Brewers unearth 'holy grail'

02:57, Jun 13 2014
Nick and John Duncan
BREWING GOLD: Brothers Nick, left, and John Duncan with brewing records and equipment that they recently discovered in an old leather suitcase that travelled the world, as shown by its labels, inset.

Founders brewer John Duncan is excited to have discovered a brewing treasure trove.

Inside a 100-year-old well-travelled leather suitcase are books and equipment from early days of the family's Nelson brewery.

The most important find is a Brewer's Book, dating from 1936 to 1942, that records the recipes of the beers made then.

"This is the holy grail," said Duncan.

This year is the 160th anniversary of when great-great-grandfather Joseph Dodson started brewing in Nelson where he was also the first mayor.

"I have been asking around and looking for the old recipes. I'd been to the museum because I heard they had some but they turned out to be soft drink recipes. I'd sort of given up," he said.


Then his older brother and retired brewer Nick dug out the old suitcase stored at his home that nobody had shown a lot of interest in.

It has luggage stickers, including a Cunard New York one, and a label showing it went on the Aquatania from Southampton.

However, it is the contents of the suitcase that has Duncan fascinated as he pores through brewer's manuals and a book that records brewing information for Customs excise, as well as details of a brass chondrometer, or corn balance, used to work out grain extract, an alcohol meter and hand centrifuge for checking yeast quality.

There's also a black and white photo of the laboratory they were using at the now-demolished brewery that stood on the corner of Tasman and Hardy streets.

"I am still excited," said Duncan, who is still working his way through the pages of the recipe book that records the stout, XXX and AK ale that was brewed.

He plans to make one of the brews and opts for the AK because the brewery still has an old label for AK Celebrate Tonic Ale, which he describes as a popular English ale in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

He understands Henry Duncan, who went to England in 1890 and studied brewing in London and Denmark, brought back the recipe.

He is having to work out the recipes from old measures such as bushels and the book records three varieties of hops: Fuggles, Sticklebract, and California, a variety no longer grown.

Duncan said while the items were a lost link to the family's past, they were also museum pieces that should be looked after and they were working out how best to do that.

The Nelson Mail