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Life story: Beer, heritage, travel and family: Alasdair Cassels’ life legacy

OBITUARY: Leaving a legacy was always important to Alasdair Cassels.

And he did. Through his Cassels Brewing Co award-winning beer, uplifting the Canterbury region post-quake, his passion for Christchurch heritage with redevelopment of The Tannery boutique mall, advocacy for the cathedral restoration, family trips and travelling, Cassels had a lasting impact.

The second son in a family of four boys – Winton, Alasdair, Ian and Ross – he was born to Colin and Alice Cassels in 1950 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The family moved to Island Bay, Wellington, in 1958.

He died overnight on Saturday, April 16, surrounded by his closest family members, as he wished.

READMORE:
* ‘One of our own’: Christchurch pays tribute to Alasdair Cassels
* How a quake-born Canterbury brewery beat Guinness – twice
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He didn’t tell anyone apart from his family about his prostate cancer diagnosis in his later years.

Cassels shifted to Christchurch to study engineering in the late 1960s. He immediately felt at home.

He and then-partner Leith Graydon welcomed son Zak to the world in 1972. The couple later separated.

He met Bridget Taylor in 1978 and spent the rest of his life with her, with more welcomed children – Madeleine, Pippi, Zoe and Mia.

Alasdair Cassels died on Saturday, April 16, 2022 after a five-year battle with prostate cancer that he kept secret from the public eye.

Supplied/Susannah Blatchford

Alasdair Cassels died on Saturday, April 16, 2022 after a five-year battle with prostate cancer that he kept secret from the public eye.

A self-described “driven person” with a nose for entrepreneurialism, a young Cassels applied the lessons from engineering school to start Airless Spray Painting, a sign-painting and sandblasting contract business he ran successfully for the next 25 years.

Branching into beer

It wasn’t until the early 2000s that Cassels branched out into making his own beer.

It began as a holiday hobby with Zak and son-in-law Joe Shanks, and quickly grew into something bigger.

“Dad was so talented in business, it was said he had the Midas touch,” Zak says.

Cassels was still in the process of building his formidable beer empire in Woolston, east Christchurch.

ALDEN WILLIAMS/Stuff

Cassels was still in the process of building his formidable beer empire in Woolston, east Christchurch.

From the site of his boutique heritage shopping mall The Tannery in Woolston, experimental craft beer was brewed at a relatively low level until the 2010 Canterbury earthquakes put the brakes on.

The quakes turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the Cassels family.

They returned on the day to find their makeshift brewery and equipment in ruins, but rather deterring Cassels, it made him more determined and passionate to make Cassels beer synonymous with Christchurch, and to reinvigorate the city’s east.

“He had a creative mind, always strategic, always puzzle-solving, never wavering. He could make any problem dissolve if he put his mind to it,” daughter Madeleine says.

He doubled down on his investment into beer, and soon enough it paid off.

Cassles was a popular father and grandfather.

Supplied

Cassles was a popular father and grandfather.

Cassels Brewing Co beat stout giant Guinness at the World Beer Awards in 2019 and then again the following year for best milk stout – the Irish brewery’s specialty.

Then its American Pale Ale (APA) won the world’s best too, cementing Cassels as a high-quality, albeit small in stature, brewery.

It put them on the map, and so Cassels pledged further investment.

The brewery has grown exponentially in recent years, with plans to make it a tourist offering through a storehouse and beer-tasting experience – much like at the Guinness headquarters in Dublin.

Cassels invested millions of dollars into the redevelopment of The Tannery boutique mall in Woolston, Christchurch.

KIRK HARGREAVES/Stuff

Cassels invested millions of dollars into the redevelopment of The Tannery boutique mall in Woolston, Christchurch.

A love of heritage

Cassels’ passion for restoring Christchurch’s heritage buildings post-quake saw him put his money where his mouth was.

Over the years, he invested millions of dollars into the development of The Tannery mall and was a part of the Cathedral Working Group which sought to retain and restore the Christ Church Cathedral.

The Brewery bar in Woolston provided a haven in Christchurch’s quake-stricken east side immediately after the disaster, and was soon one of the few bars still open at the time.

Alasdair Cassels (middle) fancied himself as a bit of a sailing connoisseur.

Supplied

Alasdair Cassels (middle) fancied himself as a bit of a sailing connoisseur.

Many well-known business owners and decision-makers visited the bar after the quakes to console each other and discuss how the city could be returned to its former glory.

At his memorial service in May, Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel spoke of how devoted the father of five was to reviving the central city post-earthquake.

He supported environmental projects and was a committed advocate of the Phillipstown community, she said.

“These things matter. Kindness does matter. Generosity does matter. Reciprocity does make a difference and that’s what we saw in Alasdair. He was the real deal.”

Cassels, left, with partner Bridget Taylor and three of his daughters on a trip through Europe in the 1990s.

Supplied

Cassels, left, with partner Bridget Taylor and three of his daughters on a trip through Europe in the 1990s.

passion for travel

A keen sailor and fisherman, Cassels took his family on a number of sailing trips over the years across Europe, through the Pacific and New Zealand’s Marlborough Sounds, among others.

“There were moments that Dad wanted to share in his gratitude for how lucky we all are. It was Christmas, walking through The Tannery, a magnificent view, a family holiday. I have lived for good times with loved ones,” daughter Zoe says.

Galerna – the family’s 95ft, 200-tonne Norwegian boat complete with its own engineer, Seppo – took them on unforgettable trips through the Suez Canal, Indian Ocean, the Tasman Sea and Red Sea. During a trip through the latter they were famously chased by pirates on a high-powered motorboat.

Cassels, pictured sailing in Fiordland, was in love with being on the water.

Supplied

Cassels, pictured sailing in Fiordland, was in love with being on the water.

The family claimed they were shot at by the pirates and escaped only due to Cassels’ sailing skills.

His daughter Mia learned to walk on Galerna. “I’m pretty heartbroken that he never got to see me become a mum,” she says. “That was what life was about for him; build your family, intertwine all of your family’s lives with adventure and chaotic and beautiful projects, then tell stories about it.”

family first

Last, but certainly not least, was the importance of family.

He was the pillar of the Cassels family, those closest to him say, beloved by all of his grandchildren, for whom he took out plenty of time.

The Cassels family spent so much time on the water that the youngest daughter Mia took her first steps on the Galerna – the family sailing boat.

Supplied

The Cassels family spent so much time on the water that the youngest daughter Mia took her first steps on the Galerna – the family sailing boat.

“He was larger than life and very much the patriarch of our family. If Dad was a planet, he’d be the Sun, and we’d be orbiting around him, soaking up his rays of wisdom,” Zoe says.

Despite being a successful businessman often taken up by work, he always had time for his children and their children, who held positions in the business, and were showered with generous gifts and extravagant family holidays.

There are countless pictures of Cassels and his army of grandchildren. The family also enjoyed boating holidays to Samoa, the Cook Islands, Tahiti and New Caledonia.

Taylor, his partner of 47 years, says he was a “presence” with a strong personality. “He loved home life … and took us on so many amazing adventures.”

The impact of his death was huge.

“It’s left a large hole in the family – he was the center of it all. But it has also brought us together.”

Hundreds attended Cassels’ memorial in The Tannery’s atrium in May.

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