I want to know how many breweries there are in New Zealand. And I honestly think it’s strange that it’s a hard thing to find out. Even the smallest of them is visible from hundreds of metres away, and they are usually literally bolted to the ground. This shouldn’t be difficult; we’re counting Kererū the brewery, not Kererū the bird. And yet every total I’ve seen hit the news for years has seemed way off ― so I decided to do my own survey, and my best estimate is that there are currently
I could do with some help checking that figure, so here’s my whole list.2 If you spot anything missing, or anything that shouldn’t be there, let me know and I’ll update it. I’m just one Wellingtonian; my first-hand knowledge beyond there is hugely limited. What we’re aiming for is an exhaustive list of all the operational, distinct, physical and fully-functional breweries3 in the country.
|Black Sands / Weezledog||Auckland|
|Brothers Beer City Works||Auckland|
|Brothers Beer Juke Joint||Auckland|
|Deep Creek Browns Bay||Auckland|
|Deep Creek Silverdale||Auckland|
|Little Creatures Hobsonville||Auckland|
|Blue Fridge||Bay of Plenty|
|Boilerhouse||Bay of Plenty|
|Coromandel||Bay of Plenty|
|Croucher||Bay of Plenty|
|Fitzpatrick's||Bay of Plenty|
|Hot Water||Bay of Plenty|
|Lumberjack||Bay of Plenty|
|Mata||Bay of Plenty|
|Mount / Funk Estate||Bay of Plenty|
|Rocky Knob||Bay of Plenty|
|Slab||Bay of Plenty|
|The Island||Bay of Plenty|
|B Studio||Hawkes Bay|
|Crazy Bay||Hawkes Bay|
|Fat Monk / Abbey||Hawkes Bay|
|Hawke's Bay Independent||Hawkes Bay|
|Napier Brewing Company||Hawkes Bay|
|The Theoretical Brewer||Taranaki|
|Beg, Borrow & Brew||Wellington|
|Tuatara Third Eye||Wellington|
|Waitoa Social Club||Wellington|
|League of Brewers||Tasman|
|Sprig & Fern||Tasman|
|West Coast||West Coast|
|DB Draught Brewery||Canterbury|
|Alpine Ale Works||Otago|
|Great King Street||Otago|
|Lake and Wood||Otago|
|New New New||Otago|
|Rhyme and Reason||Otago|
141 161. That’ll go up a bit, as we add breweries I’ve never heard of ― and down a bit as we learn that some entries are contract producers, or share a facility with someone else, have closed, or whatever. Either way, the total is both higher than I thought it would be,4 and lower than anything you see making headlines. But two editions of the book Brewed, five years’ worth of ANZ Bank’s ‘Craft Beer Insights’, and most-recently a report from the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research all had considerably higher totals, even half a decade ago. To get to those bigger numbers they just bundled contract producers in with brewpubs and freestanding breweries and barely even explained the difference ― or, worse, actively buried it.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a contract producer, of course. And there’s nothing wrong with sometimes loosening our language and talking about them and actual breweries together as a group ― I do that around awards season, myself. But when you’re pitching yourself as in any way comprehensive or rigorous and claiming to offer any kind of perspective on the industry, you just can’t gloss over the local popularity of contract brewing and how it differs from the “brick-and-mortar” way of doing things.5 All those other authors could’ve provided a breakdown of their total between different kinds of entities, but they just didn’t bother. I spent one day on this, online and occasionally on the phone. If you’re paying for ― or paying attention to ― research that is less intensive than what I can get done from my couch on my day off, you’re a sucker.
