New Zealand, a nation with a fervent passion for beer, stands out as a true haven for beer enthusiasts. With beer commanding a remarkable 63% share of the alcohol sales landscape, the average Kiwi consumes a staggering 64.7 liters of beer annually. The beer industry in New Zealand is experiencing unprecedented growth, marked by the emergence of numerous craft breweries year after year. While it might appear that the New Zealand beer market has reached saturation, a mere 10% of locally brewed beer finds its way beyond the borders, leaving an expansive realm of untapped potential.

Come along on our journey as we delve into the captivating world of New Zealand’s beer culture, brands, and your ultimate guide to the finest brews!

New Zealand’s Beer Heritage in a Nutshell

The history of beer in New Zealand is a tale that spans centuries, reflecting the evolution of the nation’s cultural landscape and its ties to European settlers. While the indigenous Maori people did not partake in the brewing of beer or other alcoholic beverages, the arrival of Europeans in the late 18th century brought with them the art of brewing. This marked the commencement of New Zealand’s brewing legacy, albeit on a small and largely private scale.

It wasn’t until 1835 that New Zealand saw the establishment of its first commercial brewery, marking a significant turning point in the country’s beer history. This brewery, founded by Joel Samuel Polack in Kororareka (now known as Russell) in the Bay of Islands, set the stage for the rapid growth of the brewing industry in the years to come. The influence of English brewing methods, which were introduced shortly thereafter, played a pivotal role in shaping the brewing landscape of New Zealand.

As English brewing traditions took root in the country, they began to exert a profound influence on the style and types of beers produced. The legacy of this early brewing heritage can still be seen in the diverse array of beers enjoyed by New Zealanders today, from classic ales to innovative craft brews.

New Zealand’s Favorite Beer: Speight’s Original

When it comes to the title of New Zealand’s most beloved beer brand, one name shines brightly—Speight’s Original. This iconic beer, crafted by the renowned Lion Breweries, has not only secured its place as a best-seller but has also carved out a special spot in the hearts of Kiwi beer enthusiasts.

Speight’s Original is a testament to New Zealand’s rich beer culture, and it proudly carries the tradition of the New Zealand Draught style lager. This finely crafted brew is characterized by its malty profile, offering a delightful blend of flavors that includes subtle hints of fruits and a balanced touch of hops on the finish.

The Leading Beer Brands of New Zealand

New Zealand boasts a thriving beer culture with a multitude of breweries and beer brands, with more than 190 active breweries dotting the landscape. This vibrant beer market offers an array of choices for beer enthusiasts, and amidst the diverse selection, several brands have risen to prominence.

  • Speight’s: At the forefront of New Zealand’s beer scene stands Speight’s, not only as a top beer brand but also as the largest brewery under the Lion Breweries umbrella. Its rich heritage and wide range of brews have solidified its position as a beloved Kiwi favorite.
  • Steinlager: Another heavyweight hailing from Lion Breweries, Steinlager has earned its place as one of the premier beer brands in New Zealand. Its enduring popularity and commitment to quality make it a go-to choice for many.
  • Emerson Brewing Company: What started as a humble craft brewery in 1993, Emerson Brewing Company has since burgeoned into a formidable player in the New Zealand beer scene. Today, it competes favorably with more established beer brands, offering a diverse portfolio of exceptional brews.
  • Panhead Custom Ales: Though now part of Lion Breweries, Panhead Custom Ales has a storied history that began as a small craft brewery. Its remarkable growth, often likened to a runaway train, has not diminished its commitment to crafting distinctive beers, even as production scales up.
  • Monteith’s Brewing Company: A unique success story, Monteith’s Brewing Company started as a small family-run brewery and later found itself under the wing of DB Breweries, breaking the mold by not joining the Lion Breweries roster. Monteith’s exponential growth has propelled it to compete with some of the larger beer brands in New Zealand, all while preserving the spirit of craftsmanship that makes its beers exceptional.

New Zealand’s Exceptional Beer Scene

When it comes to beer, New Zealand doesn’t just offer something good; it offers something exceptional. In fact, calling New Zealand beers “great” might be a bit of an understatement.

The land of the long white cloud has witnessed a brewing renaissance, with craft breweries flourishing and a relentless pursuit of excellence in every pint. This vibrant competition among New Zealand’s craft breweries has propelled the country to the forefront of the global beer scene, consistently delivering some of the highest-quality brews in the world.

A testament to New Zealand’s beer prowess can be found in the accolades earned by breweries like the Cassels Brewing Company. In 2021, at the prestigious World Beer Awards, this New Zealand-based brewery clinched the title for the best American Pale Ale, a remarkable achievement that underscores the country’s brewing expertise.

And it’s not just a one-time wonder. The previous year, Cassels Brewing Company secured the award for the best Milk Stout, outshining the renowned Guinness. Such victories serve as evidence that New Zealand’s breweries are not only competing on the global stage but often surpassing iconic international brands.

