Craft beer industry goes another round

This is looking like being a watershed year for the craft beer industry here in New Zealand.

Several craft brewers are getting bigger and moving up from local cult markets towards national mainstream markets.

Tuatara, for example, has grown ten-fold in the past two years, investing in new brewing equipment and streamlining distribution.

Moa, of course, has had a hot cash injection from venture capitalists calculating on a financial return. Moa has already rebranded and is splashing advertising and branding money around my neighbourhood in central Wellington.

Other brewers have extra capacity, as was clearly shown last month with the generous offers to Christchurch brewers displaced by the earthquake. Overall, the craft brewing industry could be making a lot more beer. Capacity isn’t the problem – selling it is.

For many years now the sticking point has been Auckland. This city takes up almost a third of our population. If you’re not in business in Auckland, you’re not in business in New Zealand, and craft brewing doesn’t appeal to this audience like it does in Wellington, Christchurch, Nelson and other smaller centres.

So breaking the Auckland market will be the crucial next step for craft brewers. What’s taken so long?

Brewers tell me Auckland has no interest in the marketing message that has worked in the rest of the country. Quality natural ingredients, crafted with passion by gifted artisans, don’t cut it there. Who cares?!

Most craft beer pubs in Auckland have a tacky English theme, and I believe this has fed on (and caused) the fact that many craft beer drinkers in that town are immigrants who discovered craft beer somewhere else. The local craft beer industry has failed to attract and educate the local market in the same way it has in other towns.

So what will craft beer do to crack this big opportunity? It will change the way it presents itself, lose some of its cliquey, select culture and become more mainstream. It will advertise more, and some of the ads might make me cringe. It will embrace more outlets, and staff in some of these places won’t know their Grolsch from their Kolsch. To some beer fans, it will sell out.


By increasing production, increasing sales, and adapting to the big Auckland market, craft beer will give itself a new lease of life. Growth has been phenomenal over the past decade, but finding craft beer is not as easy as it should be, and the industry isn’t as stable as it deserves to be.

Here’s some of the things I’d like to see from this new round of growth:
• Craft beer pubs that can provide a good living and financial return for their owners.
• A career path for talented young brewers – not just a thin hope of an extended apprenticeship.
• Being able to find a range of craft beer in bars and supermarkets when I visit towns like Hastings, Timaru and Palmerston North.
• Hell, being able to find a range of craft beer bars in Auckland would be good too.

While some beer fans may be uncomfortable with craft beer taking on Auckland with a brash, new image, I think this next phase will be exciting and another step forward for the industry I love.

Wow of the week – Moa Pale Ale. Last week Moa’s head brewer Dave Nichols hosted two excellent tastings at Regional Wines and Spirits. Dave compared Moa beers with the overseas beers that inspired him, and the combinations were fascinating. Moa Pale Ale wasn’t the biggest beer in the range (a 12% Moa cherry lambic was – wait for this one!) but it was my favourite. It’s hoppy and complex, with layers and layers of flavour that just keep breaking through on the palate. NZ Cascade and Sauvin hops do the business, and Dave believes our local Cascade is underrated. For the record, Dave’s match was Ballast Point Big Eye, and it takes a lot to draw me away from West Coast pale ales. Moa Pale Ale did.
Cheers, Dave, well done!

NB – tasted off the tap at various venues – not bottle conditioned.

© Martin Craig April 2011. No reproduction without permission
E-mail martin[at]
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17 Responses to “Craft beer industry goes another round”

  1. “Most craft beer pubs in Auckland have a tacky English theme”


    Galbraiths has a pretty good English theme. So good it featured in “Pub Scene” – a really great book featuring some of the world’s best and most interesting pub interiors. See

    Other than Galbraiths, I can’t think of another craft beer bar around Auckland which tries to emulate a British pub. Hallertau is modern to the point of slickness, O’Carolls is an Irish pub in the midst of changing it’s identity, and Golden Dawn is… well, I’m not sure. I just wasn’t hipsterish enough to go there. :)

    There are a few other bars stocking some craft beers in Auckland, and this number is growing by the day. Martin Bridges will be better placed to comment than I am, but I can’t think of any examples of the tacky English theme you describe.




    • Martin – you say:
      Brewers tell me Auckland has no interest in the marketing message that has worked in the rest of the country. Quality natural ingredients, crafted with passion by gifted artisans, don’t cut it there. Who cares?!

      I say:
      Auckland has no interest in quality natural ingredients, crafted with passion by gifted artisans…. just the marketing message.

      I do think this is changing but being a big city makes it a much slower beast… It’s the little places that give me hope (check out Coc’s Cantina the next time you are in Auckland – a great little restaurant with Galbraith’s Munich and Hallertau Statesman on tap).

      One of the biggest issues with craft brewers in this part of the world is their focus on making great beer and less emphasis on brand and sales. That is changing too, with Epic and Moa leading the way. I bet a lot of craft brewers hate this but it is a fact of life. We all need to up our game in this department. Make great beer, make the sales, support your outlets.

      And, Greig, regarding Galbraith’s ale House: isn’t it amazing how easy it is to change from Country and Western Nightclub to Ye Olde English Brewpub?


  2. Bull



  3. So that’s ONE! I guess it’s a chain…


  4. Interesting article. As an Aucklander and craft beer lover, I’m always interested in the varying views on why our city lags behind other areas of the country in terms of craft beer adoption.

    You say “Most craft beer pubs in Auckland have a tacky English theme”. If you think that the Cock & Bull pubs are the only craft beer pubs in Auckland then you’re a little behind the times. New craft outlets are popping up all the time, with nary a horse brass or picture of the Queen in sight!

    “Quality natural ingredients, crafted with passion by gifted artisans” – is that really why craft beer has done so well elsewhere? I would have thought it’s more to do with interesting flavours & innovative approaches. Will that not work in Auckland? I’m not sure, but I don’t think it’s the marketing message that’s holding craft beer back.

    Auckland is a very different market, that’s true. I notice it in my day job (IT consultancy) and it’s true in beer as well. Does this necessitate a different approach? Absolutely, but I’m not sure it needs to be a “brash new image”.

    Over the last 4 years I’ve seen momentum gradually build in Auckland, and so far this year I’ve seen more new craft beer outlets than I’ve seen in the last 2 years. Will we see a Malthouse or Hashigo Zake type operation succeed here? Not sure, but as long as I can go to half a dozen different bars downtown and find either a good bottle or tap craft beer, I’ll be happy.

    Apologies for rambling! I do this type of thing best over a beer :-)


    • Re-reading my comment it looks a little harsh on the Cock & Bull pubs. I really like their beers (especially the divine Monks Habit) and the atmosphere is generally great. As an expat Pom I do find the Englishness a little overpowering though!


  5. I certainly think there is more focus on the brand over content in Auckland than elsewhere in NZ, and it permeates across most of the consumer spectrum, not just with beer. Auckland is big enough relative the the rest of the country that behaves exceptionally. Also, the established mainstream beer brands seem more entrenched here, both culturally and contractually.

    There is probably no singular solution to this situation for craft beer, and this year I think we are already seeing a few approaches. Moa is the obvious one, with billboards taken up around town, the rebrand, and the occupation of a key site in the Corner Bar downtown. But, the subtle approach seems to have worked for Hallertau at Golden Dawn, which breaks pretty much every rule of opening a bar in Auckland – although there was a vacuum in the market for such an establishment in Ponsonby. Given the queues on a Fri/Sat night, demand still exceeds capacity. Tuatara seem to be gradually expanding around town also, both in taps and seeing bottles in bars & stores.


  6. From my experience the Auckland situation is less of trying to use a single shot approach of Ads and billboards to get the good stuff into peoples hands, it needs to be more of a strategy of actually picking the right groups of people directly and converting them by making them try real beer and come away wanting more. The Social cycle of the right people (influencers) sharing this “little craft beer secret” that they have “discovered” with their friends so they open the door to their friend and on and on till it opens into the more general population – THEN Ads, billboards etc (reminder notices to try that beer again). It is a gradual process and (I fully agree) there needs to be a few more Craft pubs modeled along the lines of Malthouse, HZ, or the wholesomeness of something like Poms to give locations to share the experience of discovering these “new” exciting beers.
    Finding the right groups isn’t that hard and neither is convincing someone to drink beer, hell even a few freebees in the right hands can go a mile – the real hook is ensure that newcomers to this craft world take away just some of the passion we all share, this will lead to drawing in more people – it’s an infectious approach.
    This isn’t a shallow approach, it has just been more of a natural story of evolution in the other centers.
    Sorry If I have blabbed on, but I do know of it slowly but surly creeping in in AK, it just needs abit more teasing out.


    • “slowly but surly creeping in in AK” – love the image.

      I take your point about different markets. I think the transition from ‘little craft beer secret’ is one that is happening nationally, and its that very transition that will make some beer fans uncomfortable.


  7. Ok , Cock and Bull fair enough, but you just watch your step with the Braith oh for one of those down here.


    • No I wasn’t thinking of the Braith.

      Its a lovely building that was gorgeous local library with comfortable seats and great natural light. You just couldn’t get a building with that kind of design and history by starting from scratch.


  8. Could someone supply a list of craft/real ale serving pubs or bars in Auckland – preferable on tap? A Pom


  9. Nice timing. Another fellow local beer blogger-type-person has recently been working on just such a thing.

    – the explanation:

    – the work-in-progress:


  10. Interesting discussion… Tahi Bar has existed in Warkworth
    for nearly four years selling only craft beer…Warkworth is in the same Auckland sub District (Rodney) as Hallertau, as is Leigh Sawmill Brewery, No I don’t think Aucklanders ..will the city one do have a passion for good beer.. a passion for being seen in the right place maybe.


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