Profile series: Innovators in low/no alcohol

My Drynuary: ‘This year is a pivotal year for the non-alcoholic category in New Zealand’

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

My Drynuary: New Zealand's alcohol-free beer State of Brewing

Related tags alcohol-free NABLAB non-alcoholic New zealand

After 25 years in the brewing industry – most recently as Heineken’s Global Director of Craft Beer in Amsterdam – Grant Caunter returned to his native New Zealand to start zero-alcohol brand State of Play Brewing. In our series profiling innovators in the category, Caunter tells us what New Zealand's alcohol-free beer scene looks like.

State of Play Brewing launched in May 2022: creating ‘a zero percent beer that tastes the way beer should – brewed the natural way, with the best New Zealand ingredients’.

What got you interested in the alcohol-free category?

grant state of play

The story starts back in Nov 1996 when I started as a sales rep for Heineken NZ.  That led to a career in beer that lasted 25 years and took me across New Zealand, Australia, Europe and the USA. 

I had my dream job at Heineken HQ in the Netherlands as the Global head of Craft and Speciality beer and the International director for Lagunitas Brewing Co.

Four months into lockdown in 2020 I had time to reflect and reset. 

As I assessed my own state of play, I gave myself a yellow card.  145kgs, sleep apnea, full of bad habits and at the centre was alcohol. But I still love beer.

On July 3rd​ 2020 my wife Nicky and I stopped drinking alcohol and started a wonderful discovery of alcohol free.  There was such a good range already in the Netherlands I could still enjoy all the social fun of sharing a beer at home and at the pub. Plus I dropped 50 kgs, heart rate dropped 20 beats a minute, stopped using the sleep apnea machine, and hit my first round of single handicap golf!

On return to NZ in Oct 2021 I found the alcohol-free beer choice was limited.  So who better than do something about it than me! 

Tell us about State of Play

State Of Play is the first and only dedicated alcohol free brewery in New Zealand.  We believe with choice will come change and there is nothing better than sharing a beer - regardless of the alcohol content.

State of Play is naturally brewed so that the best of New Zealand’s hops and malt really sing. 

There are three brews in our range plus a mix pack.

  • The IPA is all about the balance of New Zealand Motueka Hops and Canterbury Malt. Easy drinking with a citrusy hop hit.
  • Nectaron Unfiltered Pale Ale – Double dry hopped with an amazing hop called Nectaron, brewed in collaboration with NZ hops.  Hazy unfiltered 45 IBUs with a delicious fruity aroma and deep bitterness.
  • Sunbreaker Ale is the perfect summer ale – a brew fusion with Ginger Lime and Honey to turbo the aroma and body for the ultimate sunny day elixir.

It is beer. Very good award winning beer. Drinkers like that it tastes the way beer should: hoppy aroma, malt body, and bitterness to finish. 

State of Play is contract brewed in Napier New Zealand.  We use a low attenuated yeast, with hop additions across the boil, whirlpool and dry-hopped; then finally pasteurised and available in 330ml 6 pack cans.

Who's drinking your beer?

Most State of Play customers already drink beer with alcohol, and have added us to their daily selection - for a day off the booze or as the perfect inbetweener. 

And the more they enjoy State Of Play, the more alcohol free beer they drink!  The State of Play rebellion is brewing nicely with growth each month!

The range is found across New Zealand in grocery and liquor stores plus online.  It’s also in New Zealand’s best bars. We'll launch in Australia in mid-2024.

What’s the beer market – and alcohol-free beer market – in New Zealand like?

Generally, the beer market in New Zealand is in a rut with a cost of living crisis making shoppers more price conscious.  Breweries face fast rising costs and even a CO2 shortage!  The whole sector is going through change – reduced retail ranging, taps drying up, less craft innovation (except low carb and non-alc). 

State of Play is all about non alc as this is its sole purpose. And alcohol-free is the only segment in growth, doubling every year (currently 3% of total beer). 

It is encouraging that the growth is coming from naturally brewed independent brews: the New Zealand drinker has voted for local and taste. The quality of New Zealand craft zeros is incredible, and all naturally crafted.  The scene in Europe is much more in the dealcoholized camp – great for refreshing lagers, not suitable for dry hopping and with low sugar.

Going from Global Director of Craft Beer at Heineken to starting up your own business must have been a big change! What’s your biggest challenges as an entrepreneur?

Going from Heineken Global Craft director to Beerpreneur has been fantastic.  I was already in the middle of a full mid-life crisis so I may as well throw the whole kitchen sink at it!!  The business is boot strapped and profitable, and all the focus is on growth of distribution and recruiting new drinkers.

The beer business in New Zealand works when there is scale to get the right supply and contract brewing costs.  This is difficult with less suppliers and only two contract brewers.  Costs and freight have hit New Zealand hard post covid.  

It's summer in NZ! So what does January look like for your business?

January is when the sun really comes out and BBQ season is in full swing.  There will be a few dry-January players and more non-alc trial.  A lot of kiwis will take July off the booze, this is another good sales boost.

This year is a pivotal year for non alc in New Zealand as it nudges 4% of total beer.  It is much more attractive to the big international brands with the volume, value and growth on offer.  So it will be quite a battleground to maintain affordability and grow availability.  The game is really on!

What inspires you in the alcohol-free category?

Personally, it is great to create, launch grow a brand with such rich sense of purpose.  The growing number of true fans agree and are living billboards singing the praises of State of Play to friends and family.  Alcohol’s time is up and hopefully so is New Zealand’s terrible binge drinking culture. With such good choice in alc free now we all have an option.

I also know it's not an easy road as drinkers need to really trust their beer brand of choice to deliver on the promise.  That is the role of State of Play – to be 100% committed and the voice for better beer.

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