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A bottling machine being used in 1945 as part of an Australian beer production operation
Advertisement for Bulimba Gold Top beer, Queensland, circa 1933

Beer arrived in Australia at the beginning of British colonisation. In 2004 Australia was ranked fourth internationally in per capita beer consumption, at around 110 litres per year;[1] although, the nation ranked considerably lower in a World Health Organization report of alcohol consumption per capita of 12.2 litres.[2] Lager is by far the most popular type of beer consumed in Australia.[3]

The oldest brewery still in operation is the Cascade Brewery, established in Tasmania in 1824. The largest Australian-owned brewery is the family-owned Coopers Brewery; the other two major breweries, Carlton & United Breweries and Lion Nathan, are owned by Japan's Asahi and Kirin Brewing Company respectively.

Non-alcohol beer accounts for more than 1% of beer sales at the retail level in Australia; industry observers expect that figure to rise to 2% by 2025.[4]

Market characteristics

Within an alcoholic beverage market worth some $16.3 billion, beer comprises about 48% compared to wine at 29% and spirits at 21%. Within the beer sector, premium beers have a 7.8% share of the market; full-strength beer has 70.6%; mid-strength holds 12%; and light beer has 9.6%. 85% of beer is produced by national brewers, the remainder by regional or microbreweries. Microbreweries manufacturing less than 30,000 litres receive a 60% excise rebate.[5]


18th century

The history of Australian beer starts very early in Australia's colonial history. Captain James Cook brought beer with him on his ship Endeavour as a means of preserving drinking water. On 1 August 1768, as Cook was fitting out the Endeavour for its voyage, Nathaniel Hulme wrote to Joseph Banks with a recommendation:

"a quantity of Molasses and Turpentine, in order to brew Beer with, for your daily drink, when your Water becomes bad. … [B]rewing Beer at sea will be peculiarly useful in case you should have stinking water on board; for I find by Experience that the smell of stinking water will be entirely destroyed by the process of fermentation."

— Letter to Joseph Banks 1768

Beer was still being consumed on-board two years later in 1770, when Cook was the first European to discover the east coast of Australia.

The drink of choice for the first settlers and convicts was rum, as represented in a supposed traditional convict song:

Cut yer name across me backbone
Stretch me skin across yer drum
Iron me up on Pinchgut Island
From now to Kingdom Come.
I'll eat yer Norfolk Dumpling
Like a juicy Spanish plum,
Even dance the Newgate Hornpipe
If ye'll only gimme Rum![6]

The first official brewer in Australia was John Boston who brewed a beverage from Indian corn[7] 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.

19th century

The Cascade Brewery is the oldest brewery in Australia,[8] having been founded in 1824

Rum was so popular—and official currency was in such short supply—that it became a semi-official currency for a period of time (see Rum corps), and even played a role in a short-lived military coup, the Rum rebellion in 1808. Drunkenness was a significant problem in the early colony:

"Drunkenness was a prevailing vice. Even children were to be seen in the streets intoxicated. On Sundays, men and women might be observed standing round the public-house doors, waiting for the expiration of the hours of public worship in order to continue their carousing. As for the condition of the prison population, that, indeed, is indescribable. Notwithstanding the severe punishment for sly grog selling, it was carried on to a large extent. Men and women were found intoxicated together, and a bottle of brandy was considered to be cheaply bought for 20 lashes... All that the vilest and most bestial of human creatures could invent and practise, was in this unhappy country invented and practised without restraint and without shame"

As a means of reducing drunkenness, beer was promoted as a safer and healthier alternative to rum:

"The introduction of beer into general use among the inhabitants would certainly lessen the consumption of spirituous liquors. I have therefore in conformity with your suggestion taken measures for furnishing the colony with a supply of ten tons of Porter, six bags of hops, and two complete sets of brewing materials."

