This column marks the start of our third year at the Nelson Mail, and our fifth year in New Zealand. Everything is changing so fast. It seems like the craft beer market in Nelson is entering its adolescence. The number of breweries in the region has steadied, but the number of beers and outlets continues to grow.
Martin Craig, a Wellington beer lover, initiated a “beer census” to start tracking this trend around the country. It’s admittedly incomplete but he collected information about 58 NZ craft breweries, showing each averaging around six different beers. That’s a far cry from the survey done by Richard Brimer in his book “Microbreweries of New Zealand” in 1995. That showed 39 breweries averaging closer to three brews each. The variety of styles has also dramatically increased- Brimer didn’t record a single IPA in NZ in 1995.
We have been prattling on about our wish for a beer culture to develop in Nelson (and the rest of New Zealand), and think it might be coming true. Every time we turn around there is a new place carrying local craft beer.
Not just beer bars. Restaurants, hotels and venues are joining the fray. Clearly, as craft beer loses its snob status, just carrying the brew will not bring in enough customers. There are too many to outlets to support as just beer destinations. Establishments are offering different points of distinction, such as events, atmosphere, price, selection or wood fired pizzas to lure the throngs.
The breweries have established their workhorse brands, and yet they continue to produce new experimental releases to excite the jaded public for whom good beer is not enough. Two years ago who would have guessed that we would see a gruit (herbed beer made without hops) and a kumara beer pouring at McCashins? Or find a local beer made with ambergris? To be fair Mat Elmhirst at Monkey Wizard has been pushing the boundaries of traditional beer from the beginning, but it’s the bigger players in the market, including the Sprig and Fern, that are finding a new market for special releases.
Now for Nelsonians, we can very likely enjoy a craft beer most places we happen to be. Whether you are going for a meal or to hang out with friends, there is likely a locally made quality product that suits your taste.
We see the foundation is being laid for a monumental shift in how we think about beer in this country. These little breweries create local jobs, and profits stay local. Who wouldn’t want to support that?
Originally published in the Nelson Mail.