A New Zealand brewery headcount

Look! There’s one, right there, lurking in the background. Move quietly. Don’t startle it.

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 141 161.1

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.

Phat HouseNorthland
Three MountainsNorthland
8 WiredAuckland
Black Sands / WeezledogAuckland
Boogie VanAuckland
Brothers Beer City WorksAuckland
Brothers Beer Juke JointAuckland
DB WaitemataAuckland
Deep Creek Browns BayAuckland
Deep Creek SilverdaleAuckland
Dr Rudi'sAuckland
Laughing BonesAuckland
Little Creatures HobsonvilleAuckland
Sweat ShopAuckland
Blue FridgeBay of Plenty
BoilerhouseBay of Plenty
CoromandelBay of Plenty
CroucherBay of Plenty
Fitzpatrick'sBay of Plenty
Hot WaterBay of Plenty
LumberjackBay of Plenty
MataBay of Plenty
Mount / Funk EstateBay of Plenty
Rocky KnobBay of Plenty
SlabBay of Plenty
The IslandBay of Plenty
Good GeorgeWaikato
Shunters YardWaikato
B StudioHawkes Bay
BraveHawkes Bay
Crazy BayHawkes Bay
Fat Monk / AbbeyHawkes Bay
GiantHawkes Bay
GodsownHawkes Bay
Hawke's Bay IndependentHawkes Bay
Napier Brewing CompanyHawkes Bay
RoostersHawkes Bay
SunshineHawkes Bay
ZeelandtHawkes Bay
Shining PeakTaranaki
The Theoretical BrewerTaranaki
Three SistersTaranaki
Brew UnionManawatu
Massey UniversityManawatu
Beg, Borrow & BrewWellington
Black DogWellington
Choice BrosWellington
Double VisionWellington
Fortune FavoursWellington
Garage ProjectWellington
Mean DosesWellington
North EndWellington
Occasional BrewerWellington
Regent 58Wellington
Te AroWellington
Tinker TaylorWellington
Tuatara Third EyeWellington
Tui BreweryWellington
Waitoa Social ClubWellington
Whistling SistersWellington
Golden BearTasman
Hop FarmTasman
Hop FederationTasman
League of BrewersTasman
Mussel InnTasman
Sprig & FernTasman
Monteith'sWest Coast
West CoastWest Coast
Beer BaronessCanterbury
Brew MoonCanterbury
DB Draught BreweryCanterbury
Hunter HillsCanterbury
Kaiser BrothersCanterbury
Rain DogsCanterbury
Ship HopCanterbury
The FermentistCanterbury
The LaboratoryCanterbury
Three BoysCanterbury
Twisted HopCanterbury
Two ThumbCanterbury
Valley BrewingCanterbury
Alpine Ale WorksOtago
Birch StreetOtago
Cell DivisionOtago
Great King StreetOtago
Green ManOtago
Ground UpOtago
Lake and WoodOtago
New New NewOtago
Rhyme and ReasonOtago
Rough RockOtago
Search LightOtago
Sidewinder BreweryOtago
Steamer BasinOtago
The CatlinsOtago
Victoria StoreOtago
Wanaka BeerworksOtago
Infographic (detail) from the Brewers' Association press material for the NZIER report they commissioned
No, it isn’t. Unless you define “breweries” weirdly, or your sense of “approximately” is extremely generous

So, 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.

Exerpt from NZIER / BA report
Some numbers, which might as well have been randomly generated

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.

  1. Thanks to everyone who suggested additions or deletions ― or corrections to my lousy sense of New Zealand geography.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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.
  6. Which they call “Rate My Beer”, in one of those clumsy little fuckups that hardly bode well.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

33 thoughts on “A New Zealand brewery headcount”

  1. Rocky Knob: contract (but perhaps the hardest working contract brewer I’ve ever met!)

    Waikato has another “real” brewery, but it’s perma-stuck halfway between hobby and commercial – Electron Brewing in Matangi. Their main output is contract brewing for Bootleg currently.

    Alibi on Waiheke seems to be missing

    DO the SmartBrew type breweries (King Country, Crafty Trout, others?) fall under Williams-Warn style? I know there’s a lot more scope for customisation there, despite taking pre-prepared wort as a base input.

    1. Yeah, I thought about it for a while and decided that SmartBrew systems aren’t “breweries”, whatever they are. Not sure exactly how I’d count them in a full census ― I’d rather lump them with contract producers, honestly; they’re both reliant on someone else to make their beer. I mean, so is everyone in the broadest sense, but I can’t get past the fact that if you turned up to King Country or Crafty Trout with all the ingredients required to brew, you couldn’t brew.

