Beer industry fears tough draft rules
New Zealand's thriving craft beer industry could face "disastrous consequences" if Auckland Council implements a planned tough local alcohol policy, brewery and bar owners say.
The council's alcohol policy will control the sale, supply and consumption of alcohol in the country's most populous the region.
The draft policy would restrict the sale of beer with an alcohol volume of more than 6 per cent - a level many craft beers sit above.
Craft beer industry experts say the proposed changes will unfairly punish craft beer brewers and drinkers and could compromise a growing export industry.
Submissions on the draft policy closed last week. Under proposed policy, bars open until 1am or 2am would not be allowed to sell beer stronger than 6 per cent alcohol volume withinan hour of their closing time.
Bars open after 2am would be banned from selling strong beer within two hours of closing, while events with a special liquor licencewould be barred from selling the stronger beer.
Bottle stores will also be banned from selling single bottles of beer smaller than 445ml unless it is boutique or hand-crafted. However even experts could not agree on what defined a boutique or craft beer.
Auckland Council's stance reflects a similar Marlborough District Council proposal to ban the sale of single bottles of beer in Marlborough which has also been met with strong opposition.
The Society of Beer Advocates (Soba) said the changes could have "disastrous consequences" on Auckland's thriving beer culture.
Soba president David Wood said the proposed restrictions would deter bars from stocking beer above 6 per cent alcohol volume.
"They're not going to want to bring in beers that they're not going to be able to sell later at night."
Wood, who is general manager of Wellington craft beer bar Hashigo Zake, said it was "ridiculous" that beer had been singled out in Auckland Council's alcohol policy, but stronger alcohol such as wine were not even mentioned.
The draft policy says boutique and hand crafted beer would be exempt from single bottle sale restrictions but defining craft beer was near impossible, he said.
"We can't define it. What makes the council think they can define what is boutique and hand crafted?"
Beer festival organisers would also be discouraged from hosting events in Auckland because they would not be able to sell beer above 6 per cent, he said.
Listed boutique brewery Moa chief executive Geoff Ross said New Zealand could be a world leader in craft beer exports but the draft policy's restrictions could jeopardise that.
"Things like this would just hamstring us at a very early and critical stage," Ross said.
It was difficult for craft brewers to grow export markets if the domestic market was restricted.
A strong domestic market helps brewers build scale, generate revenue and validate products before exporting, he said.
The proposed ban on beer above 6 per cent alcohol volume at special events was "a crazy restriction" and proposed changes to single bottle beer sales was counter productive to tackling problem drinking, he said.
"It's actually forcing volume which is not what consumers nor I would have thought council would want."
Nick Harrison, general manager of popular Auckland bar The Golden Dawn, said New Zealand's craft beer industry had reached a "real sweet point" and proposed changes could damage the industry.
Harrison, who made a submission on the policy, said craft beer made up about 40 per cent of The Golden Dawn's sales and any restrictions would have an impact.
"In the long run it could have a massive effect," Harrison said.
Stephen Plowman, the owner and head brewer of Auckland craft beer brewery Hallertau, said the proposed restrictions unfairly target craft beer drinkers.
"It completely misses its target."
He said the council was making the assumption that people who drink high volume beer were problem drinkers.
"They're just making these ridiculous assumptions. It just puts a really bad light on the craft industry."
Auckland Council did not respondto Fairfax inquiries at press time. A provisional policy will be published later this year and appeals will be heard.
A final policy will be adopted and implemented early next year.