Story: Alcohol

Page 4. The drink revolution, 1960 onwards

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New laws

From the 1960s New Zealanders began to challenge their wowser heritage. Affluence and consumerism, overseas travel, the desire to attract foreign tourists and the emergence of urban culture combined to create new expectations. These were reflected in laws which transformed alcohol consumption in New Zealand.

  • liquor licences were extended to restaurants, taverns (which did not have to provide accommodation), theatres, airports, cabarets and sports clubs
  • 10 o’clock closing was introduced in a 1967 referendum
  • the drinking age was lowered to 20 in 1969.
  • supermarkets were allowed to sell first wine and then beer; by 2008 they were selling a third of all beer and 58% of all wine
  • standard opening hours were abolished in 1999 and bars could stay open all night
  • liquor sales were allowed on Sundays.

In 1999 the drinking age was lowered to 18.

The most obvious effect was on the availability of alcohol. The number of licensed premises increased from just over 1,000 in 1969 to over 14,000 in 2010.

New alcoholic drinks

With affluence and the new freedoms, consumption of alcohol by people aged 15 or over rose steadily to a peak in the late 1970s, before falling again. There were changes in the types of alcohol drunk.


From the late 1960s, as local production of wine took off and New Zealanders developed a taste for it, wine consumption rose. In 1960 less than half a litre was drunk by each person aged 15 or over. This doubled by 1970 and reached over 2.5 litres (more than five times the 1960 figure) in 1980. Wine remained popular and in 2011 constituted 21% of all alcohol consumed in New Zealand by volume – 32% as a proportion of pure alcohol. There were over 600 vineyards in the country.


It took some time before beer drinking was affected. Until the mid-1970s the two major breweries continued pumping out sugary beer through pub hoses. By 1976 they had gobbled up the remaining breweries. Then things changed. After reaching a peak in 1978, per-capita consumption fell. The two breweries introduced a range of beers, from international style to craft beers. Beginning with Macs in the early 1980s, small independent breweries emerged, such as Emersons and Harringtons in the 1990s and Tuatara and Epic in the 2000s. By 2011 there were over 60 breweries in the country. In addition low-alcohol beers were released and, following compulsory breath-testing of drivers in 1993, became relatively popular.

Look alike, taste alike

From the 1980s the two large beer companies – New Zealand Breweries which became Lion Nathan, and DB – responded to the decline of beer drinking with similar strategies. Both developed a mainstream national brand with clever advertising (Tui and Speights); both developed a quality lager (Steinlager and Export Gold); both were taken over by foreign owners in the 1990s; both began promoting a global European-style lager in green bottles (Stella Artois and Heineken); and both added a line of craft beer (Macs and Monteiths).

The effect was to give drinkers greater choice, and to shift the majority of beer away from pub hoses and into bottles. In 1980 only about 20% of beer was drunk from bottles or cans; by 2011, 65% was. Much of the bottled beer, like wine, was purchased in supermarkets. Such changes did not lead to increased consumption. Beer fell from 81% of the total volume of alcoholic beverages in 1996 to 63% in 2011, when it represented only 38% of the pure alcohol drunk. New Zealand was no longer a beer country.


For 20 years after 1960 the consumption of spirits rose steadily but unspectacularly. Whisky and gin were the most popular. In 1996 RTDs (ready-to-drinks) or alcopops came onto the market. They were mixes such as vodka and lemon or bourbon and cola, and were marketed in bottles like beer, primarily by Michael Erceg’s firm, Independent Liquor. RTDs proved popular among young women, for whom they allowed an easy transition from soft drinks to alcohol. Spirits-based drinks rose as a proportion of pure alcohol consumed, from 16% in 1996 to 29% in 2011. They comprised 15.7% of alcoholic drinks by volume.

Total consumption

The volume of alcohol drunk per person increased from 1960, reaching a high point in 1978. Then it fell by almost a quarter and remained relatively stable. However, this disguised the increase in the quantity of pure alcohol consumed, driven by the switch from beer to wine and especially to RTDs. In 1996, 8.8 litres of pure alcohol were consumed for each person aged 15 and over; by 2011 this had risen to 9.5 litres – or 2.1 standard drinks per person each day.

In 2003–5 alcohol consumption was about the same as that of the US, Canada and Australia, and considerably less than that of Germany, the UK, France and Russia.

How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'Alcohol - The drink revolution, 1960 onwards', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 April 2024)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 5 Sep 2013, updated 1 Apr 2016