Arkell’s finds 175th anniversary inspiration in New Zealand

A trip half way around the world earlier this year by Wiltshire brewery Arkell’s head brewer revealed an unexpectedly rich family brewing heritage in New Zealand. Alex Arkell was so inspired that he returned home having bought a consignment of New Zealand hops to brew a special beer celebrating Arkell’s 175th anniversary this year.

Arkell’s Pioneer IPA, which goes on sale in Arkell’s pubs this week, is a pale IPA with floral, lemon notes and a lemony, tropical fruit flavour. It uses three hops, combining Goldings from the UK with Taikeke and Moteuka hops from New Zealand.

Arkell’s began brewing beer in Swindon in 1843. By 1863, its founder John Arkell’s son (confusingly also called John), had emigrated to New Zealand where he launched White Star Brewery in Caversham, on the country’s South Island.

The idea for Alex’s trip came about when he and his brother George (Arkell’s managing director) were researching their family history during the restoration of the brewery’s wine store into The Grape and Grain, a new retail beer and wine warehouse and archive on the brewery’s site at Kingsdown, Swindon. The Grape and Grain is open to the public, MondayFriday 9am-5pm.

“We’re a 175-year old brewery so our archive of old family letters, documents and photographs is vast,” says Alex. “But we’d never really had the time to go through everything in detail. When we did, we discovered an amazing story.”

White Star Brewery was the first of four New Zealand breweries John Arkell opened back in the 1860s. By the following year he’d sold White Star Brewery and opened the Phoenix Brewery in Hokitika, on the West Coast of South Island.

His enthusiasm for brewing continued and by 1872 he’d launched Arkell & McPhee brewery at Inangahua and two years’ later he went into partnership to launch Mace & Arkell brewery. Finally, from 1879 he ran Maitai Malthouse in Nelson as a maltster and a hop grower. But it wasn’t to last. John Arkell of New Zealand died of supposed heart disease in 1881.

However, the Arkell’s adventures in the Southern Hemisphere didn’t end there. Another of John’s sons, Daniel Arkell, also had beer running through his veins. He established a brewery in Sydney in 1877. A few months’ later Daniel returned to New Zealand to run the Point Russell Hotel, Mercer, Auckland.

By 1886 he had begun construction of his Gladstone Brewery in Auckland.

Fast forward more than 100 years and all Arkell’s breweries in New Zealand didn’t have the staying power of the Arkell’s in Swindon.

“I’d been wanting to make the trip for years and had done a fair amount of research,” says Alex. “While I was there I visited the old Gladstone Brewery, and Daniel Arkell’s former home and his grave.

“I also visited hop farms in Nelson. New Zealand hops are among the best in the world. They’re famously fruity, citrusy and highly aromatic, and it was great to see them growing.”

New Zealand’s hop growing region is located between the country’s North and South Islands. The heart of the hop growing region is Nelson, at the top of South Island near the Tasman Bay.

“When I was studying to become a brewer, I spent time learning my trade in the USA and Germany, and I’ve visited the Czech Republic and Slovenia in the course of my job. The art of brewing is global and learning about brewing and hops in the Southern Hemisphere was the next stage of my education.

“But what was really amazing was to discover that the Arkell’s name isn’t just known for beer and brewing in Swindon and Wiltshire, but for a few decades in the nineteenth century it was also a household name in New Zealand.”