— Lord Hobart in a letter to Governor Philip King on 29 August 1802

Although modern Australian beer is predominantly lager, early Australian beers were exclusively top-fermented and quick-maturing ales. Lager was not brewed in Australia until 1885. Early beers were also brewed without the benefit of hops, as no-one had successfully cultivated hops in Australia and importation was difficult. James Squire was the first to successfully cultivate hops in 1804, and he also opened a pub and brewed beer. The Government Gazette from 1806 mentions that he was awarded a cow herd from the government for his efforts.[citation needed]

In September 1804, a government-owned brewery opened in Parramatta, followed by a rival privately owned brewery three months later. The government brewery was sold two years later to Thomas Rushton, who was its head (and only) brewer.[9] Brewing rapidly expanded in all of the Australian colonies and by 1871 there were 126 breweries in Victoria alone, which at the time had a population of only 800,000.[citation needed]

Notable events from this period include:

Tasmania was the first Australian colony to tax beer. Its Beer Duty Act of 1880 established a duty of 3 pence per gallon which was raised to four pence in 1892.[13]

20th century

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, led to the closure of many breweries. In Sydney 16 out of 21 breweries closed either immediately after the act's introduction or soon afterwards. The remaining breweries began a process of consolidation, with larger breweries buying out the smaller ones. Within a short period of time, only two breweries remained in Sydney: Tooths and Tooheys. In Melbourne, five breweries merged in 1907 to form the giant Carlton and United Breweries.[citation needed]

21st century

Since 2011, Kirin-owned Lion Co and AB InBev-owned Foster's Group own every major brewery in Australia, with the exception of Coopers.[11] Boag's Brewery, previously owned by San Miguel, was sold to Lion Nathan for A$325 million in November 2007. In 2006 Boag's Brewery reported total revenues of A$92 million.[14]

Although Foster's Lager is not a popular domestic beer in the 21st century, its popularity internationally has grown and the product is made mostly for export. In January 2005, the brand was one of the ten best-selling beers globally.[12]

The introduction of the Tap King product by Lion Nathan in mid-2013 caused controversy due to the perceived impact upon alcohol venues. The product is a home draught beer dispenser and raised concerns regarding lower patronage rates for venues due to a greater incentive for consumers to drink beer in home environments. The product is sold with a CO2 gas chamber that is cooled for eight hours prior to use.[15]

Beers by region

Before federation in 1901, Australia was a patchwork 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.

While Foster's Group owns many of these brands, Foster's Lager itself is not considered a local drink anywhere in Australia.[17]

Speciality beers

Main article: List of breweries in Australia § Microbreweries

Speciality brews in Australia are produced by both major brewers and microbreweries, and include a wide variety of ales. Microbreweries exist throughout the country, including small towns, but the availability of such beers on-tap in venues is often limited.

Microbrewery Nail Brewing, from Perth, Western Australia, produced a beer in 2010 using water from an Antarctic iceberg, and sold it at auction for US$1,850. The batch of 30 bottles was created to raise money for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which assisted with the procuring of the ice.[18][19]

Australian styles

Australia has some unique beer styles of its own:

Name Description Image
Australian lager A lager with an amber hue and slightly bitter flavour typically brewed with Pride of Ringwood hops or its descendants.[20][21] Australian style lager (cropped)
Australian pale ale A beer style with a balanced malty profile, a slightly floral hop profile and dry finish.[22][23] Australian pale ale (cropped)
Pacific ale A hazy pale ale brewed with malt, wheat and galaxy hops. Pacific ales have a tropical fruit aroma and a natural sweetness.[24][25] Pacific ale q (cropped)
Sparkling ale A highly carbonated ale with low to medium maltiness and a lightly fruity flavour.[26][27] Sparkling ale (cropped)

Brewed under licence

Heineken 330 mL bottle brewed under licence in Australia

Imported premium beers have started to gain market share in Australia.[28] The two Australian corporate brewers responded to this by signing licence agreements with foreign brands to brew their beers here. Foster's Group brews Kronenbourg. Coopers Brewery brews Carlsberg in Australia.[29] Lion Nathan locally produces Guinness, Heineken, Beck's, Stella Artois and Kirin. Brewers claim that their locally produced product tastes better because it is fresher, and local operations are overseen by the parent brewers using strict guidelines. However, groups such as the Australian Consumers Association say that such beers should have clearer, more prominent labels to inform drinkers.[30]


Beer glasses

See also: Beer glassware

Prior to metrication in Australia, one could buy beer or cider in glasses of 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 15 or 20 (imperial) fluid ounces. Each sized glass had a different name in each Australian state.[31]

These were replaced by glasses of size 115, 140, 170, 200, 285, 425 and 570 mL, and as Australians travel more, the differences are decreasing.

