Brewing local beer, with love

Monday November 20, 2017 Written by Published in Hot on the Rock
James Puati (left) and Eric Newnham (right) admit they knew nothing about brewing beer when they bought their brewery. They’ve now been producing beer for over a decade. 17111528 James Puati (left) and Eric Newnham (right) admit they knew nothing about brewing beer when they bought their brewery. They’ve now been producing beer for over a decade. 17111528

Just off the main road in Tikioki, nestled behind your typical Rarotongan homes, sits a small shed.

In that shed, a team of local beer enthusiasts carefully and skilfully craft bottles, jugs and kegs of Matutu beer, the Cook Islands’ only local craft beer.

Owned by two Cook Islands families, Matutu Brewing Company is a family business that has been brewing its locally loved beer for 12 years. 

Eric Newnham, his sister Chrissie Newnham and his wife Nadine Newnham, along with James Puati and his wife Debi Futter are the masterminds behind the operation.

Taking part in one of their popular tours, customers and beer enthusiasts will learn that Puati and Newnham knew nothing about brewing when they first established Matutu over a decade ago.

Matutu, which means “strong” in Cook Islands Maori, certainly describes the brewers.

In New Zealand, Newnham and Puati met with Futter’s cousin, Carl Vasta – founder of top Kiwi Brewery Tuatara.

The pair spent a week brewing, learning some of the tricks of the trade.

Due to Tuatara’s growing success, Vasta decided to upgrade to a bigger brewery. He sold it to Newnham and Puati and the family dismantled the existing equipment, shipped it to Rarotonga and assembled it in their beloved Tikioki shed, setting the brewery up exactly as it had been on the Kapiti Coast near Wellington.

“Right down to the millimetre,” Newnham says.

Vasta flew back to the Cook Islands some weeks later and checked the boys were coping with their new brewery and even helped with recipe development, something Newnham says truly proves Matutu is a family-orientated business.

To this day Newnham and Puati regularly call Vasta for advice, and even collaborated with him in 2014 to produce a coconut vanilla stout, a crafty infusion that marked James’s 50th birthday.

In addition to churning out 600 to 1200 litre batches of pure gold, the small brewery has won a bronze medal for their Maeva Ale.

The award-winning India pale ale, was made especially by Matutu to celebrate the Cook Islands 50th year of self-governance in association with New Zealand.

2015 was a big year for Matutu Brewery, with the team receiving a Trip Advisor certificate of excellence. The award relies on customer feedback, whereby countless customers left Matutu brewery impressed and pleased, making Matutu Brewery the 10th most popular tourist attraction in Rarotonga, according to Trip Advisor.

The Maeva Ale, along with the Matutu’s two baseline brews, Mai Lager and Kiva Pale Ale, are available at restaurants and bars all around Rarotonga.

Their newest creation is a salted caramel beer that appeals to those with a sweet tooth and has captured the hearts of beer lovers around the island.

This brew can be purchased at the Islander Hotel, LBV in Muri and other resorts around the island.

Matutu, who go by their “No Crap Added” slogan, add no  artificial sugar or preservatives to their beer.

Puati and Newnham both like to keep the company “green”, and offer 10c off each bottle purchased with their next order, to customers who return their Matutu bottles with the labels still intact.

It is clear the Matutu boys are making some big waves in an industry dominated by big corporations – or “the big boys” as Eric refers to them.

The pair not only brew and craft Matutu beer out of pure enjoyment, but also pride themselves on their Cook Islands roots, and ability to represent their slice paradise in a business that is becoming increasingly popular around the world.

The Matutu family, along with the company’s feline friend Tutu, invite everyone to the brewery to take a tour, sip or guzzle a glass of beer or even stop by for a yarn about the marvels of beer.

Tours are held at 12noon and 1pm daily and bookings are encouraged.

For more information, head to matutubeer.com, call 682 26288 or pop in to the brewery, located inland, after Rumours Waterfall and Spa.

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