The lazy way of doing things reached its most ridiculous height with the recent news salivating over how New Zealand has “more breweries per capita than anywhere else”, according to a NZIER report released last week. Well, “released” isn’t the right word, because it actually hasn’t been made public at all, and won’t be for some time, if ever ― according to the NZIER themselves and the Brewers Association, which commissioned it (a fact that went un-noted in too much of the coverage). I had to ask for a copy, and got an exerpt of a couple pages, which don’t contain an actual list and reveal that the “methodology” was just to go to RateBeer.com6 and copy the list of New Zealand producers there (and then add a few, from somewhere..?), even though it makes perfectly clear that it includes entities that aren’t “breweries”. They turned that into a per-capita figure of 4.15 breweries per 100K population,7 ahead of Australia, the UK, and the US. My list suggests the number should be
2.88 3.29 ― which would put us significantly ahead of Australia, comparable the UK, and about half as prolific as Washington State in the US. Doesn’t that sound more plausible?8 Of course, for a real comparison, we’d have to figure out if the overseas totals included or excluded contract producers and shared facilities, or ― I honestly have no idea about that, and my suspicion is that the NZIER and the BA don’t either.
The Brewers Association are a lobby group. And lobbyists are gonna lobby. That shouldn’t be surprising. It just makes me sad that people ― especially, but not only, in the media ― are so credulous about it.9 If they can inflate the industry and distort their role in it, they gain leverage. So the data is polluted, on purpose. And everyone then just loses faith in data in general. Most people with any kind of industry experience guessed figures well below 141 when I asked them. When the numbers in that make headlines are padded with numerous contract producers ― functioning or not ― it’s all too easy for people to look at an unfamiliar name on a list and assume it’s just another one, when they might actually be people doing something interesting somewhere unexpected; people you could go visit. I want to go visit them. So I need to know who they really are.
- Thanks to everyone who suggested additions or deletions ― or corrections to my lousy sense of New Zealand geography.
- Here’s my actual working-out spreadsheet, if you want to see what I’ve already considered and counted out and why. You should be able to leave comments there, and just take a copy if you need to use the filters.
- If you want to get specific ― unsurprisingly, I do ― “operational” means as of now (late February 2019), “distinct” means that shared facilities just count once, “physical” rules out contract-only producers (or “gypsy” brewers, but let’s all stop using that word in this context, yeah?), and by “fully-functional” I mean to exclude entities that use something like a WilliamsWarn or Smartbrew system where they just finish off wort or extract produced elsewhere.
- I’ve had a few stabs at doing something like this, before, usually when some nonsense number hit the news. So my vaguely-educated guess was 120. A few people did better than me, on that score (though because Twitter is garbage, you have to click around a bit to see all the replies).
- Also, from a purely methodological point of view, what the hell counts as a dormant (or extinct) contract producer, anyway? No stock for sale, or in progress, or planned? Dylan Jauslin hit this problem when he compiled his “Craft Beer Graveyard” list a few years ago. At least with a physical brewery, we can ask if it’s still there, if the rent is being paid, if the power is on, and if people occasionally show up to work.
- Which they call “Rate My Beer”, in one of those clumsy little fuckups that hardly bode well.
- Which implies that the population of the country is 5.25M, a quarter-million more people than Statistics New Zealand thinks. I have no idea why the NZIER disputes that. If they’d used the official figure, their headline number would’ve been even higher: 4.45.
- With my original numbers, I said we were “slightly (but significantly) ahead of Australia” and “just behind the UK”. NZ’s standing has gone up thanks to contributions to my list, but you’d have to wonder if whoever compiled the other figures had as many people suggesting tiny entities in out of the way corners of the country. Those totals would likely go up, too, after such an exercise. I can’t help but enjoy the irony of the NZIER’s numbers and the BA’s spin getting more accurate through sheer dumb luck, though; their method was crap, but they got closer to the mark than I’d assumed. But they were still off by 25% or more.
- This is the same organisation that peddles the absurd “Beautiful Truth” campaign, and is behind a recent plague of “sponsored content” that sneaks their marketing and message in front of a host of eyeballs. In New Zealand, their membership is only Lion and DB and their subsidiaries; they represent just twelve of the breweries on my list. They account for the vast bulk of beer produced, but they obviously don’t have the interests of the hundred-plus others at heart ― even as they present themselves, here and elsewhere, as a voice for the whole industry.