Smaller sizes have been phased out over time, and in the 21st century, very few pubs serve glasses smaller than 200 mL (approximately 7 imp fl oz).

Those typically available are the 200 mL, 285 mL (10 fl oz) and 425 mL (15 fl oz), with increasingly many pubs also having pints (570 mL, approximately 20 imp fl oz) available. It is also common for pubs and hotels to serve large jugs filled to 1140ml ( approximately two imp pints).

Many imported beers are also served in their own branded glasses of various sizes, including 250 millilitres (8.8 imp fl oz), 330 millilitres (11.6 imp fl oz) and 500 millilitres (17.6 imp fl oz) for many European beers.

Names of beer glasses in various Australian cities[n 1][n 2][n 3]
Capacity[n 4] Sydney Canberra Darwin Brisbane Adelaide Hobart Melbourne Perth
115 ml (4 fl oz) - small beer foursie shetland
140 ml (5 fl oz) pony pony pony horse/pony pony
170 ml (6 fl oz) butcher[n 5] six (ounce) bobbie/six
200 ml (7 fl oz) seven seven beer butcher seven (ounce) glass glass
285 ml (10 fl oz) middy middy / half pint handle pot[n 6] schooner[n 7] ten (ounce) pot middy / half pint
350 ml (12 fl oz) schmiddy[n 8]
425 ml (15 fl oz) schooner schooner schooner schooner pint[n 7] fifteen / schooner schooner schooner[n 9]
570 ml (20 fl oz) pint pint pint pint imperial pint[n 7] pint pint pint
  1. ^ Entries in bold are common.
  2. ^ Entries in italics are old-fashioned or rare.
  3. ^ Entries marked with a dash are not applicable.
  4. ^ The "fl oz" referred to here is the imperial fluid ounce.
  5. ^ Prior to metrification, the butcher was 6 fl oz.
  6. ^ "Pot" is also known as Pot glass
  7. ^ a b c Confusingly for visitors, South Australians use the same names for different volumes than in the other States.
  8. ^ A modern glass size, mainly used with European beers. While the glass may be 350ml, a 330ml or 300ml fill line is common.
    With the increasing popularity of European beers, glasses of size 250ml and 500ml are also becoming more prevalent, but as yet don't seem to have acquired "names".
  9. ^ Traditionally, 425 ml is a size rarely found in Western Australia.

A glass of beer, produced by the Newstead Brewing Company

With the introduction of the National Trade Measurement Regulations in 2009 there are no prescribed sizes for beverage measures for the sale of beer, ale and stout, so terms such as seven, middy, pot or schooner do not legally specify a particular size.[32] A typical "schooner" glass can be calibrated to hold 425ml to the rim but poured with 15mm of head, resulting in a "schooner" of 375ml of beer and 50ml of froth.

South Australia in particular has some unusually named measures:

Many of these sizes are now rarely used. In contemporary SA pubs and restaurants, the most frequent measures are the "schooner" of 285 mL (an imperial half pint), and the "pint" of 425 mL. "Imperial pints" are also increasingly popular, along with the sale of "premium" and non-locally brewed beer in bottles of between 300 mL to 375 mL.

Note that the SA "schooner" and "pint" are considerably smaller than the measures of the same name used elsewhere:

Headmasters is one of the most common glass manufacturers, at least for the schooner size. Many pubs, in Sydney and Melbourne particularly, offer Guinness style and/or conical pint glasses along with tankard glass and British dimpled glass pint mugs.

