Contract brewing has been raising waves across the Tasman. The debate started at Australian Brews News, and contract brewing was one of the topics that inspired Radio NZ’s This Way Up program to look at New Zealand craft brewing last month.
Much of the Australian discussion centred on McLaren Vale Beer Company. McLaren Vale is in South Australia, and the McLaren Vale Beer Company’s beer is contract brewed in Sydney while a brewery is being built in McLaren Vale itself.
McLaren Vale is a wine producing region, and it jealously protects is labelling, and some have seen the beer company’s approach as being deceptive.
I struggle to have any problem with their contract brewing. For one thing, the place where a beer is made has little influence on its taste. I’m much more interested in where the ingredients come from. US, English and New Zealand hops, for example, are all very different and don’t we love them for it. A beer made in New Zealand with US hops can accurately call itself an American Pale Ale – the fact it isn’t made in America does not make the label misleading.
I think there are some cultural differences between New Zealand and Australian beer fans, because I just don’t see any ethical problem with contract brewing. Perhaps it comes from parochialism and loyalty to their state, but I suspect there are factors to this debate that we don’t know about over here. Speaking personally, I think of all New Zealand craft brewers as being interesting. I don’t favour, say, North Island brewers over South Island ones just because I live on the North Island.
Here in New Zealand we have a healthy tradition of contract brewing in the craft beer industry. Yeastie Boys may have started the trend, and I’ve never heard anyone complain that their product is actually made in Invercargill and not in Wellington.
Contract brewing allows brewers to make use of spare capacity and get access to new ideas and recipes. It allows the contractors to brew in bulk and take advantage of the brewers’ commercial experience.
The only catch I can see is commercial, rather than ethical. Contract brewing works by paying a fee to the brewer – somewhere between 25c/l and $2.50/l depending on the deal, according to those in the industry. As production increases, it can reach a point where it would be cheaper to own your own equipment and get some economies of scale.
Rather than arguing over ethics, New Zealanders have been rushing to get into contract brewing this year. One of the most popular beers at the Matariki Festival was the contract-brewed Brewaucracy’s Punkin’ Image Ltd. Parrot Dog Brewing has just put down its first batch, contract-brewed at Mikes in Taranaki. Mikes has also linked up with Liberty to produce the very excellent indeed Taranaki Pale Ale. And of course, Yeastie Boys, 8 Wired and Epic have been using the contract brewing model for years.
Collaboration brews take contract brewing a step further, and this is a growing trend here too. Various star brewers have been visiting Galbraith’s brewery in Auckland to produce special one-off beers collaboratively, and Rescue Red is a charity fundraiser collaboration between Yeastie Boys, 8 Wired and Renaissance.
I like our approach here. The craft beer industry is too small for cutthroat competition, and collaborating to make better beer while growing the overall market is the way to go.
Originally posted on NZBeerBlog.com