It's not the U.S. or U.K.
America has a lot of breweries: Somewhere over 7,000, according to the Brewers Association, three times more than we had a decade ago. The United Kingdom has also seen an explosion in its number of breweries, crossing the 2,000 mark in 2017, a 64 percent increase over the previous five years. Heck, thanks to the craft beer revolution, most countries have seen a serious uptick in the number of beer brands available to them. That includes New Zealand, which has added 143 breweries since 2012. But the Kiwis claim that their beer boom comes with another new bragging right: the most breweries per capita of any country (or at least any major country) in the world.
With less than 5 million people, New Zealand has a bit of an edge: It might be the smallest country with a serious beer culture. Even tiny Belgium boasts a population of over 11 million. As a result, the Brewers Association of New Zealand claims that — with 218 breweries at last count — the country that often gets forgotten on maps actually has more breweries per person than any of the world’s other major players: 4.56 breweries per 100,000 people compared to 3.04 breweries per 100,000 for the U.K. (which claimed to have the title as recently as 2014) and a mere 1.96 breweries per 100,000 in the United States. (For the record, the BA of NZ doesn’t explicitly state that it has the most breweries in the entire world — leaving some wiggle room for countries with small populations like Greenland who would only need a few breweries to have them beat.)
“The timing of this growth has been driven twofold by consumer demand and production ability,” Dylan Firth, executive director of the Brewers Association of New Zealand, told BeverageDaily. “With consumers looking more and more at their food beverage consumption, they have been focusing on quality over quantity in many areas. This comes along with the growing ability for brewers to get their hands on brewing equipment which has come down in price considerably, with the increase of fabricators in Asia being able to produce equipment and import it here much cheaper than traditional European sources.”
As I mentioned when I dubbed New Zealand the “New International Hotbed of Craft Beer” back in 2015, another reason for their boom is “agricultural serendipity.” New Zealand has a great climate for growing hops, and many of the most coveted varieties in the world come from this far away island. This strong reputation has traveled the globe too. “Kiwi beer is also contributing to our growing tourism market, with $242 million being spent on beer by international visitors,” Firth said, according to Stuff.co.nz. So despite having the most breweries per capita, it sounds like they have some help drinking all that beer.