Australia had an association with beer starting through the English, even before they set first foot ashore. On August 26, 1768, Captain James Cook set off from England to sail to the Pacific Ocean on a mission for the Royal Society to observe and track the transit of Venus across the Sun. Cook had developed a strong interest in treating the disease scurvy because in those times its devastating effect on sailors was a major factor in limiting the length of safe sea voyages. Cook had been reasonably successful with his anti-scurvy trials using a number of foodstuffs and he had developed a strong, but incorrect belief in the value of beer as an anti-scorbutic. When Cook set sail in 1768 there were 4 tons of beer on board the Endeavour. Captain Cook’s account of his discovery of the east coast of Australia during this voyage stirred much interest in England, but it was some years later and after the American colonies achieved independence before a decision was taken to send a fleet to establish a colony in Australia. In 1788, 18 years after Cook had sailed up the east coast of Australia, it was Captain Arthur Phillip who chose and named Sydney Cove, now known as Circular Quay and adjacent to the Sydney Opera House, as the site to establish the new colony.

Governor Phillip and his officers drank four glasses of porter to toast success to the colony. This was followed by a salute of musket fire from the marines and three cheers from all assembled, including the convicts. Beer had arrived in Australia.

Times were tough in the new colony and maintaining a supply of food and beer was just one of many difficulties. Nobody knew how to grow crops successfully in the unfamiliar and rather sandy soil with different seasonal influences and rainfall patterns. Food was often brought in from nearby Norfolk Island. Over the next few years the second and third fleets arrived and the colony hovered on the brink of starvation. The first and only government-owned brewery to be built in Australia started in 1804, in part to undermine an illegal rum trade. The government hoped that regular availability of cheap beer with moderate alcohol content would reduce the preference for rum and the drunkenness that had become so prevalent. Lack of good ingredients, lack of knowledge, staff problems, and an ongoing preference for rum all undermined the viability of this government enterprise and after a year the brewery closed.

The Australian affection for the “larrikin” (hooligan) and derision for the “wowser” (puritan, the larrikin’s nemesis) probably have links to the decades of convict transportation that gave birth to the new nation. The imposition of harsh laws and exaggerated punishments, widespread corruption, and class distinction in a colony barely able to survive was likely shaping the psyche of a nation. Many of the convicts showed that they were more likeable, industrious, and respectable than those who had put them there or watched over them as convicts.

One who fits the description is the first fleet convict, James Squire. Squire is credited with the first successful cultivation of hops in the colony, in what is now understood to be quite a marginal location. He is also considered the first brewer of the colony given that he brewed with hops and barley. At one point Squire was caught stealing horehound, a bittering herb, from the government store, and he was given the lash. However, Squire was later awarded a cow from the government herd by the governor in recognition of his hop-growing achievements. Squire ultimately became a respected leader in the community, running a farm, a successful brewery, and Malting Shovel Tavern, a bakery and a butcher shop. He married several times, had more than one mistress, and ultimately had a large number of children. When this larrikin entrepreneur died in 1822, his funeral was the largest seen in the colony to that time.

The colony grew slowly but by 1828 there were 10 breweries in Sydney and regional breweries were being established farther afield. Poor technology, a lack of microbiological understanding, and a warm climate hampered any scale-up by breweries. Beer quality was generally poor and remained so for a number of years. In particular, beer quality was inconsistent and there were many changes in ownership and closures as the industry struggled with the challenges.

The latter part of the 19th century saw major change. The population grew. As convicts were freed and free settlers arrived, the country saw a new enthusiasm. Breweries started in every new location; any town of a reasonable size would have had several. Beers had been influenced by English styles, but local ingredients and environment meant the ales produced were not ideal in quality or style for the hard-working people looking for a big drink to slake a big thirst in a hot country. Experimentation led to the use of sugar as an adjunct to reduce the nitrogen level of the worts made from high-protein barleys. A lighter, drier style of colonial ale emerged and found favor, and the localization of beers better suited to the climate made headway.

In many cases publicans brewed their own beer, and during several gold rushes shanty towns appeared and the demand for beer or other alcoholic drinks quickly followed. Record-keeping was poor, and many operations were just entrepreneurial endeavors, akin to homebrewing, quickly assembled to take advantage of a commercial opportunity. There was little regulation and less interest. Many beers were adulterated with strange substances to overcome bad tastes or odors— brewers did not want to toss out bad beer in the face of high demand. Some beers were actually dangerous and brewing gained a generally poor reputation.

The government, however, supported the industry, which provided a source of revenue to the government, direct employment of the populace, and a substantial indirect employment as well. However, drunkenness remained widespread. The latter half of the 19th century in many ways was chaotic, but there were signs of change coming.

