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Emu is a beer label owned by Lion Nathan. Originally brewed by the Emu Brewery in 1908, following the sale of the Emu Brewery to the Swan Brewery in 1927, production of Emu beer continued from a separate autonomous brewery in Perth until 1978 when it was relocated to a combined brewery in Canning Vale. In 2014 Lion Nathan moved production of both the Emu and Swan beer brands to the company's brewery in South Australia.
There are three varieties:
- Emu Bitter is a full-strength ale. It is a very bitter beer with now only 4.0% alcohol, high hoppiness and a medium body. The recipe has not changed since it was first launched in 1923. Emu Bitter is colloquially known as "Bush Chooks," "EB" or "Kenny" (after the master brewer, Ken Arrowsmith (Ken Oath) featured on the current label and in recent advertising).
- Emu Export, sometimes called Emu Export Lager, is a lager. The beer was first brewed in 1954 and contains 4.4% alcohol. It is also affectionately known as "the red lead", the "flightless bird" or simply "export" or "sport", "E squared", "wife bashers" or "red can". It is marketed as the flagship brew of the Emu armada even though its recipe and taste has changed markedly since the controversial dropping to 4.4% alcohol. (It was 4.9%).
- Emu Draft, sometimes Emu Draught, is a midstrength beer. It was first made in 1992 and is brewed with malt giving it a distinctive amber colour. It contains 3.0% alcohol.
In the mid to late 20th century, when Emu Bitter came in large brown bottles with green labels, it was also called "green slime", "green stuff", "green poison" or "kero". These names were frequently used tongue in cheek, or in a derogatory way by those who preferred Swan lager, (often the only readily available alternative), and were a reference to Emu Bitter's green coloured label and its very bitter taste ("kerosene like taste" Swan Lager drinkers would claim). Post WW II, power kerosene in Western Australia was often coloured green and came in brown 26 oz. bottles similar to those used post war for Emu Bitter. These old colloquial names are still sometimes used with affection by some older generation Western Australians who recall the days when beer only came in large brown bottles or out of a keg.
Prior to the late 1970s, the Swan Brewery had a virtual monopoly in the Western Australia beer market. Therefore, outside of the Goldfields where the original Hannan's Lager and Kalgoorlie Stout (Kalgoorlie brewed by the Swan Brewery owned Kalgoorlie Brewing Company) still held their own, the choice for beer drinkers was often only between Emu Bitter and Swan Lager, and both brews had their loyal consumers who would make fun of the opposing brew. Emu Bitter drinkers, in response to the "kero" name calling, would often claim that Emu Bitter was "a real man's drink", while Swan Lager was "a drink for women and young men not tough enough to appreciate the bitter taste of Emu Bitter". And in those less than politically correct days, any young Perth man who did drink an imported beer, or the locally bottled Skol, or Swan Special Bond, was likely to get comments from his drinking friends suggesting his choice of brew indicated something questionable about his sexuality. The Kalgoorlie Brewery closed in 1982 and Hannan's Lager eventually disappeared from Swan's list of brews (but lately, a facsimile Hannan's Lager was launched by the Ironbark Brewery).
Emu beer originated from the Stanley Brewery (previously the Albion Brewery) which was established by James Stokes, a 27 year old settler from Bristol in England. Built in 1848 at the foot of Mt Eliza, the brewery's name was later changed to the "Emu Brewery" to better identify with its popular Emu bottled beer. In 1927 Swan Brewery acquired control of what was then its major competitor - the Emu Brewery.
Because of the popularity of the Emu bottled beer, Swan decided to expand and modernise the Emu Brewery and to run it as a separate concern rather than amalgamate it with Swan's other lines. As a result, and even in relatively modern times, the Emu Brand had a namesake brewery.
The last "Emu Brewery" stood at the corner of Spring Street and Mounts Bay Road at the western end of the Perth CBD. The art deco building, designed by architects Oldham, Boas and Ednie-Brown in 1937, featured large interesting and attractive stone motives of brewing activities created by WA sculptor Edward F Kohler. The building was considered one of the more attractive buildings operated by the Swan Brewery Company and a star example of the Perth Art Deco architectural era. Swan were proud enough of the building to feature a picture of it on the label of their bottles and cans of Emu Export Lager.
Once this last "Emu Brewery" was closed, proposed redevelopment of the site became a controversial issue as it was overlooked by Parliament House. The site remained empty and abandoned for many years and was the target for vandalism and graffiti. Despite a heritage listing, the site consequently became run down and the brewery building was demolished in late 1991 / early 1992.
- Emu Draft - launch of the Swan Brewery new beer called Emu Draft or affectionately known as "The Red Death" Western liquor guide, April 1992, p. 18
- Emu Brewery (former), Aussieheritage.com.au, states: "The Emu Brewery stands on the site of the first commercial brewery to be established in WA. The site was chosen because of the presence of a fresh spring, essential to the brewing process and a slope (Spring Street) which enabled more efficient functioning of the brewing process. The first brewery was built by J Stokes in 1837 (only eight years after the founding of the WA colony). The site has been used continuously for brewing since that time. In 1887 the brewery was taken over by the Stanley Brewery Company Ltd and in 1908 the name was changed to the Emu Co-operative Brewery, then to the Emu Brewery Ltd."
- Oldham, Boas and Ednie-Brown also designed London Court (in 1936).
- Kohler, Edward Frederick (1890 - 1964), Australian Dictionary of Biography, accessed 2008-08-03.
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