A visitor to New Zealand could be forgiven for thinking that drinking beer is one of this country’s national pastimes. In 2004, for instance, we consumed an average of 77 litres of the amber nectar per head of population. In 2009, beer made up a whopping 65% of the 471 million litres of alcoholic drink available for consumption.


Tradition has it that New Zealand got its first taste of beer when Captain James Cook, hoping to protect his sailors from scurvy, ordered a batch brewed on Resolution Island in 1773. Unlike today’s brew of hops, yeast and sugar, Cook’s drop was concocted from rimu bark and leaves, wort and molasses.

Beer brewing proper started in the early 1800s, with the first commercial brewery established in 1835 at Russell in the Bay of Islands.


From its humble beginnings beer production has never looked back and today there are over 50 breweries scattered across the length and breadth of New Zealand.

Large scale commercial beer production is dominated by two companies: Lion Nathan and DB Breweries. Between them, these two companies control around 90% of all New Zealand beer sales.

Four Famous Beers

There are so many popular beers in New Zealand, and so many strongly held personal preferences, that selecting just four may seem like an insult to both the brewing industry and the beer drinking public.

The visitor to New Zealand, when faced with the bewildering diversity of our national beverage, may, however, be grateful for a little helpful advice – a starting point, so to speak, from which to dive into New Zealand’s hoppy ocean. Listed below are four well-known and widely available Kiwi beers.

Steinlager Classic

Perhaps the most internationally famous of our beers, Steinlager came into being in 1958 as a response to budgetary cuts which limited beer imports and had the effect of creating a domestic market for beer of international quality.

New Zealanders certainly welcomed the beer with open arms. Today it is the top selling New Zealand premium beer and is recognised around the world for its outstanding quality, having won the prestigious Les Amis du Vin award four years straight from 1977.

Steinlager, using green bullet hop, is a full flavoured pale lager with crisp bitterness and a tangy finish.

Monteith’s Golden Lager

The Monteith’s family began brewing beer on the West Coast in 1868. In following years their Phoenix brewery became part of the Westland Brewing Company and was acquired by DB breweries.

The Monteith’s Brewing Company of today produces a range of popular beers. Perhaps chief among them is Monteith’s Golden Lager.

Monteith’s Golden Lager is a yeasty, malty beer with a smooth nutty character. Golden in colour, it is a little darker than some other mainstream beers.

In 1999 Monteith’s was voted the best brewery in Australasia at the Australian International Brewing Awards.


Established by Henry Wagstaff in 1889 near the Mangatainoka  River, the Tui brewery was for a long time a local brewery, servicing the Wairarapa-Hawke’s Bay area.

In the 1990s, however, Tui beer’s popularity began to grow, first with Massey University students, then with the rest of the country. Today it is a popular drop in both islands and it’s characteristic “Yeah, right” billboards are a common roadside sight.

Tui beer is an East India Pale Ale with a strong, smooth flavour.

Speight’s Gold Medal Ale

In 1876 James Speight, Charles Greenslade and William Dawson, previous employees of the Well Park Brewery in North Dunedin, founded their own brewery – Speight’s.

Capitalising on its “Southern Man” image, Speight’s Gold Medal Ale has won a place in the hearts of New Zealand beer drinkers.

Less sweet than other mainstream beers, Speight’s Gold Medal Ale is a full-flavoured, grassy beer with a pleasant bitterness.

The Golden Elixir

Beer is an integral part of so many great Kiwi activities. From the backyard barbeque to a day at the races, as an after-work stress reliever or an accompaniment to life’s major celebrations, this fizzy golden drink is an ever-present companion, raising spirits, lubricating conversation and complementing Kiwi cuisine.

Alcohol, though, should be treated with respect. So when you’re downing your favourite famous New Zealand beer, remember that responsible drinking is the key to safer, long-term enjoyment of our national drink.

Four Famous New Zealand Beers, 3.0 out of 5 based on 3 ratings

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  1. Best Beer HQ says:

    Personally I like Macs beers better than any of these. Nothing better than a cool beer on a hot sunny day.

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