Beer-for-sale growth in NZ driven by high-strength, while low-strength falls and the session ale range is flat, after 7 years in the cellar

Here’s one just in time for a sunny Friday lunchtime.

Growth in the amount of high-strength beer available to buy in New Zealand continued last year, while the volume of low-strength beer fell, according to Statistics New Zealand.

Yes, that’s right, Stats NZ does collect data on alcohol available for consumption here.

High-strength beer is classed as a brew with more than 5% alcohol content. There was a 17% increase of this type of beer offered for sale in NZ last year, on top of a 38% increase the year before. There was also a 6.4% increase in beer in the 4.35%-5% range.

In contrast, the amount of available low-strength beer – below 2.5% – fell 3.5% in 2016. However, this had risen 76% and 85% in 2015 and 2014, respectively.

The category I find most interesting is beer with alcohol content above 2.5% but below 4.35%. Growth was flat in 2016, after seven straight years of decline. In fact, 2008 was the only year since 2002 where this category was positive.

Having just spent four years in the UK, this is particularly surprising to me. I could probably count on two hands the amount of pints I drank with alcohol content more than 4.35%. There was just no need to go above that in the chase for taste, which seems what you have to do in NZ still to some extent.

It did help that my regular after-work pub almost always stocked my favourite beer (Burning Sky Plateau) – coming in at 3.5% alcohol volume. I’m still yet to find something that low, and tasty, back here.

Where are NZ’s session ales? I’m open to recommendations (I’ve already found Moa’s at 4.3%, which I still think is too high).

Having said that, the growth of NZ’s beer industry is amazing – there are some absolutely great beers out there now. It’s fantastic to walk into Wellington venues and not see any European-brand lagers on taps or behind the bar.

Enjoy the afternoon.

See the release from Stats NZ below:

In 2016, 17 percent more high-strength beer was available than in 2015, Statistics New Zealand said today. The rise follows a 38 percent increase in 2015.

“Although the total volume of beer available increased in 2016, low-strength beer was down on 2015,” international statistics manager Nicola Growden said. “In contrast, high-strength beer continued to rise. The volume has doubled in the last five years, reflecting the growing demand for craft beers.”

More high-strength beer, with an alcohol content above 5 percent, helped drive a 3.7 percent lift in total beer volumes. Beer with an alcoholic content between 4.35 and 5 percent (the second-largest category by volume) rose 6.4 percent. In contrast, the volume of low-strength beer (under 2.5 percent alcohol) fell 3.5 percent in 2016.

The total volume of all alcoholic drinks rose 4.2 percent in 2016. Beer, wine, and spirits volumes all rose. This contrasts with 2015 when there was little overall change in the total volume available, and a 2.0 percent fall in 2014. The volume figures reflect the volume of alcoholic beverages released to the domestic market, which includes imports and local production for sale in New Zealand, but excludes exports.

Wine and spirits up

The total volume of wine available to the domestic market rose 4.7 percent in 2016, and the volume of spirits (including spirit-based drinks) rose 5.7 percent.

Wine from grapes increased around 5 percent in volume in 2016. Wine from other fruit and vegetables (mostly cider) was also up on 2015, by 2.5 percent.

The volume of spirits rose 7.7 percent, and spirit-based drinks (such as RTDs) rose 5.3 percent.

To account for the different alcoholic contents of various drinks, we also calculate the total volume of pure alcohol. For example a 750ml bottle of wine with 13 percent alcohol contains 97.5ml of pure alcohol.

The total volume of pure alcohol, expressed as the number of standard drinks available per person a day, rose 5.1 percent in 2016, following a 2.2 percent fall in 2015. Despite the rise in 2016, the latest level is the third-lowest in the last 16 years.

“There was enough alcohol for each adult New Zealander to drink the equivalent of two standard drinks a day,” Ms Growden said. “This is 500ml of 5 percent alcohol beer, or two glasses of wine per person.”

We compile alcohol statistics from figures on alcoholic beverages produced for local consumption, on which duty is paid, and imports less re-exports. The statistics provide information on the volume of alcoholic beverages released to the market, and therefore what is available for consumption rather than actual consumption.