Beer in Australia
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Beer arrived in Australia at the beginning of British colonisation. In 2004, Australia was ranked fourth internationally in per capita beer consumption, at around 110 litres per year, though considerably lower in terms of total per capita alcohol consumption. The most popular beer style in modern day Australia is lager.
The oldest brewery still in operation is the Cascade Brewery, established in Tasmania in 1824. The largest Australian-owned brewery is the family-owned Coopers, as the other two major breweries, Foster's and Lion Nathan are owned by the British-South African SABMiller and the Japanese Kirin Brewing Company respectively. Foster's Lager is made mostly for export or under licence in other countries, particularly the UK.
Within an alcoholic beverage market worth some $16.3 billion, beer comprises about 48% compared to wine at 29% and spirits at 21%. Within the beer sector, premium beers have a 7.8% share of the market; full strength beer has 70.6%; mid-strength holds 12%; and light beer has 9.6%. 85% of beer is produced by national brewers, the remainder by regional or microbreweries. Microbreweries manufacturing less than 30,000 litres receive a 60% excise rebate.
- Parts of this early history have been copied with permission from http://www.australianbeers.com
The history of Australian beer starts very early in Australia's colonial history. Captain Cook brought beer with him on his ship Endeavour as a means of preserving drinking water. On 1 August 1768 as Captain Cook was fitting out the Endeavour for its voyage, Nathaniel Hulme wrote to Joseph Banks recommending that he take -
"a quantity of Molasses and Turpentine, in order to brew Beer with, for your daily drink, when your Water becomes bad. … [B]rewing Beer at sea will be peculiarly useful in case you should have stinking water on board; for I find by Experience that the smell of stinking water will be entirely destroyed by the process of fermentation."
— Letter to Joseph Banks 1768
Beer was still being consumed on board 2 years later in 1770 when Cook was the first European to discover the east coast of Australia.
Although beer is now the most popular alcoholic drink in Australia, this was not always the case. The drink of choice for the first settlers and convicts was rum –
- Cut yer name across me backbone
- Stretch me skin across yer drum
- Iron me up on Pinchgut Island
- From now to Kingdom Come.
- I'll eat yer Norfolk Dumpling
- Like a juicy Spanish plum,
- Even dance the Newgate Hornpipe
- If ye'll only gimme Rum!
- Traditional Convict Song.
Rum was so popular, and official currency in such short supply, that for a time it became a semi-official currency (see Rum corps) and even led to a short-lived military coup, the Rum rebellion in 1808.
Drunkenness was an enormous problem in the early colony.
"Drunkenness was a prevailing vice. Even children were to be seen in the streets intoxicated. On Sundays, men and women might be observed standing round the public-house doors, waiting for the expiration of the hours of public worship in order to continue their carousing. As for the condition of the prison population, that, indeed, is indescribable. Notwithstanding the severe punishment for sly grog selling, it was carried on to a large extent. Men and women were found intoxicated together, and a bottle of brandy was considered to be cheaply bought for 20 lashes... All that the vilest and most bestial of human creatures could invent and practise, was in this unhappy country invented and practised without restraint and without shame"
As a means of reducing drunkenness, beer was promoted as a safer and healthier alternative to rum.
"The introduction of beer into general use among the inhabitants would certainly lessen the consumption of spirituous liquors. I have therefore in conformity with your suggestion taken measures for furnishing the colony with a supply of ten tons of Porter, six bags of hops, and two complete sets of brewing materials."
— Lord Hobart in a letter to Governor Philip King on 29 August 1802
The first (official) brewer in Australia was John Boston who brewed a beverage from Indian corn bittered with cape gooseberry leaves. It is likely though that beer was brewed unofficially much earlier. The first pub, the Mason Arms was opened in 1796 in Parramatta by James Larra, a freed convict.
It is worth noting here that although Australian beer today is predominantly lager, early Australian beer was exclusively top fermented and quick maturing ales. Lager was not brewed in Australia until 1885. Early beers were also brewed without the benefit of hops as no one had successfully cultivated them in Australia and importation was difficult. James Squire was the first to successfully cultivate hops in 1804. The Government Gazette from 1806 mentions that he was awarded a cow from the government herd for his efforts. Squire also opened a pub and brewed beer though an epitaph on a gravestone in Parramatta churchyard casts some doubt on the quality of the product –
- YE WHO WISH TO LIE HERE
- DRINK SQUIRE'S BEER!
In September 1804 a government owned brewery opened in Parramatta followed by a rival privately owned brewery 3 months later. The government brewery was sold 2 years later to Thomas Rushton who was its head brewer. That Parramatta brewery remains the only government run brewery ever operated in Australia. Brewing rapidly expanded in all the Australian colonies. By 1871 there were 126 breweries in Victoria alone which at the time had a population of only 800,000.
Some notable events from this period include –
- 1824 – Peter Degraves starts the Cascade brewery in Tasmania. The brewery is still operating and is Australia's oldest surviving brewery.
- 1835 – Tooth brewery is established in Sydney
- 1836 – John Warren starts South Australia's first brewery
- 1837 – James Stokes establishes Western Australia's first brewery. This later became the Emu brewery.
- 1838 – John Mills establishes the first brewery in Melbourne.
- 1862 – Thomas Cooper establishes the Coopers Brewery. The brewery is still owned and operated by the Cooper family and is the largest Australian-owned brewery.
- 1864 – Carlton brewery opens in Melbourne
- 1881 - CS Button opens the Esk Brewery (from 1883 taken over by James Boag & Son) in Launceston.
- 1885 – Gambrinus brewery in Melbourne becomes the first brewery in Australia to brew Lager.
- 1887 – The Foster brothers arrive from New York with refrigeration equipment and establish the first Lager brewery to use refrigeration in Australia.
- 1889 – Lager is first brewed in Queensland at the Castlemaine and Quinlan brewery.
By 1900 the number of breweries had begun to dwindle as a result of the recession of the 1890s. In 1901, just after Federation, the new federal government passed the Beer and Excise act. This act regulated the making and selling of beer and made homebrewing illegal. The provisions in this act, regarded by many as draconian, lead to the closure of many breweries. 16 of Sydney's 21 breweries closed either immediately after the act's introduction or soon afterwards. The remaining breweries began a process of consolidation with larger breweries buying out the smaller ones. Within a short time there were only 2 breweries remaining in Sydney – Tooths and Tooheys. In Melbourne, 5 breweries merged in 1907 to form the giant Carlton and United Breweries.
This process continues today with only two companies – Lion Nathan and the Foster's Group owning every major brewery in Australia with the exception of Coopers, which is still family owned and run; Boag's, previously owned by San Miguel, was sold to Lion Nathan in November 2007.
Brands by region
Before federation in 1901, Australia was a patchwork of separate colonies, each with different laws regulating the production and sale of alcohol. In addition, until the late 1880s when the rail network began to link the capital cities together, the only means of transporting foods in bulk between the colonies was by sea. This prevented even the largest breweries from distributing significant amounts outside their home city. This allowed strong regional brands to emerge and although all but one of the major regional brands (Coopers) are now owned by multinational companies, loyalty to the 'local' brewery remains strong today.
- Australian Capital Territory: Zierholz
- New South Wales: Tooheys, Reschs, Hahn, James Squire, KB Lager and St Arnou
- Northern Territory: NT Draught
- Queensland: XXXX and Powers
- South Australia: West End, Southwark and Coopers
- Tasmania: Boags in the north, Cascade in the south
- Victoria: Carlton Draught, Victoria Bitter and Melbourne Bitter
- Western Australia: Swan and Emu
In recent years, mixing of beer tastes due to a more mobile population, major campaigns by the larger breweries to spread their brands outside their home state and the growth of the 'premium' beer market have started to erode the traditional loyalties. Despite this, the brand loyalties are still strong with only Tooheys and Victoria Bitter gaining any significant market share outside their home state. The premium beer market does not follow the state loyalties with the major premium brands being available nationwide.
The Brewery on the external Australian territory of Norfolk Island is one of few places left to brew and sell cask-conditioned ale. Its varieties include Bee Sting (a bright ale), Mutineer (similar to a British bitter) and Bligh's Revenge (a dark ale).
While the overwhelming proportion of beer produced is lager (approximately 95%), dark beers and stout are still made.
Guinness has a strong following in many states, based on the growth of Irish theme pubs and the Irish roots of many Australians, and is increasingly available on tap. Guinness made and sold in Australia is around 6%, considerably stronger than that in Ireland and Britain.
In general, despite the fact that most Stouts are produced by Australia-wide combines, they are not readily available beyond their State of origin, nor are they aggressively promoted even within their own region. As a result of this lack of commercial promotion, they may not be well known even within Australia, let alone internationally.
Most of these varieties claim to be made by "traditional" methods, using quality ingredients.
- Abbotsford Invalid Stout (Vic)
- Cascade Special Stout (Tas)
- Coopers Best Extra Stout (SA)
- Sheaf Stout (NSW)
- Southwark Stout (SA)
- Special Old Stout (SA)
- Swan Stout ( WA)
- Black Bart Stout
- Colonial Mild Irish Stout
- Ebony Stout
- Grumpy's Heysen Scottish Oatmeal Stout (SA)
- Hatlifter Stout
- Iron Bark Amber Stout
- Mountain Goat Surefoot Stout
- Oxford Black
- Russian Imperial Stout
- SCB Extra Stout
- Swan Valley Stout
- Velvet Cream Stout
- The Craic (James Squires)
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (June 2013)|
Particularly in the cosmopolitan areas of the major cities, speciality brews produced by major brewers and by microbreweries, including a wide variety of ales, are increasing in popularity, as are many foreign beers.
Innumerable microbreweries have taken root across the country, many in small towns. The availability of many such beers on tap is often limited to establishments with independent management. While many of these companies choose to feature subversive brand names, this is not an exclusively Australian characteristic, as some US and Canadian microbreweries use the same marketing strategy.
Brewed under licence
In recent years imported premium beers have started to gain market share in Australia. The two Australian corporate brewers responded to this by signing licence agreements with foreign brands to brew their beers here. Foster's Group brews Guinness, Kronenbourg and Carlsberg in Australia; while Lion Nathan locally produces Heineken, Beck's, Stella Artois and Kirin. Brewers claim that their locally produced product tastes better because it is fresher; and that their local operations are carried out under strict guidelines overseen by the parent brewers. However groups such as the Australian Consumers Association say that such beers should have clearer, more prominent labels to inform drinkers.
Prior to metrification in Australia, one could buy beer in glasses of size 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 15 and 20 (imperial) fluid ounces. Each sized glass had a different name in each Australian state. These were replaced by glasses of size 115, 140, 170, 200, 285, 425 and 570 ml. As Australians travel more, the differences are decreasing. In the 21st century, most pubs no longer have a glass smaller than 200 ml (7 imp fl oz); typically available are 200ml, 285ml and 425ml, and increasingly many pubs now have pints (570 ml, 20 imp fl oz).
Many imported beers are served in their own branded glasses of various sizes, including 250 millilitres (8.8 imp fl oz), 330 millilitres (11.6 imp fl oz) and 500 millilitres (17.6 imp fl oz) for many European beers.
Names of beer glasses in various Australian cities[n 1][n 2][n 3]
|115 ml (4 fl oz)||–||–||–||–||-||small beer||–||shetland|
|140 ml (5 fl oz)||pony||–||–||pony||pony||–||horse/pony||pony|
|170 ml (6 fl oz)||–||–||–||–||–||six (ounce)||small glass||bobbie/six|
|200 ml (7 fl oz)||seven||–||seven||seven (ounce)||butcher||seven (ounce)||glass||glass|
|285 ml (10 fl oz)||middy||half pint||handle||pot[n 5]||schooner[n 6]||ten (ounce)/pot||pot||middy/half pint|
|350 ml (12 fl oz)||schmiddy[n 7]||–||–||–||–||–||–||–|
|425 ml (15 fl oz)||schooner||schooner||schooner||schooner||pint[n 6]||fifteen / schooner||schooner[n 8]||schooner[n 8]|
|570 ml (20 fl oz)||pint||pint||pint||pint||imperial pint[n 6]||pint||pint||pint|
South Australia in particular has some unusually named measures:
- 9 fl oz (255 ml) known as a "schooner"[when?]