Larger serving measurements have become increasingly popular, such as Jugs, 1 fluid litre Maß (pronounced like "mass", normally in German-themed bars) and beer towers (although technically illegal due to strict self-service of alcohol laws, these are in some Asian bars/karaoke parlours) have grown in popularity around Australia in tourist spots.[citation needed]

Beer bottles

The NT Draught Darwin Stubby

Before metrication, beer bottles were frequently 16 of an imperial gallon (26.7 imp fl oz; 757.7 mL), while a carton of beer contained a dozen bottles (two gallons) of beer. Originally, the bottles were reduced slightly to 26 imperial fluid ounces (739 mL), but with metrication they became 750 millilitres (26.4 imp fl oz), with a carton of 9 litres (1.98 imp gal) of beer.

From the 1950s, bottles known as "stubbies" (as compared to traditional bottles, they were "stubby") of 23 of an imperial pint (13.3 imp fl oz; 378.8 mL) were introduced. In 1958, cans were introduced by CUB, which were originally in steel and the same size as the bottle; other breweries introduced these in the 1960s.

Originally the stubbies and cans were reduced slightly to 13 imperial fluid ounces (369 mL), but with metrication they became 375 millilitres (13.2 imp fl oz), and the cans were later made of aluminium to accommodate its increasing use and lower cost compared to steel.

A carton of nine litres of beer in stubbies (i.e. 24 bottles) or cans became known as a "slab" because compared to the more cube-like shape of the traditional cartons, they were flatter, and hence, like slabs.

Traditional bottles subsequently became known as "long necks" or "tallies" to distinguish them from stubbies, and in Western Australia, the 750ml "long neck" bottle is known as a "king brown" because of the size and typical brown coloured glass (the term being wordplay in reference to the king brown snake).[34]

In the 21st century, most bottled beer in Australia is sold in 250 mL (Throwdown/Twist Top), 375 mL (Stubby) or 750 mL (Long Neck) sizes. Carlton United briefly increased to 800 mL in the 1990s and 2000s, but this has since been reduced to the original 750 mL.

Bottle sizes of 330 mL, 345 mL and 355 mL (imported from the United States, equal to 12 US fl oz) are becoming increasingly common, particularly among microbreweries, so-called "premium" beers, and imported beers.

In the Northern Territory, the once-common "Darwin Stubby", a large two litre bottle, is now sold largely as a tourist gimmick, albeit very successfully.

Most bottles are lightweight "single use only", though some are still reusable, and in some cases (e.g. Coopers 750 mL), breweries are reintroducing refillable bottles, such as the Growler (a large bottle of approximately two litres intended for re-use) sold by Four Pines Brewery – a boon to home brewers. In South Australia, container deposits on beer bottles and cans (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.

Beer-related organisations

The Australian Hotels Association represents hoteliers around Australia. It was established in 1839. The Brewers Association of Australia and New Zealand was set up to advocate on behalf of brewers in both countries.[35]

Drinkwise is an industry funded organisation that funds alcohol-related research and conducts public education activities. Ocsober is an Australian fundraising initiative that encourages people to give up alcohol for the month of October, while Dry July encourages people to give up alcohol for the month of July.

