McCashins turn back the clock

This entry was edited on 20 September following further infromation from McCashins

Terry McCashin is the godfather of New Zealand micro-brewing. He famously took on the big brewing duopoly back in 1980, and later sold his Macs brand to Lion.

Today the McCashin brewery in Stoke is back in family hands after Lion’s lease expired. Terry’s son Dean and daughter-in-law Emma are now producing a range of beverages including vodka and cider, and have just released their first three beers.

It’s good to see the brewery back in operation, and to know the McCashins are back in the brewing business. But it’s disappointing that the products are not up to the 2010 beer range.

The McCashin’s beer range has three beers – Stoke Gold, Stoke Amber and Stoke Dark. All are ales, and Emma confirmed all are brewed with the same “secret yeast”. The hops and malts are not identified in the tasting notes or packaging, but the packaging tells us Stoke is “brewed for 3 weeks” and uses “14,000 year old Paleo (TM) water”!

Who cares? Seriously, what niche of the beer buying market wants trademarked water but isn’t interested in the hops, malt or yeast?

Craft brewers use their ingredients to create a clear point of difference. Several New Zealand beers are named after their hops – Yeastie Boys Motueka Monster and Twisted Hop’s Sauvin Pilsner, for example. Many others boast about their ingredients and differentiate their products from their competitors’. Buyers pay a premium for these ingredients and products. Stoke’s three generic beers and anonymous ingredients will not command premium prices against this kind of competition. What was brave in 1980 seems distinctly retro 30 years on.

The six-pack packaging indicates the McCashins are fighting the two major breweries for shelf space in bottle stores and supermarkets, so they will have to beat the majors on profit margins and advertising budgets.

All up, they will need to keep production costs down to be able to offer good profit margins without charging premium prices, and do that without operating the economies of scale the larger breweries can achieve.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m sure the McCashins know what they are doing. Dean McCashin says they have allied with Hancocks for its brand-building and portfolio management expertise. An Auckland-based PR agency was bought in to spruik the products.

But I can’t see how these products and marketing can attract the craft beer market, or how their production volume and costs can compete with the major breweries.

Tasting notes
A wonderful golden colour, which is sweet and aromatic on the nose, with a hint of fruitiness. It has unique smooth honey tones on the palate, with a complimentary (sic) balance between sweet and light bitterness. Drink cold (5 degrees). Food match: Stoke Gold is great with mild flavours such as shellfish or chicken. An excellent contrast with spicy or ethnic foods.
NZ Beer Blog says: McCashins says the tasting notes will be changed to remove any reference to lager. 4.5% ABV. Pours a golden yellow with an orange tinge, white head doesn’t linger, strong carbonation. Aroma of biscuity, bready malt. Taste is clean, malt-dominated and sweet, with a lingering metallic bitterness.

Strikingly amber/red in the glass, with a sweet and slightly woody character on the nose, balanced with fruity hop aroma. Gorgeous malty body with unique smooth honey tones, followed by a wee zesty hop. Drink cold (5 degrees). Food match: Enjoy Stoke Amber with lamb, beef, veal or even roasted pork.
NZ Beer Blog says: 4.5% ABV. Pours a clean, coppery red. Strong carbonation. Aroma of malt biscuits and toffee. Taste is very sweet toffee, with hints of golden syrup. I don’t get any hops here.

A rich dark hue, with a hint of red. Coffee and dark chocolate aromas, with a well balanced full malt body. Complement of smooth caramel sweetness, rich malty body with aromatic and subtle bitterness liven the palate while not over-powering the flavour. Drink slightly chilled (7 degrees).Food match: Drink Stoke Black with a thick juicy steak or roast beef served with lots of gravy. Or if you have a sweet tooth, try matching with chocolate or toffee deserts.
NZ Beer Blog says: 4.5% ABV. Dark, mahogany red, head pours tan but doesn’t linger. Aroma of dark malts, slightly woody, but I don’t get the obvious coffee and dark chocolate I’ve found in other dark beers. The flavour is more distinctive than the aroma, malty and lightly charred.

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©Martin Craig. Reproduction with permission only.

