Beer in New Zealand

Beer in New Zealand

Beer is the most popular alcoholic drink in New Zealand, accounting for 63% of available alcohol for sale.[1] New Zealand is ranked 19th in beer consumption per capita, at around 75.5 litres per person per annum. The vast majority of beer produced in New Zealand is a type of lager, either pale or amber in colour, and between 4% – 5% alcohol by volume. There are also around 50 smaller breweries and brewpubs producing a vast range of beer styles, especially ales.[2][3] The two largest breweries in New Zealand, Lion Nathan and DB Breweries, control almost 90% of sales by volume between them.[4]



There is no oral tradition or archaeological evidence of the indigenous people of New Zealand (Māori) brewing beer before the arrival of Europeans. Major ingredients of beer were not introduced to New Zealand until Europeans arrived in the late-18th century. Captain James Cook brewed a beer flavoured with local spruce tree needles while visiting New Zealand in 1773 in order to combat scurvy aboard ship.[5] The first beer brewed in New Zealand was by Captain Cook while anchored in Ship Cove in the outer reaches of Queen Charlotte Sound in January 1770. Here he experimented with the use of young Rimu branches as a treatment against scurvy. It was brewed on Saturday 27 March 1773 on Resolution Island, in Dusky Sound, Fiordland. The beer was brewed using wort with addition of molasses and rimu bark and leaves.

«We also began to brew beer from the branches or leaves of a tree, which much resembles the American black-spruce. From the knowledge I had of this tree, and the similarity it bore to the spruce, I judged that, with the addition of inspissated juice of wort and molasses, it would make a very wholesome beer, and supply the want of vegetables, which this place did not afford; and the event proved that I was not mistaken.»

James Cook, A Voyage Towards the South Pole and Round the World, Volume 1.

The first commercial brewery in New Zealand was established in 1835 by Joel Samuel Polack in Kororareka (now Russell) in the Bay of Islands. During the 19th century, New Zealand inherited the brewing traditions and styles of the United Kingdom and Ireland, being where the majority of European immigrants originated from during that time – thus the dominant beer styles would have been ales, porters & stouts.

The 20th Century

During the late 19th and early 20th century, similar to the UK and the USA, the Temperance movement became a powerful and popular lobby group. In 1919 at a national referendum poll, prohibition gained 49% of the vote and was only defeated when the votes of returned servicemen were counted.[6] However, one aspect of wartime regulation was made permanent: a 6 pm closing time for licensed premises. This created the culture of the Six o'clock swill, a law that was not repealed until 1967, and was to have an influence on the styles of beer brewed and drunk in New Zealand.

In the 1930s, the New Zealander Morton W. Coutts invented the continuous fermentation process. Gradually, beer production in New Zealand shifted from ales to lagers, using continuous fermentation. The style of beer made by this method has become known as New Zealand Draught, and became the most popular beer during the period of 6 pm closing (see below).

During the same period, there was a gradual consolidation of breweries, such that by the 1970s virtually all brewing concerns in New Zealand were owned by either Lion Breweries or Dominion Breweries. From the 1980s small boutique or microbreweries started to emerge, and consequently the range of beer styles being brewed increased. The earliest was Mac's Brewery, started in 1981 in Nelson. Some pubs operated their own small breweries, often housed within the pub itself.

The Present

In recent years, pale and amber lager, the largest alcoholic drinks sector in terms of volume sales, have been on a downward trend as a result of a declining demand for standard and economy products.[7]

Conversely, ale production in New Zealand is primarily undertaken by small independent breweries & brewpubs, and for the 'craft' or 'premium' sector of the beer market. In 2010, this 'craft/premium' sector grew by 11%, to around 8% of the total beer market.[1] This has been in a declining beer market, where availability of beer has dropped 7% by volume in the two previous years.

The craft beer market in New Zealand is varied and progressive, with a full range of ale & lager styles of beer being brewed. New Zealand is fortunate in that it lies in the ideal latitude for barley and hops cultivation. A breeding programme had developed new hop varieties unique to New Zealand[8], many of these new hops have become mainstays in New Zealand craft beer.

Given the small market and relative high number of breweries, many breweries have spare capacity. A recent trend has seen the rise of contract brewing, where a brewing company contracts to use space in existing breweries to bring the beer to the market. Examples of contract brewers include Epic Brewing Company, Croucher Brewing, and Yeastie Boys.[9]


The most widely recognised style of beer to have originated in New Zealand is NZ Draught. This is generally a malty, lightly hopped amber lager between 4% – 5% abv. Martyn Cornell, the British beer writer, has suggested that New Zealand Draught is partly an evolution of the late 19th century Mild Ale, which was popular with the British working classes, many of whom emigrated to New Zealand.[10] However, the beer is usually brewed using the continuous fermentation process and a lager yeast. During the period of the six o'clock swill, the beer was dispensed from kegs directly into customer's beer jugs using a hose and tap.[11]

Some of the original ale lineage lingers on in the branding of some NZ Draught beer. For example, the New Zealand Consumers' Institute recently criticised Tui for claiming to be an "East India Pale Ale" when it is in fact an amber lager that bears little resemblance to the traditionally hoppy, bitter or malty India Pale Ale style.[12]

Interestingly, New Zealand is also a commercial mainstay of what are known as Ice Brewed Beers. These are bottom-fermented batch brewed lagers, which for commercial production reach an initial alcohol percentage of 3%. Fermentation precipitate solids (yeast, malt husks etc.) are removed in a cryogenic concentration step with similarities to methode traditionelle Champagne wines, though on a much larger scale. The resulting condensate is a very pale and bland lager beer, with an extremely low precipitate concentration and an alcohol percentage typically between 5.0 – 5.2% v/v.