Cost of Beer in New Zealand

Indulging in beer in the Land of the Long White Cloud doesn’t come without its price. With an average cost of $6.12 in American dollars (not New Zealand dollars), beer in New Zealand carries a premium compared to many other places. It’s noteworthy that, on average, each unit of beer in New Zealand is roughly $2 more expensive than the global norm. While this might be considered relatively costly, the expense is often outweighed by the opportunity to savor the exceptional range of New Zealand’s beer offerings.

Partnership Between New Zealand Beer and the All Blacks

For decades, the All Blacks have enjoyed unwavering support from Steinlager, a partnership that has evolved and strengthened since its inception in 1986. This enduring relationship between the iconic rugby team and the New Zealand beer brand has been a source of pride for both parties, solidifying Steinlager’s commitment to the All Blacks in various forms over the years.

Diversity of Beer Styles in New Zealand

In New Zealand, the beer landscape is characterized by a rich tapestry of styles, catering to a wide range of palates and preferences. While New Zealand-style Draught holds the title of the most popular beer style in the country, a vibrant assortment of ales and lagers also graces the beer scene.

Moreover, the craft brewing industry in New Zealand has flourished to such an extent that it embraces virtually every conceivable style of beer. Whether you’re a fan of hoppy IPAs, robust stouts, crisp pilsners, or any other style, the New Zealand craft beer industry is a treasure trove waiting to be explored. Finding a beer that perfectly suits your taste is a delightful journey that the New Zealand beer scene warmly welcomes.

Must-Try Award-Winning Beers from New Zealand

New Zealand boasts a remarkable array of award-winning beers that can stand tall among the world’s finest. Many of these exceptional brews are readily available in bars and restaurants across the country, offering a tantalizing experience for beer enthusiasts.

Beer NameDescription
Speight’s Summit UltraA refreshing, low-carb lager with 75% fewer carbs than the average NZ beer for health-conscious drinkers.
Speight’s Gold Medal AleAn award-winning ale known for its rich malt and hop flavors, ideal for those who prefer bold, unsweetened beer.
Steinlager ClassicA universally beloved beer, well-balanced, offering crisp refreshment with a tangy, citrus finish.

Finest Craft and Microbrew Beers in New Zealand

When it comes to craft and microbrewed beers, New Zealand truly shines, offering a diverse and extensive array of exceptional brews to savor.

  • Garage Project Mutiny on the Bounty: An imperial stout bursting with complexity, this brew reveals rich notes of coconut, breadfruit, and vanilla. Stout enthusiasts are in for a treat with this one.
  • Liberty Prohibition Porter: This imperial porter is akin to a fruitcake aged in bourbon barrels. It begins with a sweet, charred wood and spice front and finishes with a weighty richness that’s hard to surpass.
  • Garage Project Chocolate Beer: For those craving the ultimate chocolate experience, this stout boasts the richest chocolate aromas and a palate that’s all about chocolate, minus the sweetness. It’s a smooth, delectable delight.
  • 8 Wired Gypsy Funk: Aged in wine barrels for up to two years and then dry-hopped, this beer delivers a unique and highly sour profile that’s a must-try for lovers of sour flavors.
  • Liberty Citra Double IPA: As a robust double IPA, it strikes a remarkable balance between strength and harmony. Sweet, sour, and bitter notes meld seamlessly, making it one of the standout double IPAs in the industry.

New Zealand Beer Pairings for Local Dishes

three glasses of beer with foam on the table in a dark room with yellow lights

New Zealand is renowned for its delectable seafood offerings which are an absolute must when exploring the country. When it comes to elevating your culinary adventure through beer pairings, the thriving local craft beer scene has you more than covered. Whether you’re indulging in the briny goodness of oysters, craving a “do-it-all” beer, or seeking a versatile pilsner to complement the best of New Zealand’s cuisine, there’s a perfect beer pairing waiting to enhance your dining experience.

Ordering Beer in New Zealand: Etiquette and Tips

When ordering a beer in New Zealand, you’ll find that the same etiquette applies as it does in most Western countries. Simply be polite and request a beer. There’s no need for special lingo, although it’s worth noting that the slang term “piss” is occasionally used for beer but may be considered inappropriate in certain contexts, so it’s best to avoid using it.

In regional areas, you might come across local nicknames for beer, but these won’t significantly change your beer-ordering experience. One important thing to remember when you visit a bar or restaurant in New Zealand is that while tipping is not expected, it is appreciated, unlike in some other countries.


In summary, pinpointing the single most popular beer in New Zealand proves challenging, given the nation’s evolving tastes and vibrant craft beer scene. While historical brands like Steinlager and Speight’s have enjoyed prominence, the rise of craft breweries has diversified the market. Today, New Zealand boasts a wide range of beer styles, making the notion of a singular favorite a matter of personal preference and regional trends. What remains constant is the country’s enduring passion for beer and its commitment to exploring new brews, making the pursuit of the “most popular” a dynamic and ever-changing endeavor.