Earthworks open door to brewery's past


October 05, 2019 - 244 views

When earthworks started at the future site of Mitre 10 Mega in Oamaru between Ribble and Dee Sts, few would have predicted what would be uncovered beneath the soil. As it turned out, it led to an important piece of the town’s early history — the almost forgotten North Otago Brewery — being revealed. Reporter Daniel Birchfield found out more.

Oamaruvians have always enjoyed a drink.

But in 1905, prohibition came in and did not end until the 1960s.

Anyone who wanted to quench their thirst during that time had to travel outside the North Otago town, or risk bringing alcohol in.

However, during the latter part of the 19th century, that was not an issue and the North Otago Brewery, originally named Waitaki Brewery, then Oamaru Brewery and also North Otago Brewing Co, operated.

The business in the block between Ribble and Dees Sts was established in 1876 and was closed just shy of 40 years later.

Somewhat bizarrely, alcohol could be manufactured in Oamaru after prohibition was introduced.

Heritage New Zealand archaeologist Matt Schmidt said after the remains of a 19th century cottage were discovered at the site last month during earthworks, an archaeological assessment took place.

The use of photographs and survey maps of the site led to an interesting discovery - the fact a once well-known brewery had operated there.

The view of the block between Dee and Ribble Sts from Aln St. The North Otago Brewery is the...
The view of the block between Dee and Ribble Sts from Aln St. The North Otago Brewery is the large building in the centre right. PHOTO: WAITAKI DISTRICT ARCHIVE

Waitaki District Archive curator of archives Chris Meech said at the time it was one of the town's most prominent businesses.

Otago's Breweries Past and Present, written by Frank G. Leckie, provided some insight into its history.

Oamaru Brewery was established by George Skinner Lintott and Alfred Sclanders Otterson.

The three-storey brewery, which cost 7000 to construct, was built using concrete blocks filled with puddled clay and shingle.

Once the block work had been completed, the unfinished building remained untouched for six months while the blocks cured.

All heating was powered by steam, a patent refrigerator was installed and the brewery's boiler and mash tub were made from kauri.

Water from a well on the site was pumped to storage tanks on the roof, then used as required.

It was opened on November 27, 1876.

Ale was produced in casks of five, 10 and 18 gallons for 2s 6d a gallon, or 11s a dozen for bottled beer.

The brewery's stout won first prize at the 1879 Christchurch Agricultural Show, but sadly, Mr Lintott and Mr Otterson's good fortune did not last - they were declared bankrupt in 1881.

In July of that year, the business was taken over by Philip Blakesley and Charles P. Gilby, trading as Blakesley & Co.

A two-storey malt house and kiln was built in 1882, but financial difficulties the following year forced the new owners to use the brewery as security for a mortgage.

Like the two before them, their fortune was short-lived and the title and land was transferred to the Colonial Bank in 1884.

Crews work at the site of Mitre 10 Mega’s future premises between Dee and Ribble Sts in Oamaru,...
Crews work at the site of Mitre 10 Mega’s future premises between Dee and Ribble Sts in Oamaru, as viewed from Aln St. PHOTO: DANIEL BIRCHFIELD

It was renamed Waitaki Brewery in 1888 and Thomas Williams and Jomes Munro were granted a seven-year lease, trading as James Munro & Co until October 18, 1893.

Mr Munro bought the premises the same day.

He had been a bottler and publican in the town since 1882 and was proprietor until October 1897, when Oamaru merchant William Bee bought the premises.

He renamed it North Otago Brewing Co and upgraded it during his tenure, which ended in 1902 when he sold the business to Robert Shand.

In 1904 the steam boiler used to operate the brewery failed its annual survey, but in view of a no-licence poll being held the next year, he was given permission to continue operating at a lower boiler pressure until a result was determined.

By April 1906 his attention had turned to converting the brewery so it was able to manufacture hop beers, installing a 230-gallon copper, to be direct fired, complete with a 20m steel flue.

The upgrade was completed in August of the same year, at virtually the same time Mr Shand accepted a job at a Christchurch brewery and left the business to his brother-in-law, W.G. Naylor.

He continued to produce hop beer until 1912, when he turned his attention to finings - a beer-cleansing agent manufactured from the swim bladders of the fish, ling.

It was believed he was forced to stop making hop beer because its alcohol content was found to exceed the allowable level.

The business was closed in 1915 and Shand sold the building to George Gillies in 1928.

The Oamaru stone chimney was demolished in the 1930s after it was deemed unsafe and the remainder of the building was demolished in 1979.

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