Leading craft beer brands include Emerson’s (Dunedin), Harrington’s (Christchurch), Tuatara (Kapiti Coast) and Epic (Auckland).
New Zealand exported $26 million worth of beer in 2011, much of it to Australia. Steinlager is the biggest export brand but Monteith’s is popular overseas too. A study commissioned by the former Ministry of Economic Development identified beer as one of ten New Zealand products with high potential for export growth.
Some craft beers are “virtual” brands, made by companies that have no brewery of their own. To avoid the expense of setting up their own operation, they contract an existing brewery to make their beer – a practice frowned upon by some purists, who regard it as contrary to the ethos of the craft.
Two companies, Lion and DB, have dominated the industry since the early 1930s. Both originated as New Zealand companies but are now overseas-owned – Lion by the Japanese giant Kirin and DB by Singapore-based Asia-Pacific Breweries, a subsidiary of Heineken. Lion brands include Lion, Speight’s, Steinlager, Mac’s and Emerson’s. The DB stable includes DB, Tui, Monteith’s and Heineken (which it brews under licence).
Countless regional beer brands disappeared in the 1950s and 60s as the major breweries swallowed up smaller competitors, but a few have survived – among them Monteith’s, Speight’s and Wards (Christchurch).
Beer consumption fell from 102 litres per capita in 1966 – the year before the abolition of the notorious six o’clock swill – to 71 litres in 2010.
Craft breweries are not confined to the larger population centres. You can find them in out-of-the-way places such as Kawerau (Aotearoa Breweries), Urenui (Mike’s Organic Brewery) and rural Golden Bay (the famous Mussel Inn Brewery).
Blenheim-based Moa Brewery broke new ground last year by becoming the first craft brewery to list on the stock exchange, raising $16 million. Its chief executive is Geoff Ross, founder of the successful vodka brand 42 Below.
Hops from the Riwaka district of Nelson are much in demand by craft brewers overseas. Eighty-five per cent of the hop crop is exported, much of it to the US. Many hop cultivars are unique to New Zealand, having been developed locally.
New Zealand’s third-biggest brewer, Independent Liquor, launched the Boundary Road range of craft beers in 2011 and more recently acquired Nelson craft brewery Founders. Independent Liquor was founded by the late Michael Erceg – best known for introducing RTDs, or alcopops, to New Zealand – but is now owned by Asahi of Japan. Its other beer brands include Carlsberg and Kingfisher, both brewed under licence.
For more on New Zealand’s beer industry, read this week’s feature article by Karl du Fresne: Ale & hearty