We are drinking more beer. And we are drinking more high-strength beer.
Nigel Gregory of the Brew Bar on The Strand and Croucher Brewery says enthusiasts embracing craft beer and looking for a new beer experience is behind the increases in the latest consumption figures.
According to the Government Statistician, the total alcohol volume rose 4.2 per cent last year to 474 million litres with beer making up 292 million litres of that total.
And the more high strength beers with an alcohol content of above five per cent helped drive a 3.7 percent lift in total beer volumes which has doubled in the past five years.
“Five percent in terms of craft beer is relatively low. Not a lot of craft beer is below five percent and so it's more the mass appeal craft beer now,” says Nigel.
“And you see DB and Lion recognizing that by buying big craft brewers. It's part of the market they want to get into, have to get into.”
In contrast, we're easing off our low alcohol beers - the volume of low strength beer, that's under 2.5 percent, fell 3.5 per cent last year.
“There has been quite dramatic growth in lower strength beer, two and half percent and under, in the past three or four years,” says Nigel.
“The stats show it's levelled off but at a much higher levels.”
So are drinkers looking for more punch, more alcohol, more kick or are they just becoming more discerning?
“A bit of both. The nature of craft beer is all about flavor and one of the ways we can pack more flavour is to raise the alcohol level a bit.”
The higher alcohol carries all the extra hops and massive malts that they put into the craft beers.
“The popular craft beers are anything from six to nine percent and when you get that high you can't have too many. But they're special because they are big on flavor,” says the brewer.
“They may be the beers you start your night or finish your night with.”
And craft drinkers are drinking slower and enjoying it more.
“It's not about buying a box of five, six, seven, eight or nine per cent beer and drinking that on a Friday night. People pick and choose, they go for varieties. Craft beer followers drink a lot of different styles and a lot a different brands and they want a new experience.”
Rotorua based Crouchers, which owns a brewery and two bars, including Brew on The Strand in Tauranga is riding the craft beer wave.
“It's exciting in the sheer number of new breweries,” says Nigel.
Last year there were 150 brewers and 1,500 individual beers in the New Zealand market place. Can the market sustain that?
“While the market is growing, the supply is growing just as fast or possibly faster. So like we saw with the wine industry 20 years ago, there might be some rationalisation at some point.”
The statistics show the total volume of wine available to the domestic market rose 4.7 per cent in 2016 and the total volume of spirits rose 5.7 per cent.