Population: 25.7 million
Number of breweries: Over 500
Oldest brewery: Cascade Brewery, Tasmania. Established 1824
Best known brands: Coopers Brewery (est 1862) – largest Australian owned brewery
Fosters Brewery – Australia’s first lager (est 1887)
Castlemaine XXXX, Tooheys, Victoria Bitter, Carlton Draught
If you thought the story of Australian beer began with the kind of fizzy lager that is lapped up by belly-bearing Brits on hot summer days, then you’ll be surprised to hear it has a proud brewing history that stretches back over two centuries. The first beer consumed in the country is likely to have come from Captain Cook’s crew when he landed in Botany Bay in 1770. Back then, beer was seen as a safe alternative to water for seafaring folk, and Cook often loaded his booze with spruce on account of its scurvy-fighting vitamin C content.
Although these first brews must’ve been crude affairs, it wasn’t long before more professionally produced beer was being gleefully guzzled by Australia’s growing population. Throughout the 19th century several Australian breweries established themselves, producing beers not too dissimilar to those popular in England, with some of the earliest breweries including Cascade (established in 1824) and Coopers (1862) still active today.
It wasn’t until the late 19th century that lager was first made in Australia, with Fosters (1887) laying claim to be the forerunners, swiftly followed by Castlemaine a year later, and the beer style began its march towards national dominance. The majority of Australia’s most popular beers are now produced by two massive brands – the Asahi owned Carlton & United Breweries (beers include Victoria Bitter, Foster’s and Carlton), and Lion Co. (beers include Castlemaine XXXX, Tooheys, SA and Little Creatures). Of the old Australian brewing pioneers, only Coopers has maintained its independence (see below).
Although the major breweries account for 90% of beer sales in Australia there’s a thriving craft beer scene with plenty of small independent breweries serving their local communities. Of those, very few make an appearance in the UK, although we have occasionally spotted cans and bottles from Kaiju, Nomad and Moon Dog.
While Australian craft beer may be hard to get hold of, you’ll find Australian hops in any number of brews, with the hop growers of Victoria and Tasmania having their work cut out to keep up with demand from breweries throughout the world. The most popular of these Australian varieties is Galaxy, a hop loaded with the kind of tropical fruit salad flavours that contemporary brewers love. Ella, Vic Secret and Topaz are three more Aussie varieties that are increasing in popularity, while the pine and mandarin orange flavours of Eclipse are predicted to be the next big thing.
Australia may be best known for its famous lagers brands, but there are many more flavours to explore from this true beer-loving land.
Brewery focus: Coopers Brewery
Australia’s newer craft beers may be a rare sight in the UK, but bottles from the Coopers Brewery are readily available throughout the country – and they’re well worth seeking out.
Although dating back to 1862, when the brewery was founded by Thomas Cooper, its beers are very much suited to contemporary tastes and they’re extremely popular among Australian drinkers. In fact, the only non-lager in the country’s list of top ten beers is Coopers Original Pale Ale, while the brewery also holds the number one slot for high ABV beer (Coopers Sparkling Ale), stout (Coopers Best Extra Stout) and mid-strength ale (Coopers Mild Ale).
In the UK, it’s the Pale Ale and Sparkling Ale you’re most likely to come across. Using the same recipes and brewing methods as when they were first brewed (albeit with shiny, modern equipment) the beers are bottle conditioned to give them a natural sparkle and a more rounded flavour, besides the kind of natural haziness that is very much in vogue at the moment.
Coopers Original Pale Ale, at 4.5%, has a light malt body with the hops providing fruit notes and a subtle, creeping bitterness, while the yeast adds some slight estery banana aromas and flavours. In a world where pale ales are often ramped up with potent hops, this makes a pleasant change – a simpler, refreshing drink that can be enjoyed on any occasion.
Coopers Sparkling Ale is a stronger (5.8%), maliter affair that’s more akin to a traditional English bitter than a modern pale ale. The bitterness has a peppery edge to it – accentuated by that perky, natural sparkle – which combines with a fruity, herbal tang from the malt and hops. We’re big fans of this beer: it’s properly crafted, is easy to drink (despite its relative strength) and it’s charms are in the subtle shifts of flavours that the malt, hops and yeast bring to the overall picture.
Coopers beers have nearly 200 years of brewing tradition and expertise behind them, but they’re very much at home in the modern craft world, so if you want a proper taste of what Australian beer can offer then this is the place to begin.
For more information on Coopers beers or for trade enquiries please visit www.world-beers.co.uk
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