Commercial reality affects small brewers, as Don Kavanagh ruefully explains.

There was a small news story from the provinces a couple of months ago that made me at once happy and sad.

It concerned the sale of Gisborne's great Sunshine Brewery, producer of the legendary Gisborne gold, the all-malt lager that waved a battered standard for independent beer long before the craft brewing explosion of the past decade.

Sunshine Brewery - and by extension Geoff Logan, the bloke who brewed it - remains one of the few things that could drag me to Gisborne. It's not that I particularly loathe the place, but the drive is a killer and frankly the beaches are better on Waiheke.

However, to return to Sunshine Brewery: the story made me sad because it meant the end of an era in the New Zealand brewing world. And while I am sure the new owners will continue to make Gisborne gold, I worry for the future of the Reserve Ale, a beautifully malty brown ale of rare character and appeal.


But then, I was happy too, for Geoff and his business partner Gerry Maude, who have kept the flame alight for 25 years through fairly hairy times. They've got a tangible reward for their efforts and will remain involved with the brewery.

It's a bit like the sale of Emerson's to Lion - I was worried for the quality of the beer, but delighted that Richard Emerson could actually cash in. Same deal here, although Gerry and Geoff have sold not to a major brewery, but a foursome drawn from various ends of the liquor trade.

Given the calibre of the new owners, I'm sure the venture will be a success and hopefully it will mean we see more Gisborne Gold on the shelves here in Auckland.

It's a great lager, not trying to be anything other than a genuinely drinkable, sessionable lager.

Such sales always remind me as well that, no matter how many brewers start off with the sole intention of making the best beer possible, at some stage of the proceedings, it becomes apparent to them that they have to make money too.

Therefore, craft brewers eventually realise that harsh financial truths often dictate that some level of compromise must be made between commercial reality and the artistic ideal.

Whether we'll see more sales to non-craft interests isn't much of a question, it's more of an inevitability. Luckily, there seem to be new brewers emerging to retain the balance in the craft scene but I can't see too many brewers turning down a tempting offer from a multinational concern.

It's not necessarily a sentence of death for a craft brewery; Emerson's seems to be thriving and it has certainly helped to get Emerson's beers out to a much wider audience. Similarly, Nelson's Founders Brewery seems to be getting much more sales traction through its association with Independent Breweries.

Conversely, Moa's appeal to the public seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

So don't be too surprised if you see a few more breweries go over to the dark side, as it were, in the coming year. After all, it doesn't matter how good your beer is if no one is actually drinking it.