Australian Beer




    The history of Australian beer actually began before British settlement of the continent.  Captain Cook brought beer and the supplies for making more beer on his voyages.  In the event that the water stored on the ship went bad, the crew would use it to make beer because the fermentation process would kill the bacteria in it.


Rum Trade

    During the early years of the colony, the currency was rum.  Commonly called "grog," rum also helped control the distribution of power in the colony: those who had it had the power, and those who did not have rum wanted it.  The grog often drunk in Australia was not pure rum, but it was frequently watered down.  Sometimes, the watery rum was even mixed with molasses.  

    The consumption of rum, by adults as well as children, caused excessive public drunkenness, which offended free newcomers and some high officials in the colonies.  As a result of this (and probably also because the rum trade affected the distribution of power), they decided that something had to be done to stop it.

    The decision was to get people to stop drinking "spirituous liquors" and to drink beer instead.  A campaign lasting several decades was begun, and advertisements were published to persuade people to drink beer instead of rum.  The following is one such ad:


“How much more delicious to the parched and thirsty Labourer in the field in Harvest season would be the cheering and sprinkling cup of Ale to the draught of Grog?  What sums of money would be left in the Colony, or applied to other uses, was Ale and Beer the general beverage?  What excesses would be avoided, and Crimes less likely to be committed?  It would be in the interest of every Settler to Endeavour to have a barrel of good Ale in his House instead of Gallons of Rum.”

~ Ad in Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter, 1816

(Australian Beers)


Early Beers and Pubs

    Early Australian beer was based on English and Irish ale.  Within a few years of British settlement in Australia, those living in the colony began to use local ingredients in their brews, such as plants and local wild yeasts, marking the beginning of the colony's deviation from traditional English ale.

    John Boston was the first significant brewer in Australia.  He began brewing in the late 18th Century.  His brew created in 1796 used Indian corn and cape gooseberry leaves, and it is said to have been the first brew to have more qualities of beer than those of ale.  The corn was probably used in place of malted barley or hops, and the Cape Gooseberry leaves were used to bitter the ale.  Neither the Indian corn nor the Cape Gooseberry leaves are native Australian plants, but Cape Gooseberry leaves were grown in Australia because they were originally from Brazil and suited to the climate.


    The Mason Arms was the first legal pub in the colony.  It was built in Parramatta in 1796 by James Larra, an emancipist, only a few months after the government began issuing licenses for the sale of alcohol.

    James Squire, a former convict, was one of the early heroes of the colony.  He was the first there to successfully grow hops.  For this accomplishment, he was even awarded one of the governor's own cows.  Squire also had his own brew, but it is rumored not to have tasted good.  A testament to this can be found engraved in a tombstone in Parramatta:  


~epitaph found on gravestone
in Parramatta

(Australian Beers)

    Today, Malt Shovel Brewery has several brews named after James Squire, such as James Squire Original Pilsner and James Squire Original Amber Ale.  Each label contains a little story about Squire and there are six stories in all.

Old Breweries

    There was actually one government owned brewery.  It was located in Parramatta and opened in 1804, but it was bought out just two years later in 1806.

    Cascade Brewery is the oldest brewery in Australia still used today.  It is located in Hobart, Tasmania and was established after 1826.  Its founder, Peter Degraves, came to Australia in 1824 from England and was thrown in jail in 1826 under the accusation that he did not pay all of his debts in England.


Cascade Brewery



Evolution of Australian Beer


Australian Ale    

    Early Australian beer, as previously mentioned, was based on English and Irish ale, but it was not long before colonial brewers began adding different ingredients.  Often, local wild yeasts were used, and some wild plants were used to bitter the brew.  The wild yeasts were not good and did not react well in the beer.  Additionally, ales were not suited to the climate.  Not only did the heat make the brew poor, the drink was fermented and stored at warm temperatures, so it was not refreshing to a parched tongue.

Australian Lager

    As refrigeration developed, a solution to the ale problem was also in its beginning stages in Australia.  Lager was introduced, and although it had a slow beginning, lagers are now the main type of beer sold in Australia.  Lager ferments at a cooler temperature than ale, so in order to make lager in much of Australia, refrigeration was necessary.  In 1885, the Gambrinus brewery in Melbourne opened.  It was Australia's first lager brewery. 

    Lager can be characterized by being light, cold, gassy, and refreshing.  These qualities make lager much more appealing to drink than the warm and heavy ale.  Additionally, lager has less alcohol by volume than ale, so one could drink more lager to obtain the same amount of alcohol as a glass of ale, which was appealing to some in the colonies.

    The brewers of lager in Australia tried to give it a big flavor like that of English ale, so they used high levels of malted barley and hops to flavor it.  This made Australian lager, in general, different than lager from other countries.  American lager, in comparison, has much less flavor because it is made from larger amounts of corn and rice, which do not give as much flavor to the drink.  Moreover, brewers of American lager were more concerned about the quality of the water used to make it than it having a big bold flavor. 


Matching Beer with Foods

Suggestions of food choices are given in the table below for several Foster's brews.



Carlton Cold barbeque, cheddar cheese, fruit, salads, antipasto, charcuterie, and tandoori
Carlton Premium Dry antipasto, apple pie, buttery pastries, quiche, poached chicken, roasted chicken, grilled fish, pan-fried fish, Japanese food, and seafood
Cascade Premium roasted meats, grilled seafood, Swiss cheeses, and plum or quince tarts
Crown Lager meats with rich sauce, Chinese food, and Indian and Mediterranean flavors
Matilda Bay Premium Pils casseroles, smoked meats, lighter sauces, and fish
Victoria Bitter fish and chips, cheddar cheese, pickles, barbecue, roasts, smoked meats, and chili

Information in the table came from Food and Beer and the Foster's Group Web site.

An interesting note:

    Anzac Day is the only day on which all Australian pubs are closed.




The present custom of drinking alcohol to excess…
will continue.

~Marcus Clarke,
The Future of the Australian Race,

The following links were used as sources in the creation of this Web page:

       And the Band Played Waltzin' Matilda

      Australian Beers

      Beer at the Table at Foster's

      Beer-Common Terms at Foster's

      Brewing in Australia at Foster's

       Cape Gooseberry 

      Cascade Brewery at

      Food and Beer by Mietta's

      A Potted History of Australian Beer at Realbeer

      A Short History of Australian Hotels (The Aussie Pub) Part 2

       Picture of Cascade brewery


        James Squire Original Pilsner picture


       Australian Beer Labels






This background was found at

This page created by Angela Kolve 12/03
for Dr. Zeller's UI 326 class