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‘Happy hours were getting earlier every day’: The beer boss who gave up alcohol.

Chris Schulz Jul 12 2022

This story is from the team at

Grant Caunter had the beer-lover’s dream job, travelling the world sampling the best craft brews on offer. He tells Chris Schulz why packing it in and boarding the zero-alcohol train was the best decision he ever made.

Grant Caunter sits down and takes a sip of the cold beer in front of him. Four years ago, this would have indicated that another big night was beginning.

As the global director of craft beers for Heineken, Caunter was among the world’s top beer dogs, and his high-flying job involved many nights out that began like this.

“I was the craft guy going to South Africa, Mexico, Sweden … France, the UK, Brazil,” he says. “We would enjoy everything that the craft industry has to offer.”

Caunter was a beer guy, and he knew the craft beer market intimately. For years, he’d watched the trend for batch brewing, IPAs and hazies grow across Aotearoa, so when he was offered the opportunity to move to Amsterdam with his wife and kids to help Heineken educate their brewers with his knowledge, he jumped at the chance. “We had the blueprint for how to grow a craft programme globally,” he says.

It was a dream job, “the pinnacle of 25 years in beer,” Caunter says.

So he made the most of his punishing schedule. That meant constant travel and big nights out with clients sampling their wares, before ending his evenings asleep on a couch.

“We would probably end up with a kebab at some point,” he says. “You finish the last morsel the second you fall asleep.”

All that changed in 2020. As Covid spread and lockdowns began, Counter found himself stuck in his Amsterdam apartment.

The travel stopped. So did the socialising. “Instead of all go-go-go, it was 1,000 steps a day, not going anywhere, worry,” he recalls. “My happy hours were getting earlier every day.”

One day, he took a look in the mirror and realised all those IPAs he’d been drinking had helped him pack on the pounds. “I was 145kg … a big boy. I remember trying to run around Vondelpark (a huge park in the middle of Amersterdam) averaging 12 minutes a kilometre. I think you can walk around it in 11.”

Stressed about his job, worried about what might happen to the craft beer industry with bars closed around the world, and bored with wondering where his next beer or bottle of wine was coming from for his stay-at-home happy hours, Caunter decided to do something that had seemed unthinkable just months before: he and his wife Nicky quit alcohol.

“I just stopped,” he says. “For me, the obvious thing was the weight. I had no health scare, I didn’t have a doctor tell me anything. I just knew that, in my late 40s, it wasn’t going in the right direction. I gave myself a yellow card. I said, ‘You’re bigger than this.'”

Inspired by Australian rugby legend Peter FitzSimons’ book The Great Aussie Bloke Slim-Down, Caunter stayed off the booze, cut out sugar and began regular exercise.


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