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The history of craft beer in New Zealand

Arrival of beer into New Zealand

So far as we know, beer was brought into New Zealand at the same time that European settlers arrived. Up until that point, some of the major ingredients were not present on the islands anyway. Captain Cook was apparently the first person to brew beer in New Zealand in the 18th Century. He created what he described as a very wholesome beer, brewed using indigenous rimu leaves and manuka leaves. Lion Breweries actually tried to recreate the recipe in the 80s, with some people calling it revolting, which is surprising given that accounts from Captain Cook say his crew found it rather pleasant!

It would be another 60 years until the first commercial brewery in New Zealand started up in 1835, and then another 50 years again before Head Brewer Chris’ great great grandfather would open a brewery in Hororata.

The New Zealand Draught

At first, brewing in New Zealand followed the same process and tastes as brewing in the United Kingdom and Ireland, where most of the European immigrants to New Zealand were coming from. Ales, stouts and bitters like our Gov’nor extra special bitter were popular. In the 1930s however, a New Zealander named Morton Coutts invented the continuous fermentation process, which shifted the focus of brewing away from ales and towards lagers.

Traditional ‘batch fermentation’ will see one container making one batch of beer, which is then bottled while the vat is cleaned and reused for another batch. A continuous fermentation process allows beer to constantly be collected as more yeast and wort is added, eliminating the need to stop brewing between batches. This process was the beginning of the now-famous New Zealand Draught style of beer. The draught is a malty, lightly hopped and amber lager, generally about 4-5% ABV that only comes by the keg.

The Emergence of the Microbrewery

By the late 70s nearly all breweries in New Zealand were owned by Lion or Dominion breweries, and it wasn’t until the 80s that microbreweries really started to emerge. Mostly this was done by pubs brewing and selling their own small brews.

Craft beer has seen around 25% growth each year for many years now, and as New Zealanders turned their eyes to craft beer, the country saw a 15 million litre drop in alcohol sales in 2012. As it turns out, New Zealanders prefer to drink quality over quantity! In that same year our owner and Head Brewer Christopher opened Zeelandt Brewery to provide our own high quality beer. Since then Hawke’s Bay (where we ourselves are based) has seen an explosion of craft beer and microbreweries.

We are lucky in New Zealand that the country lies in the ideal latitude for barley and hops cultivation, with a temperate climate that works well for brewing craft beers. It lends itself to a lot of experimentation and allows people to try and brew many different styles, from Indian Pale Ale to German Schwarzbier. With so much choice, it’s hardly surprising that New Zealand has such great innovative breweries across the country!


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