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Let's have a Bush Beer at the Secret Pub

A Story about Atiu beer hideouts

By BrewingbrowserPublished 4 years ago 3 min read
Photo by Michal Pechardo on Unsplash

Ever heard of secret pubs? Hideouts in the bush where villagers would get together and drink beer? This is the story of Aitu and its neighbouring islands, part of the Cook island group. Read on to learn more about this lesser known and very local beer style!

In this post, we will explore a beer type that formed an important part of life on the Cook islands. Bush Beer has long served as the replacement of a ceremonial drink after missionaries banned the ancient beverage. I hope you will enjoy reading about the history, characteristics and future of this beer style.

Bush beer (also known as “Orange Beer”)

Bush beer emerged around 200 years ago on the Cook islands. This brew, also called “Orange Beer”, comes from Atiu, one of the main islands in Polynesia. Before missionaries arrived in Atiu, its local people congregated and drank extracts from roots of the kava plant (Piper methysticum). Kava (which means “bitter”) is a relative of pepper and grows on the Pacific islands. Kava is a root extract that causes tiredness, relaxation and euphoria. P. methysticum is a medicinal plant and used as a remedy to several ailments. The people of Atiu drank kava in rituals and social gatherings to maintain spiritual bonds with their ancestors. Happy times.

Missionaries arrived at Atiu in the early 1800s and quickly banned Kava. Reportedly, missionaries likened Kava-fuelled rituals, symptoms, and customs to witchcraft, all of which were at odds with Christianity. While the Europeans banned Kava, they introduced alcohol. Locally produced beer soon replaced the original Kava drink. Restrictions on alcohol production, however, forced inhabitants to brew their beverages in secret. The hidden breweries (called “Tumunus”) became pubs in the bush. Bush beer consumption also became part of social practices, replacing Kava as the main beverage. Today, you can still find Tumunus on Atiu where they serve a more modern version of bush beer. Tumunus now are touristic attractions, drawing visitors from across the globe. The brewers will serve you their favourite drink in coconut shells.

Bush Beer profile

Brewers on Atiu had to use ingredients available on the island. They made Bush beer with orange, banana and honey, mixing these ingredients with water. Brewers added sediment from previous batches to start fermentation in vessels buried in the ground and covered with leaves. Given that orange juice and banana were the main ingredients initially, it is likely that the beer was acidic, with high levels of phenols. A distinct beer by today’s standards. Brewers on Aitu now produce a modern version of bush beer. They have replaced honey and other raw sugar sources with malt extract and included hops to enhance flavour. Today’s bush beers therefore probably have more body and higher alcohol content. Even today, we know very little about the exact composition of bush beer. Visitors have likened bush beer to Belgian Triple and Lambic beers, suggesting a robust alcoholic taste, noticeable acidity and phenolic notes. The brewers of Atiu keep their recipes close to their chests. To our knowledge, there is no record of a (clone) recipe.

Orange Beer

There is considerable interest in beers that make use of fruits. In most instances, brewers add fruit to give their beer a fruity flavour. Few beers, where fruit is the main source of fermentable sugars, exist. Most beer recipes call for the addition of fruits at or during the fermentation stage. To create citrus flavoured beer, most brewers add orange zest to the fermenting beer. If you know of any recipes that you can share (via this newsletter), please contact me ([email protected]). 

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