What is craft beer and what isn’t?

Craft beer can be a bit confusing. There are so many styles of beer, and so many brands out there competing. Not only that, but NZ’s industrial brewing companies Lion, DB and Independent Liquor also have craft beer labels too.

I’m taking an excerpt out of Jules Van Cruysen’s book “Brewed: A Guide to the Craft Beer of NZ” to help define what is craft beer?

“Craft brewing originally defined itself in relation to the industrial breweries that had taken over the marketplace, its essence being the pursuit of high-quality beers, made traditionally, with (largely) traditional ingredients and usually by smaller breweries.”

There is no strict model however, with craft beer often being identified by qualities such as “fruity!” or “hoppy!” in relation to the typical watery industrial brews that many of us recall as our first experience with beer (I’m looking at you, Export Gold cans from 1999).

It is often actually the high-malt content and the absence of any cost-driven adjuncts - cheap fermentable sugars often used by large industrial breweries - that give craft beer its flavour and allow the brewer to experiment with higher levels of hops and other ingredients while still creating - personal preference aside - a balanced brew.

There is also an emphasis on craft beer being fresh, locally produced (it is often delivered straight from the brewery to the beer taps) and locally owned. Sounds pretty good, right? Sign me up!

Alix enjoying a brew at Duncan’s Brewing at Beervana, Wellington, 2019

Alix enjoying a brew at Duncan’s Brewing at Beervana, Wellington, 2019

However craft beer still only represents about 10% of all beer sales in Aotearoa, according to a recent article by NZ Herald. Do people really still prefer their Heinekens or their Steinlagers (which are brewed in NZ but owned by overseas companies) to the increasingly available craft brews?

As Luke White, one half of the Auckland operation Beer Jerk and champion of independent brews, says:

“I actually see the major problem in the NZ beer industry being the scarcity of independent taps. Independent breweries simply can’t sell to the VAST majority of beer retailers due to Lion, DB, etc. having cast-iron tap contracts.”

Included in these tap contracts are a range of “stepping stone” beers made by industrial breweries such as Mac’s or Monteiths which sort of bridge the market between craft drinkers and the curious. (Yes, Mac’s started out as an independent label by Terry McCashin but was bought by Lion in 1999.) Then there are the recent acquisition craft breweries which have been bought out by Lion or DB such as Tuatara, Panhead and Little Creatures.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with buying craft beer made by industrial breweries, but it begs the question:

Why support large companies whose profits end up offshore when you could support REAL, LOCAL, owner-operated breweries and small growing companies here in Aotearoa?

I am drawing a line in the sand and cutting out the “craft-washing” (this term is another Jules Van Cruysen adoption). From today, Cupid’s beer taps and craft beer fridge will not contain any craft-like brews or brands that are owned by industrial breweries. We will still keep a few Tuataras along with some Heinekens tucked away out of sight, but our visible options will be 100% independent.

Industrial breweries have done good things for craft beer such as providing training for many emerging brewers, and supplying resources for smaller breweries (including helping events such as Beervana and the Brewers’ Guild Awards to happen). They do provide jobs and make the industry accessible for many. But DB Breweries is owned by the Dutch company Heineken and Lion is owned by Kirin Company (Japan), so don’t think you’re doing your craft-brewing neighbours any favours by buying this product, even when you’re buying their craft brews.

We’ve made it easy for you, so Cupid’s beer taps feature a rotation of true, independent craft beers. We’re stocking beer brewed as locally as possible, with the exception of a couple of Wellington breweries that are just too good to turn away.

You can find our updated beer list here on Untappd. Our taps regularly feature (with close proximity in mind):

  • Urbanaut Brewing Company, Kingsland, Auckland, 2.9km

  • Behemoth Brewing Company, soon-to-be Mt Eden, Auckland, 4.6km*

  • Black Sands Brewing Company, Kelston, Auckland, 7.4km

  • Weezledog Brewing Company, Kelston, Auckland, 7.4km

  • Brothers Brewery, Mt Eden, Auckland, 5.9km

  • Colab Brewing Company, Riverhead, Auckland, 20km

  • Deep Creek Brewing Co., Silverdale, Auckland, 37km

  • Duncan’s Brewing Company, Paraparaumu, 595km

Our beer fridge regularly stocks (with more new breweries being added soon):

  • Hallertau Brewery, Riverhead, 19km

  • Liberty Brewing, Helensville, 41km

  • Alibi Brewing Company, Waiheke, 48km

  • Croucher Brewing, Rotorua, 229km

  • Garage Project, Wellington, 647km*

*Currently some beer by Garage Project and Behemoth is contract brewed at BStudio, Napier, 417km away.

Enjoy supporting your local (brewery) while you are supporting your local (bar).

Alix McEntegart