Hop-ocalypse now: Blowing the lid off NZ’s burgeoning craft beer industry

New Zealanders love beer; we have guided beer tours, beer festivals and even a craft beer capital—Nelson—so it’s no surprise that Kiwis like their own beverages.

Home brewing seems like the perfect hobby for the craft beer lover – the opportunity to create a unique flavour that will truly satisfy, experimenting with different flavours and really putting your heart into your brews.

Dave Wood, long term member of the Society of Beer Advocates (SOBA), has been involved in home brewing since his student days at Victoria University where he scrounged a brewing kit together from buckets, pans and pots. Wood even managed to win some national medals from this homemade kit and is now a judge on many home brewing panels.

Wood says that while home brewers and commercial brewers used to be quite a separate bunch, the boom of the craft beer industry in New Zealand has meant home brewing is now a pathway to becoming a professional beer brewer.

“It’s a really great way for people to get into professional brewing because it will develop their knowledge of brewing without the need of formal training,” he says.

“Home brewers are definitely the most innovative bunch of all brewers, mainly because on that small scale you can do so many more things, with much less risk”.

He says he’s seen people at national competitions put goat meat and fish into a brew simply because, well, they can.

“They just think ‘Hmm I wonder what that will taste like’, and throw it in! And sometimes it works—a lot of the time it doesn’t—but it’s always just a bit of fun,” says Wood.

Image: SOBA's David Wood.

However, home brewing wasn’t always as easy as it is now. When Wood first started home brewing five years ago he had to mail order a lot of his ingredients because supermarkets only stocked concentrates, which, apparently, simply does not cut it.

“People want to make beer they can call their own” he says “They don’t want to just put a sachet in water and throw yeast at it because that’s not making their own beer. That’s basically like making a sachet of Raro”.

The demand for ‘real beer’ ingredients has lead to a flurry of specialist home brewing shops popping up all around the country.

“These stores offer a huge range of grain and hops, anything you could want to make any beer style,” says Wood.

“By using the real stuff people can make something they are proud of,” he says.

Wood believes this could be why Nielsen’s figures show that supermarket sales for home brewing ingredients has decreased by around 8% this last year.

And Wood is not the only one realising the rising trend in home brewing.

Companies such as The Grain Father and WilliamsWarn have come into the market offering whole micro brewing kits from as little as $1,000, meaning means anyone with a spare $1000 can easily jump on the fast-growing trend.

Image: Ian Williams and Anders Warn of WilliamsWarn.

Luke Nicholas, owner of Epic Beer Company, believes that companies like Williams Warn and The Grain Father are encouraging people to stick to the hobby by making the brewing process easier.

“The industry is definitely a lot bigger than it was five years ago. I think this is because the technology is cheaper, and there are more ingredients available to make the flavours you want,” he says.

Nicholas does not think the growth of the home brew sector will have a negative impact on commercial craft beer sales.

“People want to make beer they can call their own” he says “They don’t want to just put a sachet in water and throw yeast at it because that’s not making their own beer. That’s basically like making a sachet of Raro”.

“People are encouraged to buy craft beer after they have tried to make their own,” he says. “It just means they understand the process better.”

In 2004 around 30% of all Kiwi males had tried home brewing but only a small fraction of them stuck to the hobby. This is thought to mainly be because the process was too hard, and the final product just simply wasn’t nice enough.

This trend seems to be changing though as people like Dave Wood find his friends always keen for a pint of his home brew. However, Wood says this could be because the beer is always free and flowing at his house, not purely because he has mastered the craft.

Image: Seasonal beers from the Epic Beer range. 

Surround yourself by Beer:

Beervana

New Zealand's premier craft beer celebration, 14-15 August Westpac Stadium, Wellington. “Beervana is amazing and it's probably one of the main reasons for the craft beer explosion in New Zealand,” says Dave Wood of SOBA.

Beer Tour

Plan a trip to Nelson, share a beer with the locals and discover the Nelson Craft Beer Trail.

City of Ales – Auckland

The City of Ales is Auckland's Best Little Beer Festival. Back for its 4th year there will be great beer, food and lots of beer enthusiasts.