Beer in Australia is mostly now lager. Although Australia was settled predominantly by the British, it was found that, before the availability of modern temperature control systems, the brewing, distribution and storage of British style ale was difficult in many parts of Australia due to high summer temperatures and often sudden day-to-day weather changes in Southern parts of the continent. The introduction of refrigeration lent itself to lager production, as well as enabling beer to be served cold.
Despite its heavy international presence, the so-called original Australian beer, Foster's Lager, has relatively low appeal and limited availability throughout Australia, and is made mostly for export.
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 –
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.
As a means of reducing drunkenness, beer was promoted as a safer and healthier alternative to rum.
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 Ale. 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 –
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 –
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 acts introduction or soon afterwards. The remaining breweries began a process of consolidation with larger breweries buying out the smaller ones. With in 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 run, Boag's having only recently been sold to Lion Nathan, previously owned by San Miguel.
Before federation in 1901, Australia was a group 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.
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).
However, dark beers and stout have a venerable history in Australia, and good quality stouts are still made to this time.
Guinness has a very strong following among the music communities in many states, and groups such as the Brisbane Guinness Appreciation Society in the late 1990s promoted it as an alternative to the regular brews. Couple this with the growth of Irish theme pubs and a growing awareness of the Irish roots of many Australians, Guinness has become increasingly available On Tap in recent years.
Most of these varieties claim to be made by “traditional” methods, using quality ingredients.
Microbreweries of Australia include:
While many of these companies choose to feature grotesque brand names, this is not an exclusively Australian characteristic, as some US and Canadian microbreweries use the same marketing strategy.
Many imported beers will be served in their own branded glasses of various sizes, including 330ml for many European lagers, and 250ml for Hoegaarden White.
A request for a "Pot of Gold" may sound like a joke, but in Brisbane it is a valid order of a 285 ml (10 fl oz) glass of XXXX Gold.
In addition, a 425 ml (15 fl oz) was (and still is) known as a “pint”; technically, as a “reputed pint”, being 0.75 imperial pint.
Note that the SA schooner is considerably smaller than the measure of the same name in NSW, as is the SA “pint”.
Usage and understanding of these names is now generally restricted to people born before about 1950. In contemporary SA pubs and restaurants, the most frequent measure is now the up-sized "schooner" of 285 ml (10 fl oz/half-pint), while “imperial pints” are also popular in Bohemianism#Bohemian_communities_past_and_present, artistic and “theme” venues such as Irish pubs.
Most bottled beer in Australia is sold in either 375 mL or 750 mL sizes. Carlton United briefly have "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. In the Northern Territory, the "Darwin Stubby", a large (2.0-litre) bottle is sold largely as a tourist gimmick, but very successfully. Most bottles are light weight "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, mandatory deposits on beer bottles 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.
Foster's Group, owners of the Tasmanian Cascade Brewery, announced in early 2008 the release of Cascade's ”green” beer that will be fully carbon offset, in all its agricultural and manufacturing processes, including packaging.