Stoke Beer Brewing

August 2012

The next generation of brewers in the McCashin brewing family

Second generation brewers Dean and Emma McCashin of the McCashin family, (the biggest independent craft brewer in New Zealand), are creating a new range of craft beers including gold, dark and amber beers which include local organic hops.

Dean McCashin grew up with brewing and beer as his parents Terry and Bev have been in the business since the 1970s. In 1981 they bought the former Rochdale cider factory in Stoke and set up a brewery including a malting plant. Dean’s wife Emma has a background  in law.

Sam Wilson, the McCashin’s brewer, is also a musician. He was playing the guitar and singing one night in an Irish pub in Picton where he met Dean and Emma and a former engineer from the brewery. Sam used to work at Macs for previous owner Lion Nathan.

As well as Dean and Emma, the business currently employs a general manager, two in the office,  two full time engineers, a warehouse person, a brewer and assistant and 10 casual staff on bottling days. In the café there are 10 staff.

The company exports about 10 to 15% of its production, mainly to Australia.

Although the McCashins have only been in the business for 18 months they have built on a very successful business run by Dean’s parents Terry and Bev who sold the Mac’s brand to Lion Nathan in 1999 and leased the brewery to Lion until the lease expired in early 2009.

In April 2009 Dean and Emma shifted to Nelson and re-opened the brewery.

Since then they have met all their sales targets, and they see exporting as a huge opportunity. “We get approaches from all around the world.”

Their objective is to create beers which are tasty and sessionable. (Sessionable means moreish!) They use good quality ingredients to make beers where you can taste the different malts and hops which make up the beer.

“We’re very lucky Terry has done all the hard yards, and built up the plant to where now we have economies of scale.”

As well as their own production, they also contract brew and bottle for other people.

“Everyone is surprised at how much energy goes into making a beer, it’s a real education. Here it is still done by hand rather than being fully automated like the big breweries.”

When Sam first started at McCashin’s in January 2010 he was working at the Cawthron, and coming down at the weekends to “have a play” and develop test batches for Dean. Then he worked on the bottling line for a minimum wage while the beers were being developed. The McCashins were already making vodka and ciders at that time.

They produce Rochdale Cider which was first trade-marked in 1941 and produced on the same site, and Frute which is a real fruit cider, which they developed with local berry growers Sujon Berries.

The first three beers developed by Sam are Gold, Dark and Amber. They were launched under the brand Stoke Beer in September 2010, and produced in six and 12 packs.

Stoke beers are made to be tasty and accessible, Sam says. The Bomber range, launched a year later, is a little bit more special and harder hitting, but none has more than 6% alcohol. The word Bomber refers to the colloquial name in the USA of the 650ml sized bottle.

The Bomber range includes a biscuit lager. “It’s a quirk of a beer I made and some of the malts have a biscuit character.”

The Bohemian ale is made by their assistant brewer, who hails from the Czech Republic. This ale has a sweet, light, malt character. There’s also a smoky ale, an oatmeal stout, and a Kiwi pale ale.

Sam also makes an Indian Pale Ale, a beer which dates back to when India was an English colony. The beer was brewed in England and had to last the trip out to India, including being shipped through the tropics twice. It was high in alcohol and very heavy with an “astounding” amount of hops.

Hops act as a preservative as well, helping the beer last the journey. As the story goes a ship was wrecked on rocks as it was leaving England, and the locals picked up the barrels of IPA, where it was enthusiastically received.

Sam’s version of the Kiwi Pale Ale is darker and higher alcohol than his IPA, which is more subdued.

He likes being experimental, and making special themed beers, including for the local beerfest each March called Marchfest. “You never know when you are going to strike gold.” Sam says to be a brewer you have to have a passion for it, and be creative. “Brewing is really steeped in a lot of history; it goes back a long, long way. In the last 200 years science has come on board. When you are working in a craft brewery, it’s a really good balance of science and art.”

The bulk of the malt used in the beers is from NZ, but some is imported for the darker, caramel and smoky flavours because no-one in NZ is producing them.

Their hops all come from Nelson and the organic hops used in the Gold, Dark and Amber beers are all from Colin Oldham’s hop farm. Emma says: “The organic hops are a great option, and we don’t lose any of the flavour or aromatics. It’s a great selling point.”

Colin Oldham is the only grower of organic hops in New Zealand. McCashins only use NZ hops in their beers; they don’t import any hops.

Colin is also a brewer at Totara Brewing, making Drovers Draught and Drovers Lager, and when Dean and Emma first came back to Stoke they had Drovers on tap at the brewery bottlestore before they started producing their own beer.

Emma says that you would expect a hop grower to produce very hoppy beers, but these are nice easy drinking styles, with the exception of the Ninkasi Green which is brewed once a year at hop harvest time.