A peaceful, if short, sleep over at the Moutere Inn, we piled into the camper van and headed towards Stoke, just out of Nelson. It was here that we were to meet with the crew from McCashin’s Brewery. Situated in the old Rochdale Cider Factory, this is one of the iconic New Zealand craft breweries. Originally called Mac’s Brewery and founded by former All Black Terry McCashin, this brewery and eventually brand were bought out by Lion Brewery in 1999 and eventually the original site was closed down.
Last year Terry’s son, Dean McCashin and wife Emma made the decision to reopen the brewery under the McCashin’s name and are currently producing three beers. Stoke Amber, Stoke Dark and Stoke Gold are brewed under the watchful eye of head brewer, Sam Wilson an employee who was with the company in its early days with Lion and eager to return to the brewing that he loves. Initally a homebrewer, he has the luxury of developing and creating recipes on a beautifully engineered 100 litre pilot plant, complete with temperature controlled fermenters. His experimental brews are on at the impressive brewery tap which not only has bottle and flagon sales, but also the range of fruit ciders that they produce and a cool little coffee shop. The retro styling is awesome, as is the artwork created by their own resident artist that is scattered around both shop and brewery.
The main brewing system is 5000 litres in brewlength and they run two lauter tuns in parallel, allowing 10 000 hL to be easily brewed in a day. They also have some 20 000 litre tanks that can hold four brews. Impressive capacity for a craft brewery!
All of the beers were well crafted with the lovely toffee characters of the Amber beer really standing out. The Dark also showed great roasty notes and a great dryness. Sam also had a Pale Ale and Wheat on and told us he’s really keen to push the Wheat into the marketplace.
We headed into the countryside, this time to visit British ex-pat Martin Townshend of Townshend Brewery. Specialization in cask ales has meant he’s one of the few brewers in the country to tackle this way of getting beer to customers. Martin is a shining example of manic beer enthusiasm. Eyes glistening, he frantically talks of beer and breweries and his love of cask and bottle conditioned ales. He speaks with passion and the joy he gets from his craft is infectious. He knows craft beer inside out as well, having done his time talking about beer on local radio and writing for regional newspapers on the topic.
We began by tasting his Old House ESB from the handpull. Martin explained to us that he doesn’t really prefer to brew beer to style guidelines, but he had made an exception for this one. It was a shining example of an ESB and it instantly took me back to my time in the UK. Luscious fruity malt and British hop notes, a smooth but full body and a clean finish. This is what cask ale is all about. We then went on to try his Dinner Ale in bottle conditioned format. Similar in character to the ESB, this was more of an ode to one of Martin’s favourite brews, Fuller’s London Pride. The nose of lemon and earthy spice and the subtle orange characters put this beer up there. I would have loved for Fuller’s head brewer, John Keeling to be there tasting it with us.
Martin’s No.9 Stout is an amazing beer. Massive amounts of flavour, hop perfume on the nose and in the mouth and all of this in a 4% brew makes it ridiculously quaffable. We had tasted this from keg the night earlier at The Moutere Inn and all been impressed. It tasted as great from the bottle and I’d love to sup it on cask to see what this style of dispense would give to the beer.
Finally we tried Martin’s India Pale Ale, JC IPA. I was blown away at how smooth and drinkable this beer was. From the Styrian Golding and almost Fuggles like characters on the nose, with wafts of freshly cut hay and sweet lemon, followed by juicy malty goodness, this was a shining example of the English IPA style. It reminded me a lot of a beer I used to brew in the UK called Thornbridge Seaforth. One of my favourite brews at 5.9%, Martin’s 5.8% baby was as close as you can get and I can say it hid the alcohol almost too well!
Stoked at having met such a passionate guy, he gave us some homemade sausages for the road, we waved our farewells and reluctantly left the garden and brewery paradise of his house to head out past Motueka to Riwaka.
Monkey Wizard Brewery in Riwaka is in the heart of hop growing territory. A lot of the New Zealand Saaz varieties are grown here under the names Motueka and Riwaka and the Wizard himself, Matt Elmhirst has done an amazing job at converting a former roadside butchery into his own beer heaven. The expat Brit has background heavy in science but is also heavily interested in alchemy and takes an almost biodynamic approach to some facets of his brewery operation. Together with his talented and enthusiastic engineer mate, Lyall they have built a great brewery and are aiming for a sustainable approach, with the building of things such as solar panels to help capture the suns energy being a big part of what they are trying to achieve.
Matt’s beers are fascinating. He is well versed in the history, science and flavours of various ingredients, with elderflowers and elderberries being two local products that make their way into his brews. He even used the elder leaves themselves to keep away insects from the bar. A truly natural approach. He is a firm believer in using the products of the land and talked with animation and passion about various ingredients. From mushrooms to black pepper and cinnamon, he was definitely a man after my own heart with regard to his use of other culinary additives in the brewing process.
His microbiology background also meant he has the ability to play around with various yeasts and microorganisms and his magic doesn’t only apply to beer. He makes cider as well as other fermented foods like sauerkraut and Lyall told me they’d recently pickled some eels!
