Many milestones in the history of New Zealand beer are associated with the Nelson region. The country’s second commercial brewery was opened at 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 early involvement of the Nelson region in commercial brewing is partly due to the fact that it was one of the first regions of New Zealand to be settled, and also because many of the first Nelson settlers came from countries where beer was drunk. Fast forward a few years to the 1970s, a period known as the “dark age of beer.” At that time, Nelson had no breweries. This process began when New Zealand Breweries and Dominion Breweries began acquiring smaller regional businesses that could not compete with the two companies’ highly efficient breweries 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 by 1970 there were reportedly only four, including Lyons and D.B. This was the era of DB Draft and Lion Brown; a duopoly producing mild production beer.

1981 is not only known for the armpit bowling incident against the Australian cricket team, it is also the year Terry McCashin sparked a renaissance of regional breweries when he opened a brewery in the former Rochdale Cider Mill in Stoke. McCashin’s beer range began to evolve, signaling “the beginning of the craft beer revolution in New Zealand.” Terry managed to convince Jim Pollitt, head brewer of the famous Danish firm, Carlsberg, and his wife Sheila to move to Nelson to run the brewery, and then obtained the first brewing license in 30 years.

It had been so long since anyone had applied for a brewing license 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 enterprise. It is said that the McKechnie’s success was as much about determination as it was about brewing good beer.

Jim Pollitt milling malt in the early 1980s. You can still see the mill in action today. Click on the image to enlarge
Under Jim Pollitt’s leadership, the brewery began producing the first unsweetened beer brewed in New Zealand in quite some time, as well as other types that had never been seen here before. The success of the McKeshins inspired a new generation of brewers to set up microbreweries to meet the growing demand for a wide range of beers.

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

In 1999, Terry sold the Mac’s beer brand to Lion Nathan. Lion leased the Stoke brewery from 1999 to 2009, when they moved the rest of their production to Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Dean, Terry’s eldest son, and his wife Emma moved to Nelson in April 2009 and reopened the brewery, resulting in the launch of Stoke Beer in September 2010. The name Stoke honors the location of McCashin’s Brewery, 660 Main Road, Stoke, Nelson. The brewery is open seven days a week and offers brewery tours twice a day.

Rochdale cider production in Stoke was started in the late 1930s by the Christchurch Company Mailing & Co. Stoke was an ideal location for cider production 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 pressed on site and fermented in concrete vats lined with beeswax.

The popularity of cider began to decline as wine became more and more popular. In the late 1970s, Rochdale Cider was the only cider producer still operating in New Zealand (there were once four in Stoke alone). By 1980, it was closed. That same year, it was bought by Terry and Bev McKeshin. They continued to produce Rochdale Cider and opened a brewery on site in 1981. Rochdale Cider is still produced by the family today.