The most popular brands of Ice Brewed Beer are Lion Ice Lager, Black Ice (Lion Nathan) and Flame Beer (Dominion Breweries). They are very competitive in price with traditional beers, and in the New Zealand market appeal to the younger demographic (age 18–30 years) for their higher alcohol-volume ratios, and low BU values.


Large breweries

In addition, some international brands are brewed under licence in New Zealand. Some examples are Heineken (DB Breweries), and Guinness (Lion Nathan).

Microbreweries, Nanobreweries & Contract Brewers

  • 666 Brewing Co., Blenheim
  • 8 Wired Brewing, Blenheim
  • Aotearoa Breweries NZ Limited[13]
  • Bays Brewery
  • Beltane Beers, Clinton
  • Ben Middlemiss Brewing Company, Auckland
  • Cassels & Sons Brewing Company, Christhurch
  • Croucher Brewing, Rotorua[14]
  • Emerson Brewing Company
  • Epic Brewing Company, Auckland
  • The Garage Project, Wellington
  • Golden Bear Brewing Company, Port Mapua
  • Golden Ticket Brewing, Christchurch
  • Green Man Brewery[15]
  • Harrington's Breweries, Christchurch
  • Hawkes Bay Independent Brewery, Napier
  • Invercargill Brewing Company[16]
  • Island Bay Brewing Company[17]
  • Kahikatea Brewery[18]
  • Kaiapoi Brewery
  • Kereru Brewing Company, Wellington[19]
  • Leigh Sawmill Brewery[20]
  • Liberty Brewing, New Plymouth
  • Lighthouse Brewery
  • Mates Brewery
  • McCashin's Brewery
  • Matson's Brewery
  • McDuff's Brewery
  • mike's Organic Brewery
  • Moa Brewing Company, Blenheim
  • Monkey Wizard Brewery, Riwaka
  • Moutere Brewing, Upper Moutere, Nelson
  • ParrotDog Brewing Company, Wellington
  • Peak Brewery, Masterton
  • Pink Elephant Brewery, Blenheim
  • Renaissance Brewing[21]
  • Scott's Brewing Co, Auckland
  • Shamrock Brewing Company
  • Steam Brewing Company
  • Sunshine Brewing Company, Gisborne
  • Tasman Brewing Company (Sprig & Fern), Nelson
  • Three Boys Brewery, Christchurch[22]
  • Townshend Brewery, Moutere
  • Tuatara Brewery[23]
  • Valkyrie Brewing Co, Auckland
  • Waiheke Island Brewery
  • Waituna Brewing Company
  • Wanaka Beerworks
  • West Coast Brewery, Westport
  • Wigram Brewing Company, Christchurch
  • Yeastie Boys[24], Wellington


  • Arrow Brewing Company, Arrowtown
  • Brauhaus Frings, Whangerei
  • Brew Moon Brewing Company, Amberly, North Canterbury
  • Deep Creek Brewing Co, Brown's Bay, Auckland (opening July 2011)
  • Duncan Founder's Brewery, Nelson
  • Dux de Lux, Christchurch & Queenstown
  • Galbraith's Alehouse, Mt Eden, Auckland
  • Hallertau Brewbar & Restaurant, Riverhead, Auckland
  • Leigh Sawmill Brewery & Cafe, Leigh
  • Rooster's Brewhouse, Hastings
  • Shakespeare Brewery (ceased brewing September 2010)
  • The Twisted Hop Real Ale Brewpub, Christchurch

Up-to-date details of all microbreweries and quality bars & pubs in New Zealand can be found at the Beer Tourist website. This website is privately funded and contains no advertising. An irony of the New Zealand craft beer sector is that with the closure of the Mac's Brewery in 2010, the city of Wellington did not possess a physical brewery until recently, while also being the single largest market for craft beer in New Zealand.


  • Beervana, the largest annual beer festival, Wellington, held August
  • BrewNZ, the annual New Zealand beer awards, run during Beervana[25]
  • The New Zealand Beer Festival, Auckland/Wellignton, held late summer[26]
  • Blues, Brews & BBQ's[27]
  • Marchfest, Nelson, held March


  1. ^ a b Carroll, Joanne (20 March 2011). "Beer hops off buyers' lists". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 19 September 2011. 
  2. ^ Impressions of New Zealand Tom Cannavan, March 2006,, Retrieved 31 August 2008.
  3. ^ New Zealand breweries directory RateBeer. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
  4. ^ Brewer's Association letter to Justice & Electoral Committee, 20 May 2009
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Voting for prohibition", retrieved 14 June 2011
  7. ^ Alcoholic Drinks in New Zealand
  8. ^ [1] NZ Hops website
  9. ^ [2]
  10. ^ Amber, Gold & Black; Cornell, Martyn; The History Press UK, 2010, p.32
  11. ^ Photo: New Zealand pub scene, 1967,
  12. ^ "Ales and lagers -whats the difference?" NZ Consumer Magazine, June 2007
  13. ^ [3] Mata
  14. ^ [4] Croucher
  15. ^ [5] Green Man
  16. ^ [6] Invercargill Brewing
  17. ^ [7] Bennett's Beer
  18. ^ [8] link
  19. ^ [9] Kereru Brewing
  20. ^ [10]
  21. ^ [11] Renaissance Brewing
  22. ^ [12] Three Boys Brewery
  23. ^ [13] Tuatara Breweries
  24. ^ [14] Yeastie Boys
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^

External links

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