New Zealand craft brewer Moa has released what is believed to be the world’s first ‘deer beer’. Developed exclusively for export to China, a growing market for premium Kiwi-brewed craft beer, ‘Moa Red Stag Wheat’ is an extra-special drop that contains deer velvet sourced from the South Island of New Zealand.

The Chinese market loves deer velvet for its supposed medicinal qualities. Deer velvet is said to boost endurance and strength, improve the immune system, counter stress and recover from illness. It is consumed in the onset of winter to ward off infections and it also purportedly acts as an aphrodisiac.

“The concept of adding deer velvet in our beer started out in 2017 when I was in China with our Asia market manager Parley Reynolds,” said Moa’s global sales director Gareth Hughes. “We were chatting over a couple of beers about how we as a business could better cater to the Chinese market and grow our presence in market. wanted to provide a unique option that was vastly different to our usual, and knowing the Chinese are big fans of our New Zealand craft brews, the concept of the world’s first deer beer was born.”

Hughes and Reynolds approached M99, one of China’s biggest craft beer retailers, and before long arrangements had been made for M99 to come to New Zealand and develop the beer. The launch turned out to be a hit – a whole container full sold out 48 hours after a post on WeChat.

Deer velvet is the annual new growth of deer antler produced by various types of male deer. Unlike the hard, mature antlers used by stags to fight for a mate, deer velvet is soft and, giving the substance its name, covered with a hairy velvet-like skin. At the end of each season, deer lose their antlers, to grow a new set the following year. Deer velvet is a big industry in New Zealand and the processing of this is done in as ethical a manner as possible. With large populations of wild and farmed red deer, New Zealand is the world’s biggest and arguably most humane producer of deer velvet. All velvet harvesting in New Zealand is done with anaesthetic and is supervised by veterinarians, so there is no harm to the animal.

Adding deer velvet to beer isn’t an overly complicated process, Hughes explained. The antlers are put in a giant sieve, which is then placed in a kettle with the boiling wort. From there, hops are added and the product is transferred to the whirlpool to ensure all the solids are removed. It’s then sent to fermentation, where yeast and more hops are added.

More importantly, though, how does it taste? “The Moa Red Stag Wheat is a craft ale that is made from a combination of red and wheat malts with New Zealand hops from Motueka,” Hughes said. “We chose a wheat beer, because it’s not only unique because of its red-tinged hue, bold and robust hop flavour but because we know this is the preferred craft beer style among Chinese drinkers.” While the Red Wheat Stag beer is only available for China, Hughes said that with Kiwis being such adventurous characters, deer velvet beer has the potential to soon be embraced in New Zealand.

In addition to driving the deer velvet export market, worth around $40 million per year, China is a crucial growth prospect for Moa’s products. Right now, the annual value of New Zealand-made beer and cider exports are around $2 to $3 million, with substantial room for growth. “We’ve found the Chinese market is developing a taste for cider, but the standout favourites are the Moa Five Hop and the Dry Hopped Pilsner,” Hughes said. “I think the reason for our popularity in China is largely due to our Five Hop being a really well-rounded beer. This English-style IPA is the perfect balance of malt sweetness and hop bitterness.”

Moa is planning on bringing wine beers into China and is also working on a couple of interesting brews just for New Zealand which Hughes hopes to share soon.