New Zealand is small. It is small and it is a long way from just about everywhere. Its largest city, Auckland, is more than 1,300 miles from the nearest similar-sized city, making it the most remote major city in the world. Its capital, Wellington, is also the world’s southernmost capital city.
The same adventurous and artistic spirit that has infected brewers globally drives the expanding NZ craft beer industry.
With only one city boasting a population over a million, you get a clue to the size of the country. Only 4.3 million people call New Zealand home, giving it roughly the same number of citizens as Kentucky—all living in an area well over twice that state’s size.
This geography lesson isn’t gratuitous. Size and isolation are both factors in the development of the country’s rapidly evolving and very unique craft beer scene.
The same adventurous and artistic spirit that has infected brewers globally drives the expanding New Zealand craft beer industry. But in a country with a population one-seventieth the size of the United States, the need to find sustainable sales amongst a much smaller population—a population that is still in the formative stages of craft brewing discovery—means that the crafty New Zealand brewer needs to be creative with less expansive beers. A beer designed for a niche market has a very small niche to work with.
The country’s smaller market isn’t assisted by a graduated excise scheme that sees higher alcohol beers taxed at a punitive rate, greatly increasing their cost and further pushing these beers into the margins. The two factors are combining to drive one of the more interesting and original trends internationally, the quest to create bigger flavors while keeping the gravity comparatively low.