Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in New Zealand, accounting for 63% of available alcohol. At about 64.7 liters per capita per year, it is the 27th most consumed beer per capita in the world. The vast majority of beer produced in New Zealand is of the lager type, light or amber in color and usually with an alcohol content of 4-5% by volume.

Although the two largest breweries in New Zealand, Lion Nathan and DB Breweries control nearly 90% of sales by volume between them, there are more than 150 smaller craft breweries and breweries producing a vast range of beer styles, including many ales.

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There is no oral tradition or archaeological evidence of native New Zealanders (Maori ) brewing beer before the arrival of Europeans, and the basic ingredients of beer were not introduced to New Zealand until Europeans arrived in the late 18th century.

Captain Cook was the first to brew beer in New Zealand, on Resolution Island, while anchored in Twilight Strait, Fjordland. He experimented with the use of young branches and leaves of rimu to cure scurvy, as well as mash, molasses and manuka (tea tree) leaves. It was brewed on Saturday, March 27, 1773.

The first commercial brewery in New Zealand was founded in 1835 by Joel Samuel Polak at Kororarek (now Russell ) in the Bay of Islands. In the 19th century New Zealand inherited the brewing traditions and styles of Great Britain and Ireland, where most European immigrants came from at the time – thus the dominant beer styles were ales, porter and stouts.

20th century

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the teetotaling movement became a powerful and popular lobby group, as in Britain and the U.S. In 1919 the ban won 49 percent of the vote in a national referendum and was rejected only after the votes of returning servicemen were counted. However, one aspect of wartime regulation became permanent: the closing of licensed premises at 6:00 p.m. This created a culture of six-hour beers, a law that was not repealed until 1967 and was to influence the styles of beer brewed and drunk in New Zealand.

In the 1930s, New Zealander Morton Coutts invented the continuous fermentation process. Gradually New Zealand beer production switched from ales to lagers using continuous fermentation. Beers made by this method became known as New Zealand draught, and became the most popular beer during the 6:00 p.m. closing period.

During the same period there was a gradual consolidation of breweries, so that by the 1970s almost all breweries in New Zealand were owned by either Lion Breweries or Dominion Breweries. Later, in the 1980s, small boutique or mini-breweries began to appear and, as a consequence, the range of brewing styles increased.