Proof of boozier beers’ popularity

Most customers at the Noisy Brewing Co in Dunedin opt for a beer with an ABV level of between 5%...
Most customers at the Noisy Brewing Co in Dunedin opt for a beer with an ABV level of between 5% and 6%, but there is a niche market for stronger brews, co-owner Chris Noye says. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Sales of higher alcohol beer are showing no signs of flattening, if the strength of continued growth in the craft beer market is anything to go by.

According to Stats NZ, beers with an alcohol by volume (ABV) level of more than 5% have grown by a factor of three over the past five years, and now represent about 13% — or 39million litres — of the 298million litres of beer available to domestic drinkers.

Stats NZ international statistics manager Darren Allan said the popularity of higher ABV beers was clearly linked to the boom in craft beer production.

While annual growth last year had slowed to about 11% by volume, there had been increases of 34% in 2017 and 21% in 2018.

Conversely, sales of beers with ABVs of between 4.35% and 5% fell in volume by 1.7% following rises in the last three years, and low ABV options — between 0% and 2.5% — were down 6.9%.

While consumers were gravitating to stronger craft beers, overall beer volumes were not increasing; total beer consumption was down about 5.6% on 2005, when it amounted to nearly 316 million litres.

Emerson Brewery founder Richard Emerson said there were a number of ways to look at overall drinking habits.

"People are drinking less for various reasons, personal, social and for flavour. Drinking less would equate to enjoying a beautifully made strong beer than drinking lots of average beer with less flavour and higher alcohol creates quite a different outcome to the malt and the hops."

He said the brewery changed the range of different strengths of beers it offered from month to month and season to season.

"Our 7.0% Bird Dog, for example, represents only a small percentage of our overall sales," he said.

Kaikorai brewery Noisy Brewing Co co-owner Chris Noye said about 90% of its offering was within the 5% — 6% ABV range.

Several of its beers, including a Belgian IPA (6.5%) and a chocolate stout (6.8%) served a more niche clientele.

Mr Noye, who started the brewery just over a year ago and catered mainly for the off-sales market, said people generally liked medium to high alcohol beers because they tasted good.

He said the majority opted for a "moderate" percentage.

While he had considered brewing light or low carb beers, he had not done so because they were more difficult to develop good flavour profiles in.

"People ... are opting for quality over quantity. They’d rather have two heavier beers than drink a case of run of the mill beers. I guess part of that also has to do with stricter alcohol driving limits."

Mr Allan said another growing area was spirits, up by nearly a third since 2014.

He said overall volume was up 5.8% in 2019, following similar rises in each of the previous four years; spirit-based drinks, such as ready-to-drink beverages, remained one of the fastest-growing sectors in the domestic alcohol market.

He said more traditional spirits such as whisky, gin and vodka had also experienced growth, their volumes increasing 4.8% from 2018.

The overall volume of alcoholic beverage production rose 1.7% to 491 litres last year, or the equivalent of two standard drinks a day for each adult New Zealander.

That was down from about 2.2 standard drinks to each adult 10 years ago, Mr Allan said.

“In 2010, an adult would have had, on average, about 800 standard drinks available to consume in a year. By 2019, that was down to about 740 a year."

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