Ellis, the CEO of Murray Firth Maltings in Scotland. PJ said, ‘I’ve seen the whole craft [beer] thing taking off in the US and England and I reckon it’s going to happen in New Zealand’. He’d spotted a few little craft places opening up, and the margins were better than in wool, so I gave it a go. For about six years I was getting a reasonable salary out of it, and then things began to pick up momentum about the late ‘90s.
“Canterbury Malting Co. was the only local source, and it was jointly owned by DB and Lion. So I could bring in English malt, sell it at a discount compared to their price, and still get enough money for me, and it was better quality malt.
“The local malt was reasonable quality, but was designed for the bigger breweries and not really suited for what the smaller breweries wanted to do. Someone like Richard Emerson was looking to make European styles of beer, and he was struggling with the New Zealand malt. As soon as he got hold of Marris Otter or Halcyon Pale Ale he could make the beers he wanted to, like Bookbinder. Then when I started to bring in Weyermann Malt he could start to make German-style beers.
“The influential brewers were Richard Emerson and Paul Cooper (Dux de Lux, later Wigram Brewing). Paul was doing all the yeast for a lot of craft brewers. I took Paul to a Brewers’ Conference in Nottingham when I first started, that’s how highly I thought of him. He taught Dickie Fife, Carl Vasta, a whole lot of them.
“I was the Chairman of the Brewers Guild for four years. What drove that was seeing that the brewers weren’t getting properly looked after, and if they went well I went well. And from there we made the decision to set up Beervana and the Brewers Guild Awards, and that was a really good decision. Beervana cost us money to run, but it set the bar very high early on and every other beer event had to beat that.
“I set up Beervana as the chairman of the Brewers Guild so I ran it for four years through the Guild, then I bought it to keep it going for four more years. Most of the Guild Executive were in Christchurch and the earthquake meant there was no way they could keep Beervana going. They had to fix their lives. For me it was seamless so I set it up and basically ran it for eight years, which was more than long enough.
“I can assure you Beervana never made money. I was naive enough to think it could be self-standing and after I lost $440,000 in the first year I had a bit of a rude awakening. By the time I sold it to Wellington Culinary Events Trust it was making reasonable money but we had lost so much in the first years.
“As for the Guild Awards, we wanted to set up a world-class event, and now we get so many overseas entries because it is world class. I think it’s important that the Guild Awards are the pinnacle for New Zealand. That needs high-quality judges resourced properly. We were very lucky to have Dave Logsdon there in the early days. He clearly dictated what made a world-class event. He had judged the World Beer Cup and other top events and he really knew what a world-class standard was. Dave really improved New Zealand’s beer.
“People often ask me why New Zealand’s beer is better than Australia’s, and it’s down to the Brewers Guild Awards in the early days. Dave would not only judge them, but he’d also visit breweries and help them out with the beers. I was thrilled to be able to honour him properly last year with an Honorary Guild Fellowship.”