With ideal growing conditions for hops, the Nelson region boasts around 20 craft breweries many producing novel and unusual beers along with the more traditional brewed offerings. One highly recommended place is McCashin's Brewery in Stoke only a few kilometres from the centre of Nelson (and near the unique World of WearableArt Museum).
Working in an old cider factory, McCashin's produce beer, cider, fruit drinks and vodka (and bottled water), all based an aquifer holding 26000 year old water (hence the name 26000 Vodka). Swearing by its incredible purity the water has been cutely trademarked as palaeo water (as in palaeolithic).
The McCashin name is synonymous with Kiwi beer, the first family venture by father Terry resulting in the popular Macs beers, since bought by the brewing behemoth Lion Nathan. After serving a period out of the game as part of the contractual terms of the sale, the son Dean (with wife Emma) has taken the head role in this new venture out of the same factory.
A visit to McCashin's includes an informative tour taking people through each element of the brewing process – all based on the traditional four brewing ingredients (McCashins beers are all based on the original 16th century Bavarian beer purity rules) – water, hops, yeast and malt. The first of the two most noteworthy elements of the tour are the beer nursery where the commercial process has been miniaturised so a barrel or two of beer can be experimentally brewed and perfected tweaking the fermenting temperatures, styles and amounts of hops and malt for different beers. At times, unusual flavoured beers are produced – some for special occasions such as Christmas. The other striking element of the tour is the remarkable bottling machine where empty bottles are filled, sealed, cleaned, labelled and packaged in an eye-opening flurry of mechanical activity.
The tastings at McCashin's are generous and entertaining. In a retro-styled room that combines a cafeteria (serving coffees and snacks during the day) and a bar, a staff member patiently shares tastes of the broad selection of beers, ciders and fruit juices combining characteristics of each drop with stories. Artworks, photos and brewing paraphernalia fill the walls, while the place with its comfy couches has an infectious positive feel of relaxed enthusiasm.
While there are over a dozen beers, personal favourites include Stoke Amber (a reddish brew rich in malt flavours with a definite hint of toffee), Stoke Dark (a velvety smooth caramel-y black beer without the heaviness), Stoke IPA (a golden intensely hoppy and citrus-y beer ideal for warm weather), Stoke Smoky Ale (deep red-brown coloured beer with an unusual touch of smokiness) and Stoke Ginger (non-alcoholic balancing sweetness with the refreshing tang of ginger).
Ciders include the traditional apple though I prefer the pear cider. A real highlight is the fruit cider drinks (called Frute) with lumps of fruit in strongly flavoured offerings. The Mango Lime combines the succulent smoothness of mango with the tang of lime and apple while the visually striking Berry provides a plush sumptuous mix of raspberries, boysenberries and blackberries complemented by the tanginess of apples. Don’t be fooled however, Frute contains around the same alcohol as beer.
To help sustain my further touring in New Zealand, I popped into the small bottle store to stock up with a few favourites from the tasting and also a couple of well-priced seconds and specials.
Only a few years in existence, McCashin's captures the lively spirit of craft brewing with an excellent variety of products and a brisk information-rich tour (runs twice daily) highlighting the art of brewing beer. It makes for a wonderful afternoon diversion while visiting Nelson and is an ideal example of the Nelson region's fine tradition in craft beers.
More details are available at their website: www.mccachins.co.nz