McCashin's Brewery

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Many milestones in New Zealand's beer history are associated with the Nelson region.  The country's second commercial brewery was opened on the corner of Hardy and Tasman Streets in 1842, and possibly the third was in Trafalgar Square.  By 1900, Nelson had 19 breweries.  And that’s without delving into the history of hop growing in Nelson.

The Nelson region's early involvement in commercial brewing owed partly to it being one of the first regions of New Zealand to be settled, but also because many of Nelson’s early settlers came from beer-drinking countries.  Fast forward a few years to the 1970s, a period termed the “beer-drinking dark age”. Nelson had no breweries. This process started when NZ Breweries and Dominion Breweries began buying smaller regional operations that couldn't compete with the two companies' highly efficient plants and huge, exclusive distribution systems. By 1955, the number of commercial breweries in New Zealand had plummeted to 22; by 1960, there were only 11 , and, reportedly,  just four, including Lion and DB, by 1970.   This was the era of DB Draught and Lion Brown; a duopoly producing bland production line beers. 

Terry McCashin with Robert Muldoon, 1981. Photo supplied by author
Click image to enlarge

1981 is not only famous for the underarm bowling incident against the Australian cricket team, it is also the year Terry McCashin, sparked the resurgence of regional breweries when he opened a brewery in the former Rochdale Cider factory* in Stoke.  The McCashin range of beers took off, signalling “the start of the craft beer revolution in New Zealand.”  Terry managed to convince Jim Pollit, Head Brewer for the famed Danish firm, Carlsberg and his wife Shelia to move to Nelson to run the Brewery, and then attained the first licence to brew beer in 30 years. 

It was so long since anyone had applied for a brewing licence that no one even knew where the forms were kept. McCashin’s Brewery was officially opened in 1981, by then Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon. 

Terry hoped that his influence would keep the big breweries from attacking his venture. It has been said that the success of the McCashins was based as much on determination as it was on brewing good beer. 

Jim Pollit milling malt in the early 1980s.  You can view this mill in action still today. Click image to enlarge

Under Jim Pollit’s guidance, the Brewery began producing the first unsweetened beer brewed in New Zealand for quite some time, as well as other types which had never been seen here. The McCashins’ success inspired a new generation of brewers to set up micro-breweries to meet the growing demand for a greater variety of beer.

The Nelson region was at the forefront of the craft brewing revolution and today boasts at least  11 commercial breweries, almost certainly the highest per capita rate in the country.  Many of these brewers learnt their trade from the McCashin Brewery. 

Terry sold the Mac’s beer brand to Lion Nathan in 1999.  Lion leased the Stoke brewery from 1999 until 2009, when they shifted the remaining production to Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.    Dean, Terry’s oldest son and his wife Emma shifted to Nelson in April 2009 and re-opened the Brewery, and the result is Stoke Beer which was launched in September 2010.  The name Stoke pays homage to the location of McCashin’s Brewery, 660 Main Road, Stoke, Nelson. The Brewery is open seven days a week and has brewery tours twice daily.

2011 

* The Rochdale Cider factory

cider

Bottling at the Rochdale Cider factory. Nelson Provincial Museum

The Rochdale Cider factory in Stoke was started in the late 1930s by Christchurch Company Mailing & Co. Stoke was the perfect location for a cidery as it was surrounded by apple orchards at the time. In 1951 a purpose built factory and offices were added to the site. Apples were juiced on-site and fermented in concrete vats lined in beeswax.

Cider’s popularity began to decline as wine became increasingly popular. By the late 1970s Rochdale Cider was the only remaining cidery still operating in New Zealand (there had once been four in Stoke alone). By 1980 it had closed. It was bought by Terry and Bev McCashin that same year. They continued to make Rochdale Cider and opened a Brewery on site in 1981. Rochdale Cider is still made by the family today.

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