Against the background of growing demand and variable-quality local beer, some imported beers from Europe proved popular with those able to pay. The new lager style of beer from Germany found favor in Australia. The microbiological control benefits of this cold process were especially suited to Australia and a number of enterprising brewers saw an opportunity to move toward this technology. The earliest lager breweries in the 1880s did not survive long. However, two notable breweries both launched lager onto the market in 1889. Foster’s Brewery in Melbourne and then Castlemaine Brewery in Brisbane both successfully brewed lager and helped popularize the new style. See foster’s. By the beginning of the 20th century new scientific understandings were being applied by some progressive colonial brewers. Their understandings gave them new opportunities to better control the brewing process and improve quality. This was a pivotal time where the old colonial ways and bad beer were coming under pressure. Those who did not adapt to the newer ways and improved brewing techniques ensuring better quality would gradually disappear. The future of the industry in the 20th century would require breweries with better equipment and economies of scale and brewers with knowledge of new brewing science.

Australia’s large brewers today have a heritage dating back to the 19th century. They were the breweries that survived the dramatic changes in technology, commercial challenges, and the upheaval of two world wars. The large size of the country relative to its population presented difficulties for a modern market. Up until the 1960s most major breweries were independent and based in a capital city or major town in each of the states. Drinkers were very parochial about their local beer brands and they seldom crossed state borders. Economies of scale in brewing marketing and distribution saw the consolidation of breweries continue. Most of the large individual breweries are now part of a larger corporation. The Carlton and United Breweries are part of the Foster’s Group. The United Breweries refers to a number of significant 19th-century breweries such as Foster’s, Victoria, Abbots, and other Melbourne or Victorian breweries that were part of a consolidation. In 2009 Kirin of Japan acquired the Lion Nathan Breweries that came out of the consolidation of Lion Nathan of New Zealand, Bond Brewing, the South Australian Brewing Company, and J Boag & Son in Australia. See lion nathan and new zealand. The Coopers Brewery in Adelaide is still privately owned. Individual brands such as VB reflect the Victoria Brewery heritage, although the brewery no longer exists. Another Foster’s-owned brewery, Cascade in Hobart, is the oldest operating brewery in Australia dating back to 1832. Coopers dates back to 1862 but operates on a new site. Castlemaine Perkins has brewed on the same site since 1878, whereas Boag’s of Tasmania has been brewing on the same site since 1882. Australians still have a reminder of the colonial brewing past in terms of both historic breweries still operating and the historic brand names available in the market.

The craft-brewing industry in Australia is well established and growing. Most people regard the Sail and Anchor Pub Brewery to be the first successful craft brewery in Australia. It started in 1984 in Western Australia and its success inspired many others to follow. Shortly after, Matilda Bay Brewery was also established in Fremantle by brewer Phil Sexton as a specialized craft brewery selling to the pub trade rather than a pub-located brewery. On the east coast in Picton near Sydney, Geoffrey Scharer started brewing at his pub in 1987 and in 1988 Chuck Hahn established the Hahn Brewery in Sydney, which now operates as the Malt Shovel Brewery. Australia’s Beer and Brewer magazine totals the breweries in Australia at 130. More than half of Australia’s craft brewers are found in two states. The state of Victoria has the most at 38, followed by Western Australia with 32. The major national brewers are involved in craft-style brewing, with Lion Nathan owning the Malt Shovel Brewery that produces James Squire and other brands of craft-style beers as well as the Knappstein Brewery. Carlton and United breweries produce the Matilda Bay brands. Major retailer Woolworths has developed a strategic partnership with Western Australia’s Gage Roads craft brewery to supply private-label beer exclusively to the retail chains outlets. Contract brewing of craft beer brands is also established. In Sydney, Australian Independent Brewers built a greenfield brewery on the outskirts of Sydney specifically to brew beers under contract and a small number of other craft brewers also contract brew.

Australia today has a population of 20 million people. Per capita beer consumption peaked around 1979 at 135 l per year but has since declined to just less than 90 l. During this period a separate mid-strength category of around 3.5% alcohol by volume was born and is still growing, with the leading mid-strength brand XXXX Gold now the second largest selling beer nationally.

There are a number of beer competitions in Australia, some run in association with festivals and some run by pubs or local regional brewers associations. The oldest and most established is the Australian International Beer Awards. Run jointly by the University of Ballarat and the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria, this competition is the second largest in the world in terms of number of entries.

Australia has a hop-growing industry in the southern states of Tasmania and Victoria. The most widely used bittering hop for traditional Australian lagers is the Pride of Ringwood or newer Super Pride. See pride of ringwood (hop). A range of other varieties is also grown for local and export markets including aroma varieties.

Barley is also grown in plentiful supply in several states. The total Australian barley crop is of the order of 7 to 8 million tons, with approximately 2 to 3 million being classified as malting barley. Approximately 1 million tons is malted to supply both domestic brewers and the export market. Malting barley is also exported.

Although the per capita consumption of beer has decreased from its high point, the decline has almost stabilized. There has never been a greater choice of beers on the Australian market, and beer is gaining proper recognition as a legitimate partner to food at the restaurant table. New craft brewers continue to start up and the traditional larger brewers are innovating and bringing new tastes to the market.

See also foster’s and lion nathan.