The Beginnings of Craft
This lack of choice sparked a microbrewery revolution in New Zealand with many parallels to the U.S. movement. In 1981, McCashin’s Brewery became the first craft brewery in New Zealand, only five years after New Albion, America’s first modern microbrewery. It was started by Terry McCashin on the south island city of Nelson, in an old cider factory. McCashin was a farmer and a former athlete, having been a member of the All Blacks, New Zealand’s popular national rugby union team. In 1999, the Mac’s brand was leased by Lion Nation and is now among that company’s stable of brands, helping it to grow into a national phenomenon on the relative order of a Sierra Nevada or Redhook. Not to be left behind, DB created their own craft-like brand, Montheith’s Brewery, a west coast brewery founded in 1868, but re-branded as a local craft-type beer.
New Zealand’s craft beer era has since had its ups and downs. In 1986, the Shakespeare Tavern & Brewery opened in the capital city of Auckland. It was the nation’s first true brewpub, and is still going strong (though the beers themselves are pedestrian at best). The brewpub concept has picked up steam and nearly half of New Zealand’s breweries are brewpubs or serve food. The remaining breweries are all production breweries and, because the power of the big two plus the lingering tied house affiliations makes it difficult to get tap handles in even local bars, most are also package breweries.
Today there are roughly fifty small breweries in New Zealand, down from sixty a decade ago. But they account for less than five percent of the country’s total beer sales. Of course, not being able to get their beer into bars or even some retail stores has made simply getting their beer to market an uphill climb worthy of Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mt. Everest, and a New Zealander himself.