Holidaying in New Zealand recently, I came across an unexpected brewtopia in the far aisles of a Queenstown supermarket. A full length refrigerated supermarket aisle with nothing but beer! At least two thirds was devoted to a huge selection of craft beers, mostly from local NZ microbreweries, but with a smattering of quality internationals for good measure (think Chimay, Sierra Nevada, Franziskaner).
For unknown reasons, perusing local supermarket aisles rates surprisingly high on my lovely wife's list of quality overseas holiday activities, so I soon found that this was no rare beer gem we'd discovered. In fact it appears the average NZ supermarket has a superior beer selection on offer than most Australian bottle shops. Especially those poxy wee ones that Coles and Woolies stick beside their stores, presumably to get around more restictive Australian licensing laws. In these places you're lucky to find anything more adventurous than a faux-micro Fat Yak from CUB.
The NZ supermarkets I saw had diverse selections of well curated beers from genuine little guy brewers like Emersons, Brew Moon and ParrotDog. Not just Pale Ales either, the range extended deep into each brewery's repertoire with barrel-aged Imperial Stouts alongside Weizenbocks and local interpretations of Belgian Lambics.
Even the variety of beer packaging was impressive. Under and oversize bottles and cans, plastic "riggers" with sizes ranging from big to huge, even some nice glass growlers. A new one for me was the growler's little bro, the smaller "squealer" holding just under a litre in a heavy brown glass screwtop. Perfect for homebrew if you could collect a set (now there's a happy challenge).
Local brewers say the willingness of NZ supermarkets to take a punt on local craft beers is a major factor in giving new microbreweries a toehold in the market. It could be why NZ's modest population supports nearly 90 craft breweries - 2.0 per 100,000 people, compared to around 1.25 per 100,000 here in Australia. Or maybe NZ just has 75% more pissheads.
Come on Coles and Woolies. Forget $1 per litre milk and shitty reward cards, just give us beer!
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