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RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (The Cook Islands Herald, April 14) – Tourists wanting to try the local beer while in the Cook Islands are disappointed. They’re not the only ones.

The once thriving Rarotonga Brewery, opposite Punanga Nui Market, has closed. It appears to have been the victim of a combination of a punitive excise duty rise and Government indifference.

Stocks of its Cooks Lager have dried up. So has the sponsorship money it pumped into local events.

At tourist resorts like the Edgewater, Rarotongan and Pacific Resort there are thwarted expectations.

"People come here to try the local beer," says Rarotonga Brewery managing director Richard Barton.

But the micro brewery which produced the only local beer is now mothballed and up for sale.

Some of the 12 people who once brewed and bottled Cooks Lager do other work at Barton’s The Bond Liquor Store. Others have moved on, their skills lost.

Barton is cautious talking about all this. He still operates other businesses, such as The Bond. The brewery was set up behind this and used to run popular tours and beer tastings there for tourists.

But Barton says the excise duty was doubled without notice six years ago and the brewery has been losing money ever since. He hints that someone with a personal agenda was behind the excise duty hike. He also suggests the Government is not really in tune with business and the private sector. There appeared to be official indifference to the fate of the brewery.

Back at The Bond emotional attachments and hope kept the brewery open despite the losses that followed the excise duty increase. But as 2006 came to a close Barton made the hard decision to shut down.

"We should have closed it long ago," he says.

The impact is now being felt way beyond thirsty tourists wanting to try the local beer.

The brewery had helped the environment in its two decades of operation. It successfully recycled glass bottles from imported beers. It collected these, put them through a big bottle washer, then clean as new back into circulation carrying the Cooks Lager logo.

The brewery was, adds Barton, returning up to NZ$400,000 [US$297,000] a year to Government in import and excise duties when operating fully.

"The brewery was a good little business," he says from his office in The Bond. "It was difficult but it worked."

No longer.

Tourists asking for a local beer are now instead offered imported beers, the same ones they get back home.

They’re not the only ones missing out.

So are the local events which used to rely on Rarotonga Brewery for sponsorship.

"I hate to think how much went into the community," Barton says.

Rarotonga Brewery sits silent. Both tourists and locals miss it.

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