Lion reveals secret weapon in beer wars - the designer hops
By Nicholas Bryant
Listed brewer Lion Nathan has launched a new strategy using a special "designer hops" to stop the increasing number of beer drinkers who are turning to wine.
REVOLUTION: The new hops makes beer that tastes like wine
It has made a beer which has the flavours and aromas of sauvignon blanc.
A year after buying branding and distribution rights to boutique brand Mac's, Lion has used the Nelson brewery to develop the revolutionary new beer to take on the increasingly popular wine industry.
Wine has been eating into beer's market share for close to a decade, with total wine available for consumption up 8% to 72.3 million litres for the year to December.
For the same period beer's share rose 0.5%, most of which was on the back of millennium planning.
But now Lion is taking on the winemakers in their own back yard with a beer that does not taste entirely like beer.
The special new hops have been developed by HortResearch scientists just down the road from Marlborough's big guns of the sauvignon blanc trade. Hops are a bittering and aroma agent vital to the production of beer.
The new Nelson Sauvin hop is a particularly aromatic hop and one of only seven new strains developed in the last 40 years.
The new beer, brewed in a crisp European pilsener-style called AroMac, will be a limited release from May 1.
The release is being seen by the industry as an important forerunner to new Anza, Australia-New Zealand Food Authority, food codes.
The Anza codes, which will be law from 2002, will allow flavouring agents to be added to Australasian beer, giving the brewers greater scope for an industry-wide fight back.
With the Lion purchase of Mac's the microbrewery has come full circle.
When Sir Robert Muldoon opened former All Black Terry McCashin's brewery in 1981 he was opening the door to brewery competition. Mr McCashin, also a former publican, started brewing to provide the public with an alternative to what he saw as the two "big, bad, bolshie" brewers.
Lion and Dominion Breweries had alienated their drinkers in an ugly battle for supremacy which involved buying the country's pubs out of independent ownership.
When he labelled his bottles with the message: "I give you my personal guarantee of the quality of this beer and wish you good health," Mr McCashin read the public's mood perfectly and gained a loyal following.
Lion and McCashin's will have exclusive rights to the Nelson Sauvin hops for two years, after which it will be marketed internationally.
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