Beer in Australia
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; although, the nation ranked considerably lower in a World Health Organization report of alcohol consumption per capita of 12.2 litres. Lager is by far the most popular type of beer consumed in Australia.
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 Brewery, as the other two major breweries Foster's Group and Lion Nathan are owned by the Japanese Asahi and Kirin Brewing Company’s respectively.
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.
The history of Australian beer starts very early in Australia's colonial history. Captain James Cook brought beer with him on his ship Endeavour as a means of preserving drinking water. On 1 August 1768, as Cook was fitting out the Endeavour for its voyage, Nathaniel Hulme wrote to Joseph Banks with a recommendation:
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 two years later in 1770, when Cook was the first European to discover the east coast of Australia.
The drink of choice for the first settlers and convicts was rum, as represented in a supposed traditional convict song:
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.
Rum was so popular—and official currency was in such short supply—that it became a semi-official currency for a period of time (see Rum corps), and even played a role in a short-lived military coup, the Rum rebellion in 1808. Drunkenness was a significant 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
Although modern Australian beer is predominantly lager, early Australian beer were 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 hops in Australia and importation was difficult. James Squire was the first to successfully cultivate hops in 1804, and he also opened a pub and brewed beer. The Government Gazette from 1806 mentions that he was awarded a cow herd from the government for his efforts.
In September 1804, a government-owned brewery opened in Parramatta, followed by a rival privately owned brewery three months later. The government brewery was sold two years later to Thomas Rushton, who was its head (and only) brewer. Brewing rapidly expanded in all of the Australian colonies and by 1871 there were 126 breweries in Victoria alone, which at the time had a population of only 800,000.
Notable events from this period include:
- 1832 – Peter Degraves starts the Cascade Brewery in Hobart. It is Australia's oldest operational brewery.
- 1835 – Tooth brewery established in Sydney.
- 1837 – James Stokes establishes the Albion Brewery, Perth's first brewery, which later became the Emu Brewery.
- 1838 – John Warren starts "The Torrens", Adelaide's first brewery.
- 1838 – John Mills establishes the first brewery in Melbourne.
- 1844 - William Henry Clark founded the Halifax Street Brewery in SA (Later to be known as West End Brewery)
- 1848 - James Stokes opens the Stanley brewery at the Foot of Mt Eliza. (Later Changed to the Emu Brewery)
- 1853 – Queensland's first brewery, "The Brisbane Brewery" is opened by John Beach.
- 1862 – Thomas Cooper establishes the Coopers Brewery in the Adelaide suburb of Norwood. The brewery continues to be owned and operated by the Cooper family, and since 2011 has been the largest Australian-owned brewery.
- 1864 – Carlton brewery opens in Melbourne.
- 1881 – CS Button opens the Esk Brewery in Launceston
- 1882 – Cohn Brothers' Victoria Brewery in Bendigo becomes the first brewery in Australia to brew lager.
- 1883 - In 1883, James I and his son took over the Esk Brewery. J. Boag & Son was officially formed
- 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, led to the closure of many breweries. In Sydney 16 out of 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 period of time, only two breweries remained in Sydney: Tooths and Tooheys. In Melbourne, five breweries merged in 1907 to form the giant Carlton and United Breweries.
- 1951 - Harry Ellis-Kells founded the Darwin Brewery (to be known as N.T Brewery)
Although Foster's Lager is not a popular domestic beer in the 21st century, its popularity internationally has grown and the product is made mostly for export. In January 2005, the brand was one of the ten best-selling beers globally.
The introduction of the Tap King product by Lion Nathan in mid-2013 caused controversy due to the perceived impact upon alcohol venues. The product is a home draught beer dispenser and raised concerns regarding lower patronage rates for venues due to a greater incentive for consumers to drink beer in home environments. The product is sold with a CO2 gas chamber that is cooled for eight hours prior to use.
Beers 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.
- New South Wales: Tooheys, Reschs, Hahn, James Squire and KB Lager
- Northern Territory: NT Draught
- Queensland: Castlemaine XXXX and Powers
- South Australia: Coopers, West End and Southwark
- Tasmania: Boags in the north, Cascade in the south
- Victoria: Carlton Draught, Foster's Lager, Victoria Bitter and Melbourne Bitter
- Western Australia: Little Creatures, Matilda Bay, Swan, Emu and Kalgoorlie
While Foster's Group owns many of these brands, Foster's Lager itself is not considered a local drink anywhere in Australia.
Speciality brews in Australia are produced by both major brewers and microbreweries, and include a wide variety of ales. Microbreweries exist throughout the country, including small towns, but the availability of such beers on-tap in venues is often limited. The Mountain Goat Brewery, located in Richmond, Melbourne, Victoria is a notable Australian microbrewery. As of 2012, Mountain Goat exports to the United States (US) and co-founder Dave Bonighton explained to a Los Angeles publication in September 2012:
We're a small brewery run by two former homebrewers who, for 15 years, have been making the kinds of beers that we like to drink. Most breweries brew to a formula, something born in a focus group or in a marketing team meeting. We come up with our ideas at the bar.
Microbrewery Nail Brewing, from Perth, Western Australia, produced a beer in 2010 using water from an Antarctic iceberg, and sold it at auction for US$1,850. The batch of 30 bottles was created to raise money for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which assisted with the procuring of the ice.
