The founder of New Zealand’s Eagle Brewing has resigned in the wake of outrage and a fumbled apology after a racist social media rant.
The saga began on May 12, when David Gaughan published a now-deleted anti-Māori comment on a Television New Zealand Facebook post, where he said “Maori are the scourge of New Zealand.”
The comment triggered widespread condemnation from the country’s beer industry and beyond. Major online and offline retailers immediately stopped selling Eagle’s range, and the Brewer’s Guild of New Zealand (of which Eagle is not currently a member) condemned the remarks.
The criticism was echoed more broadly in New Zealand civil society. Local Māori leaders called for a boycott, the co-leader of New Zealand’s Green Party Marama Davidson issued a statement and social media was abuzz with criticism.
The brewery’s crisis management strategy was hamhanded. An initial apology claimed the brewer’s comments had been “misconstrued”, though the social media response was later deleted.
While Mr Gaughan had issued apologies that in the wake of his comments where he accepted that his words were racist and offensive, he also noted that “online sales were through the roof”. He also received some support online from those argued that he was a victim of ‘cancel culture’.
As backlash intensified, however, Mr Gaughan issued a second apology on May 14. Four days later, he announced his resignation and that he would be transferring his shareholding (around 75% of the business) to his wife, who was formally appointed as a director on May 26 in documents filed with the New Zealand Companies Office.
The New Zealand brewery was initially founded in 2010 in Christchurch by Gaughan, who was originally from the United Kingdom. Eagle had received multiple accolades in local award shows, including for their Stout in 2016 and Pilsner in 2017. They had also previously exported to Taiwan.
In 2018, the brewery undertook a successful crowdfunding campaign to construct the Port & Eagle brewpub in the town of Kaiapoi. Raising NZD 306,959 (USD 223,856), the brewery had promised “rewards for these shareholders will come in many forms” and opened the new venue in 2019 to the public.
Unfortunately, these rewards may not have been as plenty as promised. Brews News reported that investors “haven’t even been invited to any AGMs, despite that being promised under the crowd-funding deal” and that communication had been limited.
Trouble may have been brewing before Mr Gaughan’s recent rant. A Christchurch bar had stopped sales of Eagle’s beer over a year ago due to “previous derogatory online comments,” and a yeast producer who had worked with the firm previously said the comments were “not out of character”.