Captain Cooker Clone | Mussel Inn

Diverging from recently funky exploits, last month I took a crack at brewing a clone beer for Beervana’s ‘Beat The Brewer‘ competition. Running for a couple of years now, the premise is for homebrewers to attempt to brew a clone of a commercial beer so good that it could fool the pro-brewer. My pick of the bunch this year was Captain Cooker from the Mussel Inn – a formative craft beer for me from early days, made by the quirkiest of brewpubs in Golden Bay. Having grown up spending many evenings at the Mussel Inn every summer holiday, this was a clear ringer for me.


Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Brewed using fresh mānuka tips for flavour, Captain Cooker is technically a ‘Spice, Herb, or Vegetable Beer’, fitting into the BJCP style 30A. Rather excellently, it’s loosely based on Captain James Cook’s original 1773 recipe, the first beer ever brewed in NZ (though his also used spruce).  For a small fee, the recipe above was provided. In my own version of the brew, I must admit to taking some liberties with the water adjustment, as 17 g seemed like a heck of lot a gypsum! My finished water profile was the following:

Ca 103 | Mg 16 | Na 6 | SO4 231 | Cl 42

Given some serious time pressure (I headed to Italy at the end of July), I needed to turn the beer over in < 10 days from grain to glass. Hence, I rather sacrilegiously used US-05 in place of a lager yeast. I also used Pacific Jade instead of Pacific Gem as the initial bittering addition, given that’s what I had on hand.

Foraging for mānuka in Banks Peninsula - easier said than done!

Christchurch would seem to have a relative lack of mānuka compared to the Top of the South, with its visually similar relative kanuka being far more predominant. Sophie and I convinced ourselves on a number of occasions during our search that we have found the target species, only to realise that we had yet another kanuka plant. For those of you who wish to try the recipe in the future, here are our tips for distinguishing the two:

1. “M
ānuka is mean, kanuka is kind” – grasp the green leaves of the plant, and if it’s spiky as hell you’ve got mānuka. Seriously, it should hurt your hand. 
2. Kanuka has a eucalyptus aroma, whereas 
mānuka has more of a floral/botanical fragrance that you’ll likely recognise if you’ve ever had mānuka honey.
3. M
ānuka has larger seeds than kanuka, with the distinct shape pictured below. Once we found these, Sophie and I knew we were in business.

For this brew, Andrew Dixon (brewer and owner of the Mussel Inn) recommends using the top 10 – 20 cm of the manuka, with as many leaves as possible.

The seeds were our clearest clue in trying to identify mānuka

Brew day was relatively unremarkable, aside from the slight difficulty in suspending the mesh bag full of mānuka tips in the boil kettle without burning the bag on the heating element. I followed the recipe and instructions essentially to the letter, though ended up with an OG of 1.055 (14 Brix), eight points higher than intended. I’ve been experimenting with my boil kettle recently, and believe I had significantly more boil-off due to a vigorous boil on this occasion, explaining the OG difference.

Fermentation had kicked off < 12 hours later, and slowed by 48 hours (at 1.020) at which point I bumped the temperature to 24° C. Five days following pitch I confirmed a stable FG, and began to crash cool, adding 3 mL of Biofine Clear clarifier once below 10° C. On day seven the beer had been under 1° C for 24 hours, so I kegged with the dry hop component in a hop spider, hit the gas at 40 PSI, and served the first pour 24 hours later. Eight days from grain to glass – not too bad!

Into the fermenter at 1.055
Finished at 1.007

Brew notes

  • Brewed 15.7.19.
  • Mash temperature initially 67° C, settled at 65° C by around 30 mins (insulation was falling off the mash tun!), mashed for 70 mins.
  • Accidentally boiled for an extra 5 mins as forgot to turn off heating element despite starting cooling after final hop addition.
    19L transferred to fermenter once cooled to 23° C, 2 L vitality starter prepared for three hours with cooled wort and 1 x pack of US-05.
  • Cooled to pitching temperature of 21° C, vitality starter pitched, CO2 being produced < 12 hours later.
  • 17.7.19 – Fermentation slowing by 48 hours, gravity at 1.020 hence bumped to 24° C.
  • 20.7.19 – Stable FG at 1.007 (6.4 Brix), hence crash-cooling commenced.
  • 21.7.19 – 3mL Biofine Clear added at 8.3° C.
  • 22.7.19 – Kegged at 0.7° C, dry hop added in hop spider. CO2 set to 40 PSI.
  • 23.7.19 – First pour 24 hours later with reasonable carbonation.
On a side note, my Tilt Repeater worked perfectly on this occasion. The gaps in data below were actually related to issues with my phone closing the Tilt app.
Tilt Hydrometer log for the Captain Cooker
Drinking well

Tasting Notes



Fairly in-keeping with the original beer, a slightly hazy amber. Lasting white head with reasonably fine bubbles.


Definite mānuka on the nose, fresh hops evident from the dry hop addition. 


Surprisingly juicy! On initial tasting (24 hours following dry hop in the keg) this was drinking like a NEIPA with haziness to match. A few days (and pours) later, the haziness was starting to clear and the juiciness fade a little. The mānuka is present but not overwhelming, the bitterness less harsh than the original (no criticism – I used less gypsum for this reason), and there’s still more fruitiness than in the commercial version. Despite rapid fermentation and turn-around, this is still a very clean beer, though certainly drinks more like an ale than a lager.


Perhaps slightly fuller and less dry  than the original, likely owing to the higher OG and use of an ale yeast. 

Drinkability and notes

This is a very drinkable beer, with no particular flavour component overwhelming another. At day 10 I bottled and sent my entry into Beat The Brewer. Watching the live judging at 4 am from my hotel in Sicily, Andrew impressively selected his own beer out of the 15 placed in front of him, 14 brewed by contestants. Although I didn’t win, mine made it into his top four homebrewed examples, which he struggled to distinguish from his own. Good enough for me!

Do give this brew a go, and let me know how you get on. I thoroughly enjoyed brewing one on New Zealand’s most iconic beers, and one very close to the first ever brewed in this country.


This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Darrin

    Fantastic beer! Enjoyed a Mussel Inn brewery tour in my return visit to Matakana in Dec. Is there any chance of getting a version in a BeerSmith XML format for use on a Grainfather …

  2. Ben

    Brewing this for the fourth time tomorrow – great recipe, thanks!

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