Here’s cheers for NZ craft beer

Worldly beer from Kingsland, Auckland. That’s the concept behind Urbanaut Brewing Company - and it’s one hitting the mark with craft-beer enthusiasts.

When directors Thomas Rowe, Simon Watson and Bruce Turner embarked on their craft-beer dream they wanted to celebrate big cities around the world and use them as inspiration for the beers they brewed.

Click image to zoom Tap image to zoom

“We started with Kingsland Pilsner as our flagship beer, next came Brixton Pale Ale - paying homage to the home of pale ale,” says head brewer Turner.

" “[Craft beer] will continue to see growth but brewers need to be smart." John Bennett, General Manager for Central Region, ANZ NZ.

“We have Gastown Red IPA, inspired by Vancouver, Williamsburg IPA inspired by New York. Each of these cities has a place in our heart or a story behind the beer.”

Urbanaut are certainly in a growth industry: When the brewery opened earlier this year it joined a thriving, but increasingly crowded, craft beer industry in New Zealand. 

Click image to zoom Tap image to zoom

The latest ANZ Craft Beer Industry Insights Report showed in 2016 growth was down from 28 percent to 22 per cent by volume and 39 per cent by value down to 32 per cent.

There are 194 craft beer breweries producing more than 1600 unique beers and small breweries accounted for 5.8 per cent of total beer consumed by volume – up from 4.9 per cent in 2015.

The question is when will the market reach saturation and how will it sustain its difference, the key marketing edge?


At Urbanaut, the founders were clear from the start on the business strategy.  They thought hard about where they wanted to set up, how they were going to brand their product and what markets they were looking to target.

Producing beer for the general New Zealand market was important but the main goal was to sell to people in their inner-city Auckland neighbourhood. 

“Engaging with our customers is really important so we talk to them about the philosophy behind our beer, how we make it and the merits of each style,” Turner says.

Urbanaut is a production facility with cellar door sales so people can come in and taste the beer and learn about how it is made.  They also run regular brewery tours.

“Twenty or thirty years ago beer was just a single commodity, you didn’t really have to explain it,” Turner says. “It was just beer.”

“With craft beer there are so many different styles and flavours, and people are paying more, so we want their experience to be a positive one.”

At the crossroads

ANZ General Manager for Central Region John Bennett says it’s too soon to say whether the craft beer industry can take many more players but there was a sense the sector was approaching the crossroads where supply is meeting demand.

“I am confident we will continue to see growth but brewers need to be smart about how they sell their product; it is about more than just good beer,” he said. “With so much choice it is a great time to be a consumer, but brewers are finding intensifying competition for retail shelf space.”

 “What can we learn from more mature markets and industries in terms of quality control, distribution, branding and tapping other markets? 

“These are questions for a burgeoning industry, but they are great issues to have, especially with an increasingly passionate and discerning consumer.”

There’s always been an anti-establishment cache with craft brewing. There’s an implicit message of artisans.

Urbanaut’s Turner honed his beer brewing skills in the UK where he worked for award winning Meantime Brewing Company in Greenwich before returning home to team up with old high school friends Rowe and Watson to take advantage of the growing New Zealand craft beer sector.

“In the UK I learnt the trade and how to make good beer,” Turner says. “The more I studied brewing the more passionate I got about the process.  

“To get to the point where I could set up a brewery with two of my good mates and we could make great beer and be really proud of introducing it to our little corner of Auckland is amazing.”

Export opportunity

Exporting remains a challenge for the New Zealand craft-beer industry with exports remaining static at around 10 per cent of beer production, with considerations such as cool chain continuity impacting the shelf life of the more volatile styles of craft beer.

It’s a challenge worth solving, Bennett says, the more mature New Zealand wine sector exports approximately 80 per cent of annual production for export earnings in excess of $NZ1.6 billion.

“Successful exporters, and successful brewers full-stop, can offer something unique to a cleverly-targeted audience,” he said.  

Click image to zoom Tap image to zoom

“Those are the brewers who will outlive the industry’s growing pains and capitalise on the superpower potential of this exciting industry.”

Across the ditch

Australia is often the first export market Kiwi brewers aim for due to it being close and its perceived similarity to New Zealand.

The size of the Australian beer market also offers an attractive opportunity, with total liquor retail turnover of $NZ16.2 billion.  Beer makes up 37 percent of sales by value.

Ian Kingham of the Australian Institute of Beer warns while Australia and New Zealand have similarities the differences are significant.

“I think that a lot of people think that Australia is one big country,” he said. “Across Australia we’ve got four different football codes for starters,” he says.

“Then you look at logistics, how do we package, how do we store, how do we ship products.   There is a lot of expense in terms of how you move product around Australia. 

“It’s a large country so in terms of who represents you and in what market has its own challenges. At the end of the day there are great opportunities - it’s just working out how you tap into it.”

Export to Australia is something Urbanaut Brewing Company has on the radar.

“The plan for our future as we grow the business is to introduce our beer to as many people as we can in our community and nationally through bars and liquor stores.  We also want to export to Australia fairly quickly,” Turner says.

“But it’s crucial that we aren’t just exporting for the sake of exporting, we are doing it for the right reasons.  We are keen to introduce New Zealand beer styles to other countries, and we will only do it if we can be sure the beer is going to be fresh and taste like it does here.”

For now he says, the focus is Auckland.

“Ultimately our market is here, there are a lot of people around us that haven’t discovered craft beer yet and we think they need to.”

Briar McCormack is a contributing editor at bluenotes

Tips for getting the most out of your craft beer

Urbanaut brewer Turner says there are a few key things new and existing craft beer drinkers should learn early on to get the best out of their beer.

• Keep it chilled

“You don’t want heat fluctuations, you want to keep it chilled, you want to avoid direct sunlight as that can change the flavour in the beer and you don’t want to let it sit for too long,” he says. “It’s really important to keep your beer chilled from the point of purchase.

“Craft beer is like any product made with fresh ingredients – grains and hops – if you keep it chilled and don’t let it sit there for too long it will taste better.

Drink it fresh

Ninety five per cent of beers are best drunk fresh, Turner says - and flavour will change after four months even if it is chilled.

“Get the freshest beer and consume it as soon as you can, I like to get a beer and drink it within a week.”

• Glass matters

There is a lot of attention paid to the type of vessel you drink your beer from these days, especially with beers that are highly hopped.

In order to capture all those beautiful aromas, Turner says, you want a glass with enough space to hold onto the nose of the beer.

“We encourage people to use a tulip-style glass for anything with a lot of hops in it, or some interesting fruits,” he says. “Typically pilsners are best drunk from a tall straight glass, so it pours a nice head which stays on the beer.”

• Food matching is a thing

Urbanaut offers a tasting tray with a range of different beers which they match with cheese, meats, pickle and crackers.

“You’ll find the cheeses complement the IPAs and the meat goes well with pilsners,” Turner says.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

editor's picks

03 Jul 2017

Sprouting through gaps in the market

Reina Webster-Iti | bluenotes contributor

For Kathryn Fleming, the success of her start-up stems from perseverance.

27 Jun 2017

Success on the hop in NZ

Briar McCormack | New Zealand editor

The craft beer explosion has led to a renaissance for its key ingredient – and those who produce it.

20 Jun 2017

NZ agri: there’s an app for that

Con Williams | Rural Economist NZ, ANZ

A technology tsunami is upon the primary sectors. What are the apps which will help?

16 Aug 2016

Something’s brewing in NZ’s craft beer market

Pete Barnao & Linda Townshend | BlueNotes contributing editors

The first-time Beervana pilgrim gazed around the concourse apprehensively then voiced what many were surely thinking: “Where do I start?”