Located in the same premises as McCashins, the Stoke Brewery is part of the McCashin family heritage. Hodgson checks out their history of creating boutique beers and ciders that give customers options for their various drinking palettes.
The McCashin brewing story started way back in about 1980, a time when beer making and selling was totally dominated by two corporate brewers, Lion and DB, and the concept of boutique craft beers hadn’t even begun to ferment. When we went to the pub on Friday night in those days the choices were limited to DB Draught and maybe a lager if you went to a DB controlled pub or Lion Brown if you went to a Lion controlled pub, you chose your beer by choosing the pub you went to.
Then along came Terry McCashin who thought two corporates controlling the brewing industry wasn’t the best thing for consumers, he thought we should have more choice so he took over the old Rochdale Cider factory in Stoke and set about creating credible competition for the big players, it took a while and lots of hard work and long hours but he did what he set out to do and it changed the beer business in New Zealand in ways I don’t think even he had foreseen. He had plenty of challenges and opposition along the way but in typical Kiwi fashion he persevered, driving the tanker truck to Picton to deliver bulk beer and kegs to one of the few independent pubs in the top of the south and stopping at various other outlets along the way trying to get others on board.
As the brand grew in popularity Lion decided they should own the Mac’s brand to strengthen their offering of craft beers and under the new ownership it outgrew its humble Stoke location with Mac’s beers being produced in Wellington, then Christchurch and finally in Auckland after the Christchurch earthquakes.
As the McCashin family still owned the brewery property in Stoke the next generation decided to continue the family tradition and they have set about bringing medium scale hand-crafted brewing back to Nelson by creating a new range of beers under the Stoke brand for you and me to enjoy.
I had a coffee (yes coffee, not beer) with Emma McCashin recently and we talked about the history of the business as they approach the 35th anniversary of the opening of the brewery by Sir Robert Muldoon in 1981. Emma is married to Dean McCashin and only got involved in brewing in 2009 when they reopened the brewery “but it has been one hell of a journey, we have fitted a lot into seven years and even in that short time the craft beer industry has changed a huge amount”.
Back in the day when the original Mac’s beers were launched the beers were along the lines of real ales, unsweetened, batch brewed and people were so used to commercial beers made using a continuous fermentation process they found them too different, it was too much of a step for people so Terry had to produce a beer called South Top that was more suitable to the palates of the day. McCashin says “When we started brewing here again we would make small batches for friends and family to try, then we launched our Stoke Gold as our first beer and the feedback we got was it was a bit “challenging” and hoppy for some people. Now those same people are happily drinking hoppy IPAs and bigger beers.
“Just like in those early days our range of beers has evolved to include a number of ‘different’ beers like our Cheeky Chez and NPA (Nelson Pale Ale) as well as a range of small-batch seasonal beers we have on tap in the café which is a great place for us to trial new beers before we release them to the wider market.
“We are really excited about the NPA. The Nelson Pale Ale is a 4.2% aromatic ale which has <3ppm gluten in it. This is big news for those who are gluten intolerant. “Because NPA is made from malt we cannot label it gluten free, labelling laws mean we have to call it “low gluten”. We’ve had great feedback on it from celiac and gluten free friends and family.”
I have observed drinking habits changing in New Zealand with people drinking less but better quality, mainstream beer sales are declining while sales of craft beer is increasing, people are spending more on something nice rather than drinking lots of average beer or wine, it is becoming quality over quantity and that has to be a good thing,
“We have seen a huge increase in low alcohol sales but people still want their low alcohol beers to taste good and feedback from supermarkets is that the biggest increase in sales is in single bottles and six packs in the $20 range which tells us people are spending more on good quality beer” says McCashin.
The future? “More of the same, keep innovating, keep being market leaders, we want to make tasty beer using great ingredients at a great price.”
Thanks to Neil Hodgson for permission to use this article, first published 22/11/16