I was born in Wellington in 1975 and have spent most of my last four decades living in the capital, so am no stranger to Tui East India Pale Ale. Yes, Lion Brown was the Wellington drink of choice, but whenever my friends and I ventured north of Waikanae or wandered over the Rimutakas we drank what the locals drank… and that was Tui.
The orange cans were distinctive but it was the stubbies with their sports trivia questions hiding inside the bottle caps that won us over. Tui became our go-to drink. Many an afternoon was spent in our flat in Moxham Avenue, Hataitai designing banners for the bank at the Basin Reserve (thankfully these never went on public display) and quizzing each other with Tui questions.
My favourite Tui story, though, relates to an accidental hitch-hiking adventure my mate Gus and I undertook in the late 90s from Taupo to Whangamata. I was joining Gus, his girlfriend and another couple on a New Year’s road trip north. On Day 2, at the Cobb & Co all-you-can eat buffet breakfast, I convinced Gus that the girls were joking when they said they would leave us in Taupo if we made them wait while we ate our third plate of bacon and eggs.
I was wrong. They left us in Taupo with our wallets and a long day on the road ahead of us.
The first two rides we managed to flag down have faded from memory but the third journey I will never forget. Like a mirage, it emerged over the crest of the hill. We rubbed our eyes in disbelief. Could it be… a Tui-mobile!
It was an old panel van covered head to toe in Tui paraphernalia. Most of it had been borrowed from country pubs but there was a fair dose of homemade signage as well. The back of the van had been hollowed out to make room for a dozen passengers and a keg of East India Pale Ale. When it came to hitch-hiking it didn’t get any better than this.
However, in creating the ultimate Tui-mobile the owners had made mechanical sacrifices, which meant that every 20 minutes or so it needed to stop for a rest. We would emerge from the hull of the orange Tardis and sit by the roadside admiring its beauty. Without fail, every passing motorist would toot and wave.
That is one of my fondest memories from my mid-twenties and given our shared history I am slightly embarrassed to admit it was only late last year that I finally made the spiritual journey up State Highway 2 to Mangatainoka, where Henry Wagstaff and the legend of Tui began. I’d driven past the famous (yet remarkably short) Tui Tower on numerous occasions but had never taken the time to stop.
In early December, a new Brewhouse opened in Mangatainoka. The upgrade is a vote of confidence in the long-term viability of the rural brewery. Tui’s owner, DB, has also invested significantly in earthquake strengthening for the historic tower.
Like any good brewery tour the Tui experience begins in the relaxed atmosphere of a country pub. Next, in the video room, our guide proudly showed us a series of the successful marketing campaigns that have helped the Tui brand not only survive, but flourish: the trivia bottle caps, the ‘Yeah Right’ billboards, the Tui girls and the ‘Catch a Million’ competition. As iconic marketing campaigns go, that is a strong CV.
As our tour finished a helicopter landed in the brewery grounds, and our guide smiled. “That will be a group from Auckland just coming down for lunch.”
These days Tui has a wide portfolio of beers to complement the classic Kiwi country pub food on offer. The East India Pale Ale is still going strong, but has been joined by the Golden Lager (proudly displayed on the Hurricanes Super rugby jersey) and Tui 2.5. These beers are all on tap at Mangatainoka alongside a range of brewery specialities. I sampled a half of Tui Extra Dry, the newest brew to join the Tui family. It was a bit sweeter than my palate was used to, but hit the spot on a warm southern Hawke’s Bay afternoon.
It might have been my first visit to the home of Tui but it won’t be the last. Next time I’ll bring the kids, and while Mum and Dad enjoy a six- ounce glass of refreshing old-school lager they can practise their spelling on the Yeah Right billboard – a blank canvas in the shadows of the Tui tower that lets you design your own slogans.
In a world of hoppy high octane IPAs, nectarine sours and whisky stouts I left the Tui brewery relaxed and content; as summer roadies go, it was as good as it gets.
Well, unless you count those summer holidays of my youth, waiting on the roadside for the perfect ride.