State of Play is the first New Zealand brewery brand to be totally focused on non-alcoholic beer.

The brand launched quietly last month with a non-alcoholic IPA brewed at bStudio in Napier with recipe input from Fortune Favours.

The brand was created by founder Grant Caunter, who spent 25 years working for DB and Heineken, but who reassessed his life during the pandemic and decided to give up alcohol in order to lose weight.

He spent his last four years with Heineken based in Amsterdam working as the head of their craft and specialty beer team. Before he left Heineken he’d worked on a non-alcoholic beer for prominent California brewery Lagunitas.

The pandemic changed a lot of things for Caunter, one of which was a decision he had to drop his excess weight. At the same time his job changed from being one where he was in constant contact with people and visiting breweries, to working remotely because of lockdowns in Europe.

“Trying to run a global craft programme via Microsoft Teams wasn’t the same. What I loved was meeting brewers, being with the people, being in the bars — and it’s hard to recreate  that virtually. I had definitely had enough of online calls and powerpoint slides during lockdown.”

But the pandemic, for Caunter, was not about what’s been dubbed “great resignation” though.

“I call the `great realisation’ — people all of a sudden have this mortifying moment of reality and are taking decisions they have put off for some time.”

His great realisation was that tipping the scales at 145kg was not good for him nor his sleep apnea.

“These decisions come down to how much you wanted it and I wanted to lose weight more than having a beer. So both my wife Nicky and myself gave up drinking at the end of June 2020.”

Caunter says that to give up booze while living in Europe wasn’t too hard because “the zero section in Europe is three times bigger than the craft section” and he was able to find plenty of tasty non-alcoholic beers.

Towards the end of 2021 he was 45kg lighter (“I was losing a kilo a week at one stage”) and no longer suffering from sleep apnea.

The change in lifestyle also helped him decide to make the huge change in his work life, leaving Heineken and returning to New Zealand.

“It wasn’t until we moved back to New Zealand that we realised how little choice there was in the zero alcohol beer section, aside from the big brand lagers. So I decided to make my own.”

The brand is named for his consultancy company, State of Play.

He perfected his recipe with the Fortune Favours, working alongside brewer Dale Cooper and chief executive Shannon Thorpe in Wellington,

“For six months we were Grainfather-ing and trying lots of different hops, and hop formats including oils, extracts, pellets. We had a play with monkfruit to create body, which we didn’t use in the end, and we tried a few new yeasts on the market.”

The final product is brewed at bStudio in Napier and Caunter has just brewed his second 5000 litre batch.

Grant Caunter

State of Play founder Grant Caunter

Caunter says his beer is aimed at two markets.

“With the profile of this beer I want to bridge the gap between those who want a zero alcohol beer with bit more flavour, and the beer aficionado.”

He’s staying totally focused on the IPA at this stage as it’s an easier to story to tell initially but hopes to produce “many other” non-alcoholic styles.

He says State of Play is quite a different beer to the other craft non-alc “IPAs” on the market: Garage Project Tiny and Bach All Day. “It doesn’t have a big dry hop. I’m really going for more of a balanced beer. What I don’t get is what Bach and GP have with that punch in the nose from hops.”

Caunter went for a “brew natural” process and went to bStudio as they had recently installed a pasteuriser.

“The main risk with zeroes is contamination so I held off a bit until I could get that pasteurisation.

“We do a short ferment, the yeast eats the very simple sugars, and 40 hours later we’re done. It’s coming out at less than 0.3 per cent and I get a really nice beer flavour. People tell me ‘it just tastes like beer’ which is a really good start.

“While I gave up drinking alcohol, I still love beer, I still love hops, so I am aiming for flavour above all else. The zero alcohol market is one of the fastest growing areas of the beer industry. In Europe beer is just beer, the alcohol content does not matter, people just had a beer. I am hoping I can help create that same attitude here. I don’t expect everyone to go sober but maybe you have a few zero alcohol beers during the week and then some with alcohol at the weekend, it’s about giving people options.”