Just after midnight on November 14, 2016, a 7.8 magnitude struck Kaikoura, New Zealand.
“We were actually living on-site at the time as we had only recently moved to Kaikoura, so we found out about it by being violently shaken awake for two whole minutes,” Emporium co-owner Laura Finney recalled. The brewery had only been open for a month. “We had lived through the two large earthquakes in Christchurch in 2010 and 2011, so we were no strangers to earthquakes, but as soon as this one hit, we knew it was a biggy—far stronger than any we had felt before. Being so close to the sea we knew there was a chance of a tsunami, so we jumped out of bed as soon as the shaking stopped, got in the car and drove up the nearest hill.”
Laura and her husband Paul Finney, also co-owner and head brewer of Emporium, spent the evening on top of a nearby hill with other residents and tourists. Once daylight arrived, they returned to the brewery to assess the damage.
At that stage the brewhouse wasn’t fully installed, with all the large tanks empty and positioned on their sides. A small trial batch of their first commercial beer, a sour beer later named Drop, Cover, Hold, after earthquake safety protocol, did topple over while in a fermenter. Of the 60-liter batch, 15 liters were salvageable.
“It still tasted really good and is a popular beer of ours today,” Laura said.
And while the building itself held up well, thanks to the couple strengthening it at the time of purchase just six months before, the miniature golf course did not fare so well.
“That suffered quite a bit of damage with the ground cracking open and sewage pipes being damaged,” Laura said.
The Finneys managed to reopen in about a month, but a major issue still stood—or rather, no longer stood: the road to Kaikoura. According to the New Zealand Geotechnical Society, landslides and embankment failures from the earthquake closed all roads into Kaikoura. To a lesser extent, retaining walls broke, rocks and debris covered the narrow roads, and it was difficult to get repair vehicles to the heavily damaged sites for repairs. A two-and-a-half-hour trip north from Christchurch turned into eight hours as roads began to slowly open again. Kaikoura is located on the northeast side of New Zealand’s South Island, and the easiest way around is by driving on the major roads alongside the coast. The only other option is driving in and around the Southern Alps.
“There was no business due to major road closures as a result of multiple massive land slips. Initially we were cut off for two weeks,” Laura said. “Then the road south of Kaikoura reopened after about a month and then only opening during daylight hours and restricted days for a long time, and the only road north was closed completely for just over a year.” During this time, Laura and Paul moved back to Christchurch for three months to work and help keep the bills paid.
Other places in town were hit harder.
“There is one other brewery, Kaikoura Brewing, who had a small 300-liter kit out in one of the lifestyle blocks,” Paul said. “If I remember correctly, they had lost lots of bottle stock, and they had their hot liquor tank full and ready for a brew day, and it went around the brewery like a mini wrecking ball.”
Max Scattergood, owner and head brewer at Kaikoura Brewing Co., said it’s taken a long time to get back to business as usual. While his brewery was badly damaged, Scattergood explained that there’s also a personal toll. “We were greatly affected by the earthquake, both physically, but also mentally,” he said.
Some businesses in Kaikoura never recovered.
“The drinking establishments were really hard hit,” Paul said. “Some of the main bars in town never reopened and have since been demolished. Places like the Adelphi, the Sonic, and Commercial were really old buildings with heaps of character, so it was sad to see them go. We recovered the big folding doors from the Sonic to put into our on-license area, so some of the history will remain.”
Laura said that after the earthquake locals formed a business association to try and promote the town. This allows owners like Laura to meet new residents, while developing working relationships with current owners. The group is still active today and will soon put on a “Kaikoura Showcase” market in Christchurch.
“The community as a whole also came together well, having shared this earthquake experience,” Laura said. “It is starting to make people think local for purchases, rather than immediately going to the bigger cities or online as that was not possible when our access was cut off.”
Although it's been four years since the earthquake, this is the brewery’s first full summer being open and fully operational. Laura and Paul want to prove that their brewery, which has a newly repaired mini golf course and two escape rooms on site, can become a destination for travelers and locals.
The brewery is doing so by offering a wide array of beers and plenty of things to do while drinking them. Guests can purchase English IPA—a tribute to the couple’s home—from the brewery, which previously housed an auto shop, roller derby rink, and shark liver soap factory. Head over to the two large crates and you’ll find the escape rooms—one of which looks like a brewer’s laboratory—and outside is the mini-golf course. That’s where you’re most likely to spot Poppy, the ten-year-old brewery cat.
The closest the Finneys hope to get to another earthquake is through their Drop, Cover, Hold sour or Run for the Hills IPA. For now, they offer free tastings and sell bottles of their beers, but with a full season of sales in view, the next item on the to-do list is serving food, so they are able to also sell pints, as per local laws. Eventually, they will add a tasting room to the property.
As they finally get their footing, the couple isn’t worried about another earthquake.
“(Earthquakes are) not common at all, but then they said that about Christchurch, and we ended up having two large ones within six months of each other,” Laura said. “In reality, New Zealand has many major fault lines running through it, so I don't think there is anywhere in the country you can truly say you can avoid them. They've not scared us off though.”