The Auckland brewery that received death threats over its craft beer range depicting Maori ancestral legends has pulled its product from the shelves.

Birkenhead Brewing Company, this week, received widespread criticism over the collection which depicted Rotorua lovers Hinemoa and Tutanekai.

The situation escalated yesterday, with the company alleging death threats had been made against it staff - a matter which police are currently investigating.

Today it's issued an apology and has pulled its product from shelves around the country while it rethinks its labelling.


Foodstuffs NZ's head of external relations, Antoinette Laird, confirmed the brewery had decided to change the labelling of the beer.

"To help them facilitate this we have removed the products from shelf and returned it to the supplier to re-label. Once this process is complete we will be returning the product to the shelf."

In a statement released today the company promised the process would be swift.

It said it had consulted with local iwi and several experts prior to the launch, but accepts it wasn't enough for some parties.

"As it was always our intention to honour and celebrate - not to be disrespectful, we are now discussing the matter with Paraone Pirika, the kaumatua and chairman of Owhata marae in Rotorua.

"The Owhata marae is where the ancestral houses of Tutanekai and Hinemoa sit with pride and mana."

However, despite the staunch criticism aimed at the brewery it appears not all are held to the same standard.

Former TV presenter Tamati Coffey who co-owns Ponsonby Rd Lounge Bar is guilty of the same sin - but believes his Te Arawa heritage gives him greater rights.


His bar offers a cocktail also named after the legendary lovers, Hinemoa and Tutanekai.

Nevertheless, Coffey told the Rotorua Daily Post he had no qualms about it because he was Te Arawa and a descendant of Hinemoa.

He sympathized with the brewery as he said it was a bit of a "grey area".

"It's been quite interesting for me to watch this all unfold," he said. "People from here have understood. I am from here, I am a direct descendant."

Mr Coffey said when he was contemplating the name he asked his whanau's opinion who were "nothing but supportive".

"They said these are your ancestors, their blood is in you."

However, Maori researcher Aroha Mead disagreed.

"The same rules apply, it's not a question of whether you are a Maori person or shouldn't be done - period.

"The rule of thumb is you don't ever use ancestral names, particularly on products that are known to be harmful."

Mead accepted the Auckland brewery meant no harm - but said the aggravated response was a clear indicator of the level of concern its actions had caused.

"It's rare a company steps out to offend and I realise they've got a lot of hate mail, which is not helpful for anybody concerned."

She said the line, for anyone wondering where to draw it, was clear - Maori ancestral images should never be used for profit, in particular when it came to harmful products.

Mead said the ancestral legends weren't just part of the past for their descendants.

"It's still very much part of the living culture."

She advised anyone looking to infuse the Maori culture into their product or business to do their research and consult the appropriate parties.

The brewery is not the only one to make a similar faux pas.

Just last month Fine Arts America caused a stir after it listed a number of items on its site featuring portraits and images of a shrunken Maori head.

For those needing further clarification when looking to create Maori-inspired brands for their products there are official avenues of support through the Maori Advisory Committees for patents and trademarks.

The committees were established to minimise the risk the crown may inadvertently register intellectual property likely to cause offence to Maori.

They look at whether an image would be offensive, or if it is a commercial exploitation contrary to Maori values.

According to the Ministry of Business and Innovation website this doesn't cost extra and in most cases doesn't delay the process of registering intellectual property.

Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) National Manager Ingrid Bayliss said the two comittees were established under the Trade Marks Act 2002 and the Patents Act 2013.

"The members of these committees have a deep understanding of mātauranga Māori and tikanga Māori (Māori worldview, culture and protocols)."

She said a trade mark deemed offensive could not be registered in New Zealand.

Bayliss also confirmed Birkenhead Brewing Company currently had trade mark applications being considered by the Trade Marks Māori Advisory Committee and IPONZ was awaiting the outcome of this.

Partner at Baldwin's Intellectual Property Penny Catley said while the issue could be subjective, the committees were good safeguards to those looking to use Maori culture in their products.

She said in 2015 of the 22,122 trademark applications 406 of them had a Maori cultural element as part of it, 301 [or 74 per cent] were sent to the Maori Advisory Committee and of these only 15 were deemed culturally inappropriate.

"I believe it works effectively as a safeguard to our Maori culture to make sure it's not mistreated."

To find out more about the Trade Mark Māori Advisory Committee click here: