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  • Down Under Beer

    Your intrepid liquor reporter was out boozing it up with a cute Kiwi lass, when she suggested stopping at Aussie Rules for a nightcap.

    For the readers in the audience who don’t spend a lot of time throwing shrimp on the barbie, Aussie Rules is Calgary’s local bar for transplanted Australians and New Zealanders.

    Hey, if our Newfie brethren get their own bar in the form of the Atlantic Trap & Gill, then why not the Ozzies?

    As you can imagine, the Foster’s Lager flows like water in an Aussie bar, and pictures of Crocodile Dundee were everywhere.

    The history of beer in Australia is a long and sordid one, with the first beer coinciding with the arrival of the famed British explorer James Cook.

    Captain Cook had left England on an exploratory mission in 1768 with a full four tons of beer on board, and was down to the last two casks by the time the eastern coast of Australia had been spotted. Those seaman must have been a thirsty bunch!

    As you might imagine, the first wave of European colonists quickly set themselves to the task of making sure they could get nicely buzzed after a long day working in the sun.

    Just before the century ticked over to 1800, there was already a thriving trade in illicit spirits, and the government hoped that replacing the rotgut hooch with beer might help reduce the general level of drunken depravity that was running amok throughout the colony.

    This led to the first government-owned brewery opening in 1804, which was eventually sold off to private interests, in no small part to get the government out of the booze business.

    Brewing rapidly expanded during the 1800’s, with each small town boasting their own local brewery.

    Interestingly, it took a long time to get hops to grow successfully in Australia, so for the first several decades, beer was bittered and flavoured with an assortment of herbs and other plants, gooseberry leaves being the most popular.

    However, even the Land Down Under is not exempt from the global pressures of consolidation on the beer industry, so Australia is now left with 3 megabreweries that have absorbed all the others.

    The Coopers Brewery was established in 1862, and is still locally owned and operated by the Coopers family, six generations later and still going strong as the only Australian-owned large brewery.

    Lion Nathan is the second of the “big three” brewers in Australia, although it is majority-owned by the Mitsubishi group out of Japan.

    While this brewery produces dozens of different brands, the few most commonly seen here in Canada are Steinlager and Tooheys, both of which are pale lagers, and fairly similar to the megabrews you find here at home.

    Finally, the Foster’s Group makes up the largest share of the Australian market, and is wholly owned by SABMiller, the 2nd-largest brewer in the world, squeaking in just behind Anheuser-Busch InBev.

    Foster’s was started up as a side business in 1888 by a pair of brothers that owned a refrigeration plant, which heralded a new era in Australian brewing.

    Until this time, all the beer produced in Australia were ales, which could ferment at the warm temperatures found in the land down under.

    With this newfangled refrigeration technology, it was finally possible to brew lagers, which will only ferment at much cooler temperatures.

    Within a few decades, the Australian beer market had shifted almost entirely to lagers, which now account for 95% of the beer sold, all thanks to a pair of brothers who thought they could bring in a few extra bucks aging beer in the cool cellars of their refrigeration plant.

    Foster’s Lager and Victoria Bitter are the two most well-known brands from this megabrewery, and are widely exported throughout the world.

    Many of the international megabreweries will farm out the brewing and distribution of their brands to licensees to increase their market penetration and reduce shipping and logistics costs.

    For example, you can go down to your local booze merchant and pick up a fresh six-pack of Foster’s Lager, but it will have been brewed under license by Molson for the Canadian market, saving the beer a long and expensive trip across the ocean.

    The reverse is also true, with Fosters licensing or distributing countless international brands in the Aussie market, including Strongbow, Grolsch, and the ever-popular Stella Artois.

    Pick yourself up some Aussie beer for your next backyard BBQ, and don’t forget that shrimp on the barbie!