We went through the range of beers with Matt, Lyall and Jacqui (who runs the brewery shop and does tastings) beginning with the Nelson Sauvin and Riwaka filled Brass Monkey Lager. Matt had been maturing this for 6 months and the big hop character worked well with the Maris Otter malt. It was big in flavour, an ode to the hops it used and a very characterful brew. The Savvy Summer Ale was next on the board, a pale brew with characteristic elderflowers on the nose (which Matt picks at full moon) and Nelson Sauvin hop underneath. There was a hint of grass and sappy plant in the mouth, almost Nasturtium or Caper-like which added another interesting dimension to the beer.
Matt’s subtly smokey oatmeal-filled Black Mass Stout offered the characteristic dark malt chocolate and char notes, balanced out well by the smoothness of the oats. His Berry Bounce, a slightly tart Wheat beer matured on mixed berries grown in the area around Riwaka was a perfectly balanced fruit beer. A mixture of spices and elderflowers were also alchemically employed by Matt with a wizard touch. The slight lactic sourness blended in brilliantly with the fruit characters with the raspberry note coming to the forefront. This was a perfectly executed beer and it’s great to see Kiwi breweries taking on the more unusual styles such as sour and fruit beers with grace and passion.
Matt’s Fat Kelpie Brown Ale was a well-hopped interpretation of the style and the final beer, his Limited Edition Steampunk was a rich barleywine-esque beer with big fruity malt characters. Done in a Belgian Tripel style, it yelled more American than British-style in its hop character and packaged up in a 750mL Champagne bottle with an awesome Steampunk-inspired label, this was definitely a special occasion beer.
We went and checked out the brewkit, Lyall’s deft hand at engineering showing some nifty steelwork and tanks. We sat outside, shared a sweet lemon to cleanse the palate and hit the road again. Definitely a brewery to check out for its unique approach to brewing.
It was over the Takaka hills in our camper, a bit of a hairy ride in a 7.2 metre leviathan and definitely a challenge to write this blog on my laptop, but we made our way towards Onekaka and to our destination for the night – The Mussel Inn.
Opened in 1996 by Andrew Dixon, I think this is a destination to not be missed. Pretty much everything you see at the Inn is made with Andrew’s own two hands. From the corrugated iron building that the bar and kitchen are situated in, through to his amazing log house and even the brewery itself, Andrew is never a man to sit still. Sustainability is really important to the brewery with all of his bottled beers filled into glass that is constantly re-used and recycled. Even the toilets are used a source of sustainable compost in the humanure approach.
The menu shows off great local fare. From the classic mussel chowder and steamed mussels, through to the scallops in a creamy white wine source, the homemade food is simple yet tasty. Andrew’s beers are a revelation. His Captain Cooker, made with locally grown Manuka leaves has a deserved cult following. Already it has been made under contract in Belgium and Utah in the US. Even my good friend, Matt Clarke, originally from Wanganui and head brewer at Hawkshead Brewery in Cumbria, England has converted the Captain Cooker into a cask ale with Manuka tips imported by Andrew.
The beer itself is incredibly fragrant. Wafts of rosewater and rich essential oil reminiscent of lavender and juniper are evident in the aroma and a slight resinous, almost sweetly medicinal quality fills the mouth. The bitterness from both the leaves and the hops is elegant and perfectly balanced. This is the beer equivalent of Turkish Delight. Luke and I were lucky enough to taste this beer matched with a rosewater Panna Cotta , rhubarb, caramelised almonds and small pieces of homemade Turkish Delight at the famous Logan Brown restaurant in Wellington last year. It was the perfect match.
Andrew also experiments with barrel-ageing and sour beers and I was lucky enough to try his interpretation of the spontaneously fermented Belgian Gueuze/Lambic style. His Lambagreeny, a Feijoa Gueuze was delightfully tart with big coconut characters showing in the nose (from the oak), the perfume of the fruit and in particular the greenness of the Feijoa skins present in the mouth and the slightly mouth-puckering sourness helping to round the beer out. It was awesome to try a New Zealand interpretation of this beer style and it fit in well with Andrew’s inventive, alchemical approach to making great beer. He also does Weka, a 6% barrel –aged sour brown ale. This is more like the Belgian Oud Bruin style, with a rich, tart, fruity character. I love sour beers!
Finally I tried the Bitter Ass. This had been aged in the bottle for around two years and weighed in at 8.5%. This big, bitter brown ale was incredibly complex. It had big hop character in the mouth, a mouth-puckering bitterness in the finish and the most intriguing liquorice note I’ve ever encountered in a beer coming through after the swallow. This was like chewing on a piece of liquorice root and coupled with the bold, bitter zing, made this unique beer something to remember. I had to have two!
We talked with Andrew into the night. A great guy on a constant voyage of discovery and creation and a passion for making phenomenal beer. I personally think Captain Cooker is reason alone to leave in the Tasman region. Andrew is such an approachable, calm nice guy. It was tough for us to finish the great conversation that beer can bring to a table and hit the hay. That and the fact that the mosquitoes had drained us of most of our blood meant that tiredness took over and it was time to sleep.