14 Responses to “McCashins turn back the clock”

  1. Emma McCashin sent me this in reply:

    Hi Martin

    Thanks, I have read the review.

    You might want to re-think your comments about it being a lager yeast is you’re not correct on that one.

    We are happy with where we have positioned ourselves in the market. We do not wish to compete with the small microbreweries doing 1000L brews as they are doing what they do well and there are other parts of the market where we are a better fit. We are the largest craft brewery in New Zealand (aside from Mac and Monteiths) and it would be short-sighted not to make use of that capacity.

    And so far the feedback about the beer has been really, really good. I don’t recall hearing any negative comments about any of the brews at the Spring Beer Fete in Nelson on Fri night. And everyone there was commenting how long the head on the Ale lasted. However, I noticed you only mentioned the head for the Dark and Gold. Despite your suggestion that the Ale is one for the Lion Brown fans, this has been the stand out beer so far and is getting a eally good following.

    As far as listing the hops and malts, there are 8 different malts in the Ale alone. So it’s a big ask to list them all, as well as the different hops used.

    And we dont have an Auckland PR company doing work for us. Hancock’s started getting PPR in Auckland to do some initial launch work and we called them off two weeks ago as we felt it didn’t fit with where we are at.



  2. So is the Gold a lager as described, or is the Amber an ale as described?


    • The original entry said Stoke beer was all brewed with a lager yeast. Emma McCashin has since told me it is not a lager yeast, and so the entry has been amended to reflect this.

      Thanks for the clarification, Emma, and don’t be shy about producing a golden ale – NZ needs more of them!


  3. The thing I love about this story is how there must be some really red faces at Lion… “what? You say we didn’t tie up the Macashins name when we purchased Mac’s?? Oh, shit!!”

    stupid lawyers…

    The beers have been placed about where I expected them in the market. People will pay a premium for a family owned beer, especially one with history. I can’t comment on the beer taste as I’ve not tried them but I think the brand has potential but that’ll be a bloody tough road…

    I’d be surprised if they were bigger than Harringtons and Steam though…


  4. I tried the amber at Beervana. Once I got over my disappointment as it became clear that we weren’t about to see anything groundbreakingly exciting from McCashins, I was pretty pleased with the Amber. I made the comment at the time that I could easily session on it. It was my first beer of the day, so my palate was clear, and I found it balanced, just on the sweet side, but not overly so, with good malt character though lacking a little in hop flavour or aroma. I decided it was “a better mainstream beer than the mainstream beers” and assumed that’s where McCashins are positioning it. Leaving the economics of that approach aside, I agree with Stu that there will be quite a few people out there who will drink it wanting to support a family owned brewery, and others who will want to be different but who aren’t quite ready for the “flavour attack” of an Epic or an 8 Wired. This beer is for them.

    It’s also worth noting that Emma and co have been big supporters of SOBA, and love their beer with a passion. Who knows what might come out of the brewery in time? :) Worth a “wait and see” I think.


  5. Provided by McCashins brewer Sam Wilson

    Hi Martin,

    The hops we use are all organic hops. I’m sure you will be aware of the limited varieties available organically, so it’s been and interesting challenge, but one that has worked out well. The main hops we use are Motueka, Pacific Gem and Rakau; with a compliment between early and some pretty last minute late hopping. Many of todays beers are overly focused on hops, our point of difference is that we have toned down the hops and put more emphasis on the malty characters, as a way of complimenting rather than dominating with hops. Not to say we won’t bring out future beers without a good bold hop character.

    I’ve read your blog and I’m a bit confused as to what you expect in a beer? You mentioned ‘retro’ beers, I hope that doesn’t mean you think these are in any way based on the original beers bought out in the early 80s? These beers have all been developed from scratch, and bare little resemblance to previous beers brewed here. And again I think you’ve overlooked the packaging – we’ve kept the packaging simplistically eyecatching, and bottled it in a nice solid bottle. Also water being the single biggest component by far I think people would be interested to know where it comes from.

    As for the malt we use quite an extensive range of malts, the dark beer itself having 7 different kinds. The gold is a light mix of 3 malts to give it the light and smooth character it has, with a little zest and fruitiness coming from the hops. The amber has a mix of 6 different kinds of malt to emphasize the red/amber colour and give it a fuller malty body, with a lighter hopping to give it a bit of background aroma and flavour. The dark has a wide compliment of malts ranging from the dark roasted malts through to the pale base malt, with some very last minute hop additions to emphasize the aroma without giving it too much of the harsh bitterness evident in some dark beers. It also retains a bit of body and sweetness to round it off.

    As for the yeast we decided early on not to say too much about it, as it seems every brewer raves about their yeast without saying what it is either. We simply decided not to say anything. All I’ll say at this point is that it is a wonderful yeast that behaves beautifully and gives our beers the subtle bodied flavours like nothing I’ve seen before. Not to say we won’t develop other beers using different yeast strains either.

    As for any particular styles we’re aiming for, we’re not trying to emulate anything per say. New Zealanders are beginning to develop their own distinctive palate, and I think it would be amiss to then expect them to drink our interpretations of old european beers, for example. I’m not expecting us to please everyone by any means. We feel we’ve positioned ourselves well in the market – we’re not trying to compete with the little guys or the big guys – we’re craft brewers hoping to make an easy drinking, sessionable, but tasty beer. Good on it’s own or with food, or if you’re looking to have a few on the weekend..

    Hope this is of some use, Sam


  6. ps. there are actually no Motueka hops in Motueka Monster… so it’s a nod to the hop growing region rather than the hop. It also means we can change the hops if we ever want to make it again. Unfortunately it had was the only regional term that really fit the bill. Anatoki Monster may have worked but it would have been geographically challenged…


  7. I was pretty disappointed with the Stoke beers. I thought the range was seriously retro, not in that these beers are the original recipes but in that this was a range that would have been revolutionary in the early 80’s, it would have been exciting in the early 90’s and it’s down right boring now. It really doesn’t seem right that the Lion Mac’s range is more flavourful and exciting than the McCashin range.
    As I said to Dean at Beervana it seems like a flawed business plan to me, too mainstream for the craft market, too small for the mainstream market. But then again I could be totally wrong and they might be laughing all the way to the bank.
    I also found some of the branding rather surprising. Boasting about a three week production period seems rather odd and the short production period probably explains some of the off flavours I found in the beers. Yes McCashin’s could retort that many mainstream beers are produced in shorter periods but that doesn’t mean that 3 Weeks becomes a valid boasting point. I thought all three had a harsh grainy malt profile, the Amber had some pronounced acetaldehyde (which I didn’t pick up cold from the tap at Beervana but was certainly there from the bottle) the Dark was probably the best but certainly wasn’t going to challenge Macs Black. As for the yeast used all three were estery but our indigenous lagers tend to present that way. Some indication of the actual styles being brewed might be nice to. I think the beer world has moved on from classifying everything by colour.
    As for size they might achieve production levels like Steam, Emerson’s or Harrington’s but I doubt they are at that level yet. The message coming from McCashin’s is that they will produce more interesting products down the line, I hope that comes to pass as its great to have the McCashin family brand back but there needs to be beers behind it that cut the mustard and they just aren’t there yet.


    • Thanks Kieran

      I also picked up some real inconsistencies between the Beervana offering and the bottled samples (which were provided directly from McCashins).



      • That would certainly explain why my opinion (mostly positive) seems to diverge so much from the general feeling here. My only experience was fresh on tap, with a clean palate. The old “getting it right in the bottle” issue, eh?


  8. Nice article, Sounds like they don’t know what are doing there!!
    I’ve tried the beers, the Dark was the best, But Nelson Bays does a similar one with a better taste and Head retention at a much better price.
    The Gold tasted like it had magnets left in it!
    The Amber was interesting, bottles tasted different to each other, one was good but then the next was awful, tasted all old and skunky. not sure how long htey had been on the shelf but it tasted like it was off.
    Mate put us on to them, but with Sprig & Fern, Nelson Bays already doing the same stlye beers but better & cheeper I’ll stick to them


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