An alcohol watchdog has a cautious eye on the country's growing craft beer industry, which has helped push production of high strength brews to 35 million litres annually.

But Hawke's Bay brewers reckon craft beer drinkers are not the cause of New Zealand's drinking problems.

High-strength beer production in New Zealand rose to 35 million litres in 2018 and has almost trebled in five years.

Alcohol Healthwatch has suggested that limits on the strength and number of standard drinks in a craft beer container may be appropriate.


Craft beer ranging from 5 per cent to 8 per cent is common, with some brews, often produced in small batches, hitting the 15 per cent mark. Lower strength craft beer - 2 to 4 per cent - is also sold.

Alcohol Healthwatch is an independent charitable trust working to reduce alcohol-related harm.

But before craft beer aficionados start frothing at the mouth, executive director of Alcohol Healthwatch Nicki Jackson is taking a cautious approach and would want to see evidence-based change attempted first.

Jackson told Hawke's Bay Today the government could do more to regulate the craft beer industry.

"I would support a limit on the strength and number of standard drinks in a craft beer container, but not before more evidence-based measures are taken to reduce overall consumption," Jackson said.

A Stats NZ report on the industry in 2018 says the increasing popularity of craft beers has increased the availability of high-alcohol beer.

"The volume of high-strength beer rose for the fifth year in a row in 2018," international statistics manager Tehseen Islam said.

"This volume increase partly reflects the rising popularity of craft beers."


The volume of high-strength beer reached 35 million litres in 2018, accounting for more than 10 per cent of all beer available.

But award-winning brewers in Hawke's Bay's say high-alcohol craft beer is the least of the country's drinking problems.

Gemma Smith from Brave Brewing Co said craft beer drinkers weren't like your usual drinkers.

"Craft beer drinkers aren't the kind of people to smash a handful of drinks and get hammered, they drink it for the taste and flavour of the beer," Smith said.

"It's a drink you sip on and not scull."

Brave Brewing Co was recently voted best regional beer for Hawke's Bay by SOBA (Society of Beer Advocates), having started their business only a few years ago.


"With stronger drink driving laws having come in over the last year we made changes by adding low-alcohol drinks and limiting the amount we serve of our higher-alcoholic beers."

Gerard Barron believes craft beer is changing the mentality of how we drink beer. Photo / Warren Buckland.
Gerard Barron believes craft beer is changing the mentality of how we drink beer. Photo / Warren Buckland.

Owner of Hastings bar The Common Room Gerard Barron says that the craft beer industry in Hawke's Bay has grown phenomenally in the last few years.

"Craft beer has really taken off by the people," Barron said.

"When I opened about six years ago there was really only me and another guy selling craft beer but after about five years there was about nine or 10 breweries.

"The mentality of drinking a lot in NZ is gradually changing and with craft beer for people it is more about the quality rather than the quantity of their drink," Barron said.

Even though some might feel it will change the way we drink, Jackson believes that it could add to a growing issue we already face in Hawke's Bay.


"Hawke's Bay has a significantly higher prevalence of hazardous drinking than the national average," Alcohol Healthwatch's Jackson said.

"For example, almost half of all male drinkers engage in heavy drinking at least monthly, and one in four every week."