2012 a year of growth for Kiwi craft beers

GEOFF GRIGGS
Last updated 10:40 03/01/2013

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Beer

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Now that 2013 has arrived, my first column of the new year is an excellent opportunity to look back at the beer scene during the last 12 months.

With new craft beer bars and specialist liquor stores springing up around the country, an unprecedented number of new beers hit the taps and shelves.

While imported brands, particularly pale ales from West Coast United States brewers, continue to win friends with craft beer drinkers, there has also been a huge rise in the number of new Kiwi beers coming on the market.

In Christchurch, a new brewhouse was recently installed at the rear of Pomeroy's Old Brewery Inn in Kilmore St.

The new brewery is now producing beers under the Four Avenues label and is already providing brewing facilities for several contract brands.

In Wellington, two breweries that started brewing on a small scale in 2011 scaled up operations in the last 12 months.

In a former filling station in Aro Valley, Garage Project upgraded to a shiny new brewhouse in June, and a month later, ParrotDog brewery commissioned a new brewhouse in a former motor workshop in Vivian St.

Brewing with new equipment can be problematic, but it was great to see both ParrotDog and Garage Project among the winners at the annual New Zealand Beer Awards, which were held in August.

It was also gratifying to see Christchurch's earthquake-affected brewers featuring strongly in the medal count at the same competition. Christchurch breweries took five of the 13 gold medals awarded to Kiwi brewers and the city's Harrington's Brewery was awarded the trophy for Champion Brewery.

A sobering reminder of the continuing misery being suffered in the Christchurch region came the morning after the results were announced.

Ralph Bungard, of Three Boys Brewery, had to return home when he received news that the entire valley, including his red-stickered Port Hills home, was being evacuated.

Continuing the less happy news, our brewing industry lost one of its pioneer brewers. Barry Newman, the former long-serving brewer at Auckland's Shakespeare Tavern, this country's first new generation brewpub, died on August 25.

The Shakespeare's in-house brewery was installed in 1986 and Newman ran it from October of that year until September 2010, a remarkable 24 years.

His beers rightly received much acclaim and at the 2001 New Zealand International Beer Awards they took a total of 15 medals and trophies, making The Shakespeare the most successful Kiwi brewery at the competition.

There has also been plenty of good news, particularly in the area of beer education at public festivals. While Beervana continues to lead the way with tutored tastings, brewer-led seminars and demonstrations of home brewing and beer and food matching, Wellington's annual celebration of all things beer is now being challenged by other events around the country.

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Last year the inaugural Great Kiwi Beer Festival was held, offering a range of educational events in Christchurch's Hagley Park and, on a smaller scale, Nelson's annual Marchfest emphasised beer education, with home-brewing demonstrations and brewer-led tastings.

This year's Marchfest will include a tutored five-course beer and food matched lunch.

Last year New Zealand's three largest brewers opened their corporate chequebooks and bought their way into the fast-growing craft beer and cider markets.

First off the rank was Heineken-owned DB Breweries which, in June, acquired a majority shareholding in Redwood Cellars.

In 2009, the Nelson cidermaker made about 1 million litres of its Old Mout ciders and fruit wines, but since taking on production of DB's Monteith's and Johnny Arrow cider brands, the company is now producing about 10 million litres a year.

The most talked-about takeover of the year was revealed in early November, when Emerson's Brewery announced it had been bought by Lion, which is owned by Kirin of Japan.

The news that one of this country's most respected and admired craft brewers had been sold to Lion sparked much heated discussion online, but it was hardly surprising. In recent years, the Dunedin craft brewery has faced several multinational approaches.

Only time will tell if Lion has the heart to sustain the quality of Emerson's beers in the long term, but the giant brewer would be foolish to squander Emerson's reputation by penny pinching.

Another Japanese-owned brewer, Asahi, owns Independent Liquor, New Zealand's third largest beer maker. It, too, has had a busy year.

In April, Boundary Road Brewery, Independent's rechristened brewing division, invited US brewer Brian "Spike" Buckowski to New Zealand to produce a trio of craft beers for the Kiwi market.

These generously hopped beers duly appeared in six packs under The Resident brand and have since vied for shelf space with an ever-increasing number of new Boundary Road Brewery beers in six packs and 500ml bottles.

Just before Christmas, news broke that Boundary Road had bought Founders, the award-winning Nelson organic craft brewer, and there are rumours of further investments by Boundary Road in other craft breweries.

So what will the future bring? As more and more beers hit the market, I predict that Kiwi drinkers will have a broader range of craft and pseudo-craft options at different prices to choose from.

The only issue then will be to distinguish between genuine quality over mere marketing fluff.

Cheers!

- The Marlborough Express

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