Frederick Joseph Kühtze (known as Joseph) was born Joseph Friedrich in Cologne, then part of the kingdom of Prussia, on 8 April 1833. His parents were Carl Kühtze, a master joiner, and his wife, Caecilia Gierssen. In 1850 Kühtze joined the German maritime marine as a cadet, and eventually arrived in Victoria, Australia, probably in the late 1850s. There he became a proficient brewmaster, developing a brewing process using top fermentation, a method then used extensively in Australia to produce ales and stouts.
Kühtze moved in 1867 to Dunedin, New Zealand, where he may have worked as a brewer for Theyers and Beck. He married Eleanor Turvey in the Baptist chapel, Hanover Street, Dunedin, on 24 August 1870; they were to have six sons and five daughters. They then moved to Alexandra, where Kühtze worked for Theyers and Beck. He was naturalised as a British subject in 1872. Kühtze was granted a brewer's licence for Hartley's Beach, Cromwell, on 2 September 1873.
With George Goodger he took over the Swan Brewery previously operated by A. H. Jaggar and J. Harding. Kühtze set about building a malthouse and kiln, and added the manufacture of cordials and aerated waters. He employed machinery unsurpassed in New Zealand for completeness and capacity. The Swan Brewery operated until 1875, when Kühtze's partnership with Goodger was dissolved.
Kühtze returned to Dunedin and built the North East Valley Brewery, using the same design and process as in the Swan Brewery. A disastrous fire in May 1877 almost completely destroyed the premises. Kühtze rebuilt it and had it operating again in a matter of weeks with a capacity of 80 hogsheads (4,320 gallons) a week; but he was facing severe financial problems. The brewery was used as collateral for a bank loan, and Kühtze was declared insolvent in October 1877. In January 1878 he was charged with fraudulent preference: in settling debts, one creditor had been favoured over others. At his trial in April he was found not guilty. A second fire in September 1880 destroyed the brewery.
Kühtze moved with his family to Hawke's Bay. He operated in Clive until 1885, then moved to Ormondville where he built a brewery. He was active in the community there, notably, it seems, as a member of the school committee. His second daughter taught at the school, and his children attained high levels of education. He returned to Clive in 1889, but moved to Palmerston North in 1892 and set up the Palmerston North Brewery in Church Street. The move may have been prompted by the importance of the emerging railway network. Joseph Kühtze died in Palmerston North on 21 November 1901. His sons changed the spelling of their name to Coutts in 1917, when the British royal family changed their name to Windsor. Eleanor Kühtze, incensed at the change, refused to adopt it. She died at Palmerston North in 1937.
In all the breweries he owned and operated, Kühtze never deviated from his original plant design and brewing process. Both were used by his son W. Joseph Kühtze, who founded the Main Trunk Brewery in Taihape in 1908; this later became the Cascade Brewery under the brewing direction of Kühtze's grandson, Joseph T. Coutts. W. Joseph Kühtze also founded the Waitemata Brewery in Otahuhu in 1929, later to become the flagship of Dominion Breweries under the brewing direction of another grandson, Morton W. Coutts. Both breweries were operated using Joseph Kühtze's original methods. Kühtze's name was later given by Dominion Breweries to a brand of lager.