Beer's frothy fashion keeps foaming
Where to and what now for the beer industry?
I'm currently thinking about how to redo my first book, Beer Nation – The Art and Heart of Kiwi Beer, to reflect the almost seismic change in the beer industry since the book was published in 2012.
Like many things that happen in four year cycles – Olympics, Rugby World Cups, US presidential elections – 2016 seems like a good year to update it.
So many things have changed in the three years since the book was published. Back then, Garage Project, for instance, were given a brief one-line mention on the last page of the closing chapter as a "new wave" brewery that had just got off the ground with it's 24/24 series where they made a small batch of a new beer every week for 24 weeks. Just the other week they claimed top spot on Deloitte's Fast 50, an annual index that measures New Zealand's fastest-growing companies based on three years' growth.
In three years, they've gone from a one-liner brewery to darlings on the industry with 664 per cent growth. Another Wellington brewery ParrotDog was also in the top 50 fastest growing companies and they started out about the same time as Garage Project.
When I wrote the book, the over-riding theme was how New Zealand once had over 100 breweries, which was whittled down to just two in the 1970s – DB and Lion – as Kiwis' beer choice shrunk to a handful of similarly bland lagers and how that trend was reversed off the hard work of some pioneering independent brewers such as Mac's, Emerson's, Mike's, Sunshine, Galbraith's, Harrington's, Pink Elephant … all survivors in one form or another from the 1990s.
As I completed the book I figured there might be 70 or 80 breweries in New Zealand.
Now, thanks to a brilliantly detailed new book called Brewed by Jules van Cruysen, we have a (still-growing) list that suggests there are more than 150 breweries in the country. Van Cryusen lists every brewery in the country and provides tasting notes of their regularly produced beers – it is a fantastic resource, with a complementary app and perfect for those travelling and looking for a good brew.
So again, in just three years since I wrote what I thought would be a definitive history of brewing in New Zealand, I've been shown up with the number of breweries doubling and two of them among the fastest growing businesses in the country.
And I write this on the day news came through that two of the world's biggest beer companies, Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller have merged. The newly-created megabrewery will produce about 30 per cent of the world's beer. AB InBev's brands include Budweiser, Stella Artois and Corona, while SABMiller produces Peroni and Grolsch.
"Our combination with SABMiller is about creating the first truly global beer company and bringing more choices to beer drinkers in markets outside of the US,'" said Carlos Brito, chief executive of AB InBev said.
Well pour me another Bud and call me cynical but I thinking controlling 30 per cent of the world's beer market is hardly offering choice. This kind of nonsense is why I won't drink any of those beers mentioned above – or others from global monoliths, think Heineken or Carlsberg.
Cherish what we've got happening here in New Zealand, where small, unique, independently-owned and creative-thinking breweries are making relatively small (on a global scale, tiny) batches of beautiful beer.