Puhoi Beer: A taste of Bohemia from North Auckland

by | Sep 14, 2022 | Opinion

Handmade tales: With their kiwi version of the classic Czech pilsner, Pūhoi Beer founder Scott Rice and his team want to put Pūhoi on the map and at the same time keep the story of the first settlers of Puhoi alive. In the second feature in the series, Doris Neubauer reports from the ‘slow water’ just north of Auckland

On the 29th of June 1863, 84 men, women and children from a small village in Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic, were in for a rude awakening: after a 124-day journey, they expected to arrive in a land that knew “no poverty, no hunger, no winter” – as New Zealand had been described to them. Instead, they arrived to dense bush with nikau trees up to 20 meters high. Only a landing site with two tiny whare next to the Pūhoi river (meaning slow water), about 45 kilometres north of Auckland, had been cleared.

Why the Bohemians were settled in this inhospitable region remains unknown. The reason why they stayed is obvious: unlike other pākehā, the pioneer settlers had paid the travel expenses out of their own pockets. Now they had to find their way around. Equipped with only axes and their bare hands, they began clearing the mountainsides to plant potatoes, wheat and vegetables.

Today’s visitors of Pūhoi, one of two ethnic historic villages in New Zealand with the second being Akaroa near Christchurch, get a different image. A few white wooden houses with red-tiled roofs are spread out on the green hills. On the main road, visitors can find a handful of souvenir shops, a wee grocery, a quaint church and one of the last historical pubs left in the southern hemisphere, the Pūhoi Pub & Hotel established in 1879.


For the love of beer

The hardship of the first settlers was matched by their grit. “We had our faith and came together to help each other”, the Bohemian immigrants used to respond when asked how they survived. The early settlers did not only work and pray, they equally knew how to party: “There was an old brass band that played the button accordion, the bagpipes, and the fiddle”, says Jenny Schollum from the Pūhoi Heritage Museum. The music and Bohemian dances were the longed-for distraction from harsh reality for the emigrants. Their parties were legendary, and so was their consumption of alcohol. “They loved their beer,” the 71-year-old smiles, recalling stories of the first settlers who had to be brought home by their horses.

Beer mugs on the shelves, black and white photos and flags on the walls of Pūhoi Pub & Hotel are reminders of these long nights. Until Covid’s first lockdown turned the tap off, imported Czech beer was also being poured in the pub.

Since the end of 2020, however, a little revolution is underway: Pūhoi Beer.



“I used to work in a larger brewery, and I always thought it was strange that Pūhoi did not have a Bohemian pilsner,” says Pūhoi Beer founder Scott Rice, who moved to Puhoi from the busy North Shore in 2014 and currently lives over the hill in Orewa. He also sits on the board of Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust and is the race commentator and presenter at the national championships for Swimming New Zealand.

When new owners Gary Levert and Bernie McCallion took over the pub, Rice jumped at the opportunity. “We created the brand Pūhoi Beer, and with a master brewer put together the recipe from Czech and New Zealand hops,” he says. The “floral, citrusy, and spicy” libation creates something akin to a classic Czech pilsner.

Pour start

In November 2020, the first pint came from the tap in the Pūhoi Pub & Hotel.

The timing was rotten. With the beer only available in kegs it relied on local bars and restaurants for distribution. But the lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 shut the taps off for months at a time.

“So it all stayed in storage.”

Like the Bohemian settlers in the past, Scott did not give up. He invited his friend Heath Moy, who had grown up in Pūhoi himself, to come on board. “We decided to put the beer into a can to stock it in liquor stores and supermarket and broaden the distribution.”

Soon Pūhoi Beer got the attention of beverage merchant Hancocks. “Within the first six months, we got 420 business customers and are still growing.”

While Hancock acts as exclusive distributor, Scott Rice and Heath Moy remain responsible for marketing and brewing which is done at Steam Brewing Company. “We send them the ingredients, and they brew it to recipe, package it for us and ship it. We wanted the best people to brew the beer.”

In 2021, they landed a bronze medal at the New Zealand Brewers Guild Awards. This year the Pilsner was awarded a silver. Also in 2022, Pūhoi Beer was up against more than 2600 other brews at the Australian International Beer Awards and scored a bronze.

“Pūhoi is a name that is relatively well known to Aucklanders and further afield because of Pūhoi Valley Cheese and the pub. Now our beer is putting the Pūhoi name on the can. It’s keeping Pūhoi’s story alive, so people will keep talking about it.” It is a mission the Bohemian settlers would have celebrated – most likely with a pint. Or two.


This is the second article in a series about artisan and handmade producers. If you have a story to tell, please drop us a line at editor@thefeed.co.nz

Words and images by Doris Neubauer


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