- 10 fl oz (285 ml) known as a "schooner"
- 15 fl oz (425 ml) known as a "pint"
- 20 fl oz (570 ml) known as an "imperial pint"
Note that the SA "schooner" and "pint" are considerably smaller than the measures of the same name used elsewhere:
- the SA "schooner" (285 ml) is the same size as other States' pot / middy / half pint
- the SA "pint" (425 ml) is the same size as other States' schooner, and is 0.75 imperial pint.
Usage and understanding of these names is now generally restricted to people born before about 1960. (i.e. "Baby Boomers" and before.) In contemporary SA pubs and restaurants, the most frequent measures are the "schooner" of 285 ml, (an "imperial half pint"), and the "pint" of 425 ml. "Imperial pints" are also increasingly popular. Also increasingly popular inside pubs and restaurants is the sale of "premium" and non-locally-brewed beer in bottles in the size range 300ml to 375ml.
Prior to metricification, beer bottles were frequently 1⁄6 of an imperial gallon - 26.667 imperial fluid ounces (758 ml); a carton of beer contained a dozen bottles, and hence 2 gallons of beer. With time, bottles "shrank" to 26 imperial fluid ounces (739 ml), but with metricification they became 750 millilitres (26.4 imp fl oz), with a carton containing 9 litres. (2 imperial gallons = 9,092ml.) With the use of aluminium, cans of 375ml became increasingly popular, and then 375ml bottles, named "stubbies" because, compared to "traditional" bottles, they were "stubby". A carton of 9 litres of beer in stubbies (24 bottles) became known as a "slab" because, compared to the more cube-like shape of the "traditional" cartons, they were flatter and hence like slabs. Traditional bottles subsequently became known as "long necks", to distinguish them from stubbies.
In the 21st century, most bottled beer in Australia is sold in either 375 ml (Stubby) or 750 ml (Long Neck) sizes. Carlton United briefly "upsized" to 800 ml; however, this has since been reduced to the original 750 ml. Bottle sizes of 330 ml (and to a lesser extent 345 ml and 355 ml) are becoming increasingly common, particularly among microbreweries, so-called "premium" beers, and imported beers. (The common 12 US fl oz bottle contains 355 ml.) In the Northern Territory, the once-common "Darwin Stubby", a large (2.0-litre) bottle, is now sold largely as a tourist gimmick, but very successfully.
Most bottles are lightweight "single use only", though some are still reusable, and in some cases (e.g. Coopers 750 ml), breweries are reintroducing refillable bottles. In South Australia, container deposits on beer bottles and cans, and some other types of beverage containers, support a well established network of recycling centres, providing significant environmental benefits as well as generating employment opportunities for unskilled workers.
- Per Capita Beer Consumption by Country (2004), Table 3, Kirin Research Institute of Drinking and Lifestyle - Report Vol. 29–15 December 2005, Kirin Holdings Company.
- Simpson, W. Beauty bottlers. Sydney Morning Herald, 25 January 2005.
- "Aussies drinking less beer - and getting choosier". FoodWeek Online. October 29, 2008. Archived from the original on 2009-04-16.
- Greenblat, Eli (24 August 2009). "Premium beers cause for cheers". The Age. Retrieved 23 October 2010.
- Russell, Mark (21 December 2008). "Is that a foreign beer or a case of brewer's dupe?". The Age. Retrieved 23 October 2010.
- Your guide to Australian beers, AustralianBeers.com
- Beer Guide (Australia)[dead link]
- Vegetarian Beers in Australia, Vegetarian Network