Craft a thirst

There's a lot more choice when it comes to quenching your beer thirst these days.

Brewer Nigel Gregory says New Zealanders are starting to put beer in a similar category as wine, coffee and cheese. Photo / Rotorua Daily Post
Brewer Nigel Gregory says New Zealanders are starting to put beer in a similar category as wine, coffee and cheese. Photo / Rotorua Daily Post

The words "boutique" and "craft" are bandied about a lot in the food and beverage industry these days as an increasing number of consumers embrace the concept of knowing just where their food comes from - and something about those who produce it.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the production of that good ol' Kiwi thirst-quencher: beer. Brewers Guild figures for last year show sales of craft beer rose 11 per cent even though overall beer sales declined.

It is, says Luke Nicholas of the rapidly expanding Epic beer label, "the fastest growing category in liquor in the Western world".

That indicates that while we're drinking less beer, we are being much fussier about the ones we do drink.

Nigel Gregory, brewer for Rotorua-based Croucher Brewing, says consumers are starting to put beer in a similar category as wine, coffee and cheese and accepting the idea that there is a huge variety of styles and flavours, which is "a new concept for some beer drinkers".

The organiser of the annual New Zealand Beer Festival, David Elmsly, says the rise in popularity of boutique breweries can be put down to several things, but a key factor has been the increase in awareness and publicity about matching beer and food.

That means beer can now happily sit beside wine in a much more gourmet environment, driving the idea that you don't just stick with one particular beer and realise that different styles suit different occasions and foods.

As with wine, the variety of boutique beer labels now available appeals to consumers' desire to try something new and show it off to your friends, says Elmsly.

"People want to have that special beer in the fridge for when your mates come over."

Gregory says the biggest hurdle in growing the craft beer market has been getting a foothold in the retail market.

"Gaining distribution is still tough for craft brewers," Gregory says. "Supermarkets, bars and bottlestores only have a set amount of space, and us craft brewers are competing with multinational mega-brewers who have the money to buy space and market share.

"Having said that, there are a growing number of retailers who see the benefits of craft beer in terms of the quality of the craft-beer-drinking customer, as well as the financial side."

Elmsly says that ready availability of craft beer is improving, with several brands now available in supermarkets and bottlestores.

He names a few bars that are really embracing the trend.

"Bars like Golden Dawn on Ponsonby Rd sell only craft beer, and there is not a Lion Red to be had. Brew on Quay also has some great offerings of craft beer from throughout the world as well as New Zealand.

Although supermarkets and bars are beginning to rally to the cause of local brewers, the international market is also increasingly taking notice of Kiwi craft beers.

"Many of our craft brewers already have orders from overseas and are looking to expand there brewery size even in these tough economic times," Elmsly says.

"Epic Beer has just shipped a container to Sweden. With online communities, it is a lot easier to get your beer noticed in the international market."

Beer Festival

The Beer Festival, on March 26 at Ellerslie Racecourse, Auckland, now in its fifth year, is a good place to develop a more sophisticated beer palate.

More than 70 beers from 20 breweries will be available for tasting, including a wide range of New Zealand beers with a few notable internationals, including Baltika from Russia and Bath Ales from Britain.

There will also be plenty of food available, from traditional New Zealand fare to European, Asian and Middle Eastern dishes and a great line-up of Kiwi musicians will provide entertainment. Tickets are $25 for presale online or from Hells Pizza outlets, or $35 for door sales. beerfestival.co.nz

WIN: We have two double passes to the New Zealand Beer Festival to give away. To enter, email your name and contact details to: detours@heraldonsunday.co.nz with "beer festival" in the subject line by 5pm, Thursday, March 17.

Entrants must be aged 20 or over.

- NZ Herald

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