Thursday, August 4, 2016

Special Brew

Our last full day in Raro, and we hadn’t really planned anything. It was the start of the island’s Constitutional Celebrations…they celebrate each year their independence. Last year’s had been spectacularly done as it was 50 years…this year, 51, not so important. But there would be a float parade and various activities in Constitution Park in Avarua from 11:00am.

I totally forgot about it.

At around 11:45, after a morning’s idling about, we set off south for the Matutu Brewery tour, which starts at 12:00. We arrived in the nick of time, and sat down in the brewery run by Eric and James, the only one in Raro.

Eric started the brewery 10 years ago, with no previous brewing experience. He bought up Tuatara Brewery’s old equipment lock, stock and barrel, and literally rebuilt it as it had been at Tuatara. Tuatara are now one of the largest “craft” brewers in New Zealand, and were expanding and upgrading their plant at the time. Eric did three weeks’ work there, learning how to brew beer under their supervision; and then one of their brewers came over to Raro to supervise Matutu for their first two weeks of operation.

Eric explained the beer-making process, why their pale ale isn’t actually pale (using 1% of “chocolate” barley gives it the darker colour), international bitterness units, and different types of yeast. He’s clearly very knowledgeable about the process, and able to communicate it to a lay audience very easily. He also told us how the beer industry in the Pacific Islands works. Whilst he’s bottling and delivering to order to various stores, supermarkets and resorts, the large international brewers (principally Steinlager and Heineken) are effectively “dumping” out-of-date beer around the Pacific. When it’s within two or three months of its best before date, they’re able to sell it cheap to island nations; not only do they make a return on beer that they would otherwise have to throw away, they even get the tax they’ve paid on it back from the New Zealand government. This is how the Islander Hotel Resort is able to sell beer in happy hour at $3.50, whereas Matutu is generally available at $8.00 - $9.00. However, as a consumer of quality beer, I’m prepared to pay the extra, and also support a local business, so I sought it out whenever I could.

Despite this competition, Eric told us that he had 10% year on year growth over the last 10 years, and he had around 5% market share on the island. I surmise that most of his customers are tourists from New Zealand, rather than the locals.

During the talk, James poured the different beers that they’re currently producing: the Kiva pale ale, Mai lager and IPA styles. He also produces special occasion beers for single runs (such as last year’s 50th anniversary of the constitution).

Afterwards we had a chat about beer, Beervana (he can’t make it this year) and entering the New Zealand Beer Awards – he won a bronze medal last year.  He also told us about how he measures the alcohol content of the beer, and why he won’t be exporting to New Zealand anytime soon. I left feeling better informed about beer, and happy with my choice to buy theirs!

Just up the road from the brewery is the Maire Nui tropical gardens and café, so we tootled along to see that. They have a large number of tropical plants, many of which were familiar to us from the hothouse at Wellington Botanic Gardens! Here they were in their natural habitat. We had lunch at the café, then went round to the Whale & Wildlife Centre near the airport. They told us that a whale had been sighted on the south coast, so we drove around there to try and spot it, without success. We stopped at Le Bon Vivant for a coffee and cake, and gave a lift to a young Czech lad who was thumbing a lift to Muri.

After  a short stop back at the bach, we went out for our final night’s dinner at the Yellow Hibiscus restaurant. As a celebration I drank a Blue Lagoon cocktail – this appeared to be the manly drink of choice as I noticed at least two other blokes drinking similar blue drinks. It did come with a paper parasol in it, though…but no plastic monkey. You so rarely see those on cocktails these days.

After dinner, we went home and packed up ready for our early morning flight back to New Zealand.

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