Brewed under licence
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 Kronenbourg. Coopers Brewery brews Carlsberg in Australia. Lion Nathan locally produces Guinness, Heineken, Beck's, Stella Artois and Kirin. Brewers claim that their locally produced product tastes better because it is fresher, and local operations are overseen by the parent brewers using strict guidelines. However, groups such as the Australian Consumers Association say that such beers should have clearer, more prominent labels to inform drinkers.
These were replaced by glasses of size 115, 140, 170, 200, 285, 425 and 570 ml, and as Australians travel more, the differences are decreasing.
Those typically available are the 200 ml, 285 ml (10 fl oz) and 425 ml (15 fl oz), with increasingly many pubs also having pints (570 ml, 20 imp fl oz) available. It is also common for pubs and hotels to serve large jugs filled to 1140ml (i.e. two pints).
Many imported beers are also 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|
|115 ml (4 fl oz)||–||–||–||–||-||small beer||foursie||shetland|
|140 ml (5 fl oz)||pony||–||–||pony||pony||–||horse/pony||pony|
|170 ml (6 fl oz)||–||–||–||–||butcher||six (ounce)||small glass||bobbie/six|
|200 ml (7 fl oz)||seven||–||seven||beer||butcher||seven (ounce)||glass||glass|
|285 ml (10 fl oz)||middy||middy / half pint||handle||pot||schooner||ten (ounce)||pot||middy / half pint|
|350 ml (12 fl oz)||schmiddy||–||–||–||–||–||–||–|
|425 ml (15 fl oz)||schooner||schooner||schooner||schooner||pint||fifteen / schooner||schooner||schooner|
|570 ml (20 fl oz)||pint||pint||pint||pint||imperial pint||pint||pint||pint|
With the introduction of the National Trade Measurement Regulations in 2009 there are no prescribed sizes for beverage measures for the sale of beer, ale and stout, so terms such as seven, middy, pot or schooner do not legally specify a particular size. A typical "schooner" glass can be calibrated to hold 425ml to the rim but poured with 15mm of head, resulting in a "schooner" of 375ml of beer and 50ml of froth.
South Australia in particular has some unusually named measures:
- 6 fl oz (170 ml) – prior to metrification this glass was known as a "Butcher"
- 7 fl oz (200 ml), became known as a "Butcher" in later years after smaller sizes were phased out
- 10 fl oz (285 ml) known as a "schooner". Prior to metrication and standardisation of glass sizes throughout Australia, schooners in SA were 9 fluid ounces (256 ml).
- 15 fl oz (425 ml) known as a "pint"
- 20 fl oz (570 ml) known as an "imperial pint"
Many of these sizes are now rarely used. 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, along with the sale of "premium" and non-locally brewed beer in bottles of between 300 ml to 375 ml.
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 three-quarters of an imperial pint.
Headmasters is one of the most common glass manufacturers, at least for the schooner size. Many pubs, in Sydney and Melbourne particularly, offer Guinness style and/or conical pint glasses along with tankard glass and British dimpled glass pint mugs.
Larger serving measurements have become increasingly popular, such as Jugs, 1 fluid litre Maß (in German-themed bars) and beer towers (although technically illegal due to strict self-service of alcohol laws, these are in some Asian bars/karaoke parlours) have grown in popularity around Australia in tourist spots.
Prior to metrication, beer bottles were frequently 1⁄6 of an imperial gallon (26.7 imp fl oz; 757.7 ml), while a carton of beer contained a dozen bottles (two gallons) of beer. Originally, the bottles were reduced slightly to 26 imperial fluid ounces (739 ml), but with metrication they became 750 millilitres (26.4 imp fl oz), with a carton of 9 litres (1.98 imp gal) of beer.
From the 1950s, bottles known as "stubbies" (as compared to traditional bottles, they were "stubby") of 2⁄3 of an imperial pint (13.3 imp fl oz; 378.8 ml) were introduced. In 1958, cans were introduced by CUB, which were originally in steel and the same size as the bottle; other breweries introduced these in the 1960s.
Originally the stubbies and cans were reduced slightly to 13 imperial fluid ounces (369 ml), but with metrication they became 375 millilitres (13.2 imp fl oz), and the cans were later made of aluminium to accommodate its increasing use and lower cost compared to steel.
A carton of nine litres of beer in stubbies (i.e. 24 bottles) or cans 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" or "tallies" to distinguish them from stubbies, and in Western Australia, the 750ml "long neck" bottle is also known as a "king brown" because of the size and typical brown coloured glass.
In the 21st century, most bottled beer in Australia is sold in 250 ml (Throwdown/Twist Top), 375 ml (Stubby) or 750 ml (Long Neck) sizes. Carlton United briefly increased to 800 ml in the 1990s and 2000s, but this has since been reduced to the original 750 ml.
Bottle sizes of 330 ml, 345 ml and 355 ml (imported from the United States, equal to 12 US fl oz) are becoming increasingly common, particularly among microbreweries, so-called "premium" beers, and imported beers.
In the Northern Territory, the once-common "Darwin Stubby", a large two litre bottle, is now sold largely as a tourist gimmick, albeit 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, such as the Growler (a large bottle of approximately two litres intended for re-use) sold by Four Pines Brewery - a boon to home brewers. 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.
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