      1. Yeah, kinda, sorta, I guess! 🙂 Your list, your criteria! 🙂 I’m just not sure Barry at KK wouldn’t smack me in the gentlemans beans if I tried to tell him what he does all day isn’t brewing. It’s certainly not an easy call. How many brewers can dance on the head of a pin?

  2. Good work. Interesting list to have a look at. Alibi on Waiheke and Workshop in Raglan are two that I can see are missing.

  3. BUT…

    Do all the other countries count contract brewers, too? Surely all we’re really concerned about is comparing pint glasses with pint glasses (a UK pint, of course).

    There’s many fine lines to be negotiated here. It all depends on what you are trying to measure.

    In NZ, Yeastie Boys beers are brewed under licence by Urbanaut.

    In Australia, Yeastie Boys beers are brewed under licence by Yeastie Boys Australia (an actual ‘brewing company’ that own stainless and has it installed in a building known as Nomad Brewery… I’m guessing you’d only count Nomad in Aus).

    In UK, Yeastie Boys beers are contract brewed in a more traditional sense, similar to what you might normally think of this as contract brewing.

    I’m sure there are many more models, too.

    In the end, I think we’re more “brewery” than “marketing company”, even if we don’t own a mash tun, given that all five of our employees (six next week) work in jobs that are 100% focused on brewing and selling beer.

    1. Stu – Did you read the article?! You can argue “brewery” to yourself as much as you like, but Phil set out his criteria clearly.

    2. Stu, you just managed to make yourself sound like an intellectual property rights company more than anything else.

      1. I’ve studied and worked in data, more than anything else i have done in my life… I’m interested in the comparative numbers and the methodology (but, for what it’s worth, could I be any more open in painting the picture of what Yeastie Boys are? You can choose whatever you want to call us).

        as per the previous reply to Craft Beer Coll: did you actually read my comment? I’m guessing not.

        I’m asking what all these other country/state counts are based on. Bear in mind that all these numbers, in almost all instances, in all countries, are coming from some kind of group with a vested interest in painting a rosy picture of the beer industry.

        1. I was commenting on your ‘we’re more “brewery” than “marketing company”, even if we don’t own a mash tun’ when Phil has clearly stated his count is based on having stainless (owning, or owing to the bank). Which Yeastie Boys openly acknowledges it doesn’t.

          You’re entitled to describe and hold your view, but Phil has been clear on the basis upon which he is undertaking the count.

          I totally understand your comments about how other countries, organisations and articles might be counting such things, and how, therefore it is like comparing apple ciders with lolly juices!

          1. Yeh, I don’t mind what anyone calls us… it’s just that the gist of my comment is that we need to know how everyone is defining brewery if they want to compare numbers.

            My guess is that they’re ALL coming from groups that have a vested interest in the numbers being at the higher end. The Brewers Association in USA would definitely benefit from that but, perhaps, they have a clear definition of that is counted.

            I was certainly as interested as Phil in the fact that this article had quotes from the downunder BA but nothing from BGONZ. Same old story, I guess.

  4. Three more for Otago (Dunedin area) that I know have physical breweries (albeit small):

    Arc Brewing – arcbrewingco.com (Brewery photos on website)
    Noisy Brewing – noisybrew.co.nz (Brewery photos on instagram)
    Meenans – Bottle store with micro brewery and beer brewed under their brand.

    1. Cheers for the mention Craig, we’ll be opening our cellar door in the next month, busy constructing the joint at the mo whilst keeping up with brewing for bars & restaurants.

      Sarah (Noisy Brew Co.)

  5. Hey Phil, there’s a couple of relatively new breweries in Taranaki – Three Sisters and The Theoretical Brewer. I think both have physical breweries

  6. Hey Phil, just a minor mixup – as much as we love the Waikato, Croucher Brewing is in the Bay Of Plenty. Cheers.

  7. Great idea.

    Up north: Kainui Brewing in Kerikeri

    Also PhatHouse brewing, Waipapa (not sure of the address

      1. @Pierre are Frings still brewing? I’d heard from a friend who lives up that way that they’d sold and were now a Mac’s bar? I did the briefest of searches and couldn’t find any mention of current brewing. Happy to be wrong though!

  8. Bassline Brewing had a marquee at the Gisborne Beer Festival on Saturday with 5 beers.
    They’re from Wellington, don’t know if they’re contract brewers but they weren’t in your spreadsheet.
    Also, Sunshine Brewery is definitely independent, and is definitely not in Hawke’s Bay – it’s in Gisborne which is 2.5 hours drive from the next closest brewery and geographically distinct.

  9. You raise a interesting good point. Shouldn’t the term brewery be a place that actually manufactures beer, rather than a marketing company selling beer that’s brewed at a contract brewery… personally I buy and support local breweries that actually make beer.

    1. @ryancrawcour You phrase that like you’re surprised they’re not mentioned in a list of physical breweries that existed in 2019? 🙂

Have at it: