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September 5, 2011 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Not the Cordial, the Island

When I headed to Rarotonga for a recent holiday I expected a pretty grim beer scene, but my expectations were very misguided.

Upon arrival I learned that there are two breweries on the small island of 14,000 inhabitants—not a bad ratio. These two breweries were Cook’s Lager Brewery and Matutu Brewery, and I visited both.

Cook’s Brewery is a recent addition to the island, being only 18 months old. Their equipment is top of the line, imported from the states. But suffice to say the beer needs work to match the quality of their equipment…

Matutu, on the other hand, is a craft brewery doing some great things with close ties to Wellington brewery Tuatara. The Matutu brewery is actually the original Tuatara brewery, transplanted from a cow shed in Reikorangi on the Kapiti Coast to a shed in Tikioki on the South-Eastern coast of Rarotonga. Matutu founders James Puati and Eric Newnham spent months travelling to and from Wellington to work with Tuatara, study their kit and learn the brewing process. Then it was all packed up and shipped to Rarotonga.
Four years old, Matutu make two staple beers: Mai Lager and Kiva Pale Ale. I was astounded by the quality of beer being made in such isolation.

In a tropical climate such as Rarotonga, awash with pale lager, I was very happy to see a pale ale. Kiva Pale Ale is hopped with a blend of US-grown Centennial and NZ grown Golding hops, which give a floral aroma. Use of crystal malts give Kiva a rich, sweet flavour, and when combined with light hopping give the impression of an easy drinking English pale ale.

In Cook Islands Maori ‘Mai’ means ‘come here’ or ‘bring me another’, a phrase I was using often with this beer. Thankfully Matutu Mai Lager isn’t an attempt to clone the popular but flavourless lagers mostly available on the island. It uses two of my favourite hops, Motueka and Riwaka, which turn it into more of a crisp, refreshing pilsner very similar to many being made by New Zealand’s best craft breweries. I’d recommend visiting the brewery if you’re ever in the area—Mai Lager unfiltered straight out of the tank is amazing.
Of course these beers aren’t usually available in New Zealand, but I have learned that Matutu has been selected as one of two Cook Island businesses to be exhibited at the New Zealand business innovation showcase held at ‘The Cloud’ in Auckland during the Rugby World Cup. Matutu have commissioned a batch of Mai Lager to be brewed by Invercargill Brewery for the event, and if any is leftover it may make its way to Wellington. So keep an eye out!

If you have any questions about this week’s beers or any comments, please contact me at or tweet at me @davethebeerguy


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Comments (3)

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  1. James Puati says:

    Thanks for that wonderful review of our brewery! We are going from strength to strength and appreciate the feedback! Get down to the Auckland waterfront to taste our beer or book yourselves a flight to Rarotonga and come on down and see us.

  2. Annie Jackson says:

    My husband & I can certainly echo the thoughts of Dave the Beer Guy….we have also visited Matutu Brewery and can confirm James & Eric are doing a fantastic job. Keep up the good work guys!!

  3. Colin Wansbrough says:

    Sounds like you guys are onto a winner here !! I will certainly be looking out for the brand if we get some in Wellington. All the best guys !!

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