First beer brewed in New Zealand

1 April 1773

Wigram Brewing's Spruce Beer. (Kerry H., untappd.com)

In an attempt to concoct a preventative against scurvy, Captain James Cook brewed a batch of beer on Resolution Island in Dusky Sound, using rimu branches and leaves.

We … began to brew beer from the branches or leaves of a tree, which much resembles the American black-spruce. From the knowledge I had of this tree, and the similarity it bore to the spruce, I judged that, with the addition of inspissated [thickened] juice of wort and molasses, it would make a very wholesome beer, and supply the want of vegetables, which this place did not afford; and the event proved that I was not mistaken.

When the beverage was sampled four days later, Lieutenant Charles Clerke thought it ‘very palatable’ and observed that most of the crew ‘seem[ed] to drink pretty plentifully of it’. The naturalist Anders Sparrman noted that with the addition of a little rum and some brown sugar, ‘this really pleasant, refreshing, and healthy drink … bubbled and tasted rather like champagne’.

Despite these favourable reviews, an attempt by Lion Breweries to recreate Cook’s beer in the 1980s resulted in a brew that some called ‘awful’ and others ‘revolting’. In 2020, Christchurch-based Wigram Brewing produces a spruce beer flavoured with rimu and manuka – ‘a nice malty drop with a slightly smoky character’ that pays homage to Cook without following his recipe exactly.

Joel Polack founded New Zealand’s first commercial brewery at Kororāreka in 1835.

 

How to cite this page

'First beer brewed in New Zealand', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/page/first-beer-brewed-new-zealand, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 13-Nov-2020

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