See also



  1. ^ Per Capita Beer Consumption by Country (2004) Archived 23 June 2008 at the Wayback Machine, Table 3, Kirin Research Institute of Drinking and Lifestyle – Report Vol. 29–15 December 2005, Kirin Holdings Company.
  2. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original on 12 December 2017. Retrieved 12 December 2017.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  3. ^ "Australian Beer". Beer & Wine Guide. 4 January 2018. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  4. ^ Adams, David (8 July 2022). "It's not just Dry July: Non-alcoholic beer sales are exploding, Australian brewers and retailers say". SmartCompany. Retrieved 6 June 2023.
  5. ^ "Aussies drinking less beer – and getting choosier". FoodWeek Online. 29 October 2008. Archived from the original on 16 April 2009.
  6. ^ Robert Hughes (1987). The Fatal Shore (Random House 2010 reprint ed.). Alfred A. Knopf. p. 292. ISBN 9781407054070. Retrieved 2 June 2014.
  7. ^ Illis, Judith. "Boston, John (?–1804)". Australian Dictionary of Biography (Online ed.). Australian National University. Retrieved 20 January 2016. ((cite book)): |website= ignored (help)
  8. ^ Bergman, Justin (5 December 2019). "36 Hours in Hobart (and Environs) (Published 2019)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 13 January 2021.
  9. ^ The first steps,
  10. ^ Alison Painter (2001). "Breweries and Beer". Wakefield Press. Updated 10 December 2013.
  11. ^ a b Coopers. "Coopers". /static/. Retrieved 17 October 2016. Today, Coopers stands proudly as the sole major brewer 100% owned by Australians, and holds over 5% of the Australian beer market.
  12. ^ a b Willie Simpson (25 January 2005). "Beauty bottlers". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
  13. ^ Brett Stubbs (2020), "Tasmania", New Developments in the Brewing Industry: The Role of Institutions and Ownership, Oxford University Press, p. 143
  14. ^ Colin Kruger (8 November 2007). "Lion Nathan bags James Boags for $325m". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
  15. ^ Matt Shea (9 October 2013). "Tap King: Beer of the Future or Frothy Fail?". The Vine. Digital Media. Archived from the original on 9 October 2013. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
  16. ^ Sandra Huett (2012), Only in Tasmania, Striped Wolf Publishing, ISBN 9780987185006, our two big players in the beer brewing indstry – Boags and Cascade
  17. ^ Garrett Oliver (2011). The Oxford Companion to Beer. Oxford University Press. pp. 370–371. ISBN 978-0-19-536713-3.
  18. ^ "A tactical but non-nuclear whale of an ale". Australian Brew News. Cuneiform Pty Ltd. 1 November 2010. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
  19. ^ MAANVI SINGH (9 October 2013). "Meet Dave, A 19-Year-Old Craft Beer With A $2,000 Price Tag". NPR. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
  20. ^ "Pride Of Ringwood Hops: The Variety From Down Under". 8 August 2017.
  21. ^ "Lagers to pale ales: Australian brewers look to classic beer styles". 14 November 2019.
  22. ^ "Australian-Style Pale Ale (Ale) Beer Style Guidelines".
  23. ^ "Pale Ale Quick Guide | for Beginners".
  24. ^ "The Story Of: Pacific Ale". The Crafty Pint.
  25. ^ "Australia's Fine Wine Specialist | Buy Wine Online". 30 August 2022.
  26. ^ "Australian Sparkling Ale: The Beer Style Born Down Under". 6 April 2016.
  27. ^ "Recap: The birth of Australia's own beer style". 26 January 2016.
  28. ^ Greenblat, Eli (24 August 2009). "Premium beers cause for cheers". The Age. Melbourne. Retrieved 23 October 2010.
  29. ^ "Carlsberg Group – Australia and New Zealand". Archived from the original on 3 July 2015. Retrieved 4 August 2015.
  30. ^ Russell, Mark (21 December 2008). "Is that a foreign beer or a case of brewer's dupe?". The Age. Melbourne. Archived from the original on 17 March 2011. Retrieved 23 October 2010.
  31. ^ "Beer Size Guide to Australian Beer Measurements". 16 September 2009. Archived from the original on 14 June 2017. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  32. ^ "Alcohol". Retrieved 15 September 2017.
  33. ^ Dr Brett J. Stubbs (9 June 2012). "Take a butcher's hook at the butcher glass". Australian Brews News.
  34. ^ "King Brown". Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias. Retrieved 24 November 2023.
  35. ^ "About Us". Brewers Association of Australia and New Zealand. Archived from the original on 21 September 2013. Retrieved 26 February 2013.

Further reading

  • Deutsher, Keith M. (2012). The Breweries of Australia (2nd ed.). Glebe, NSW: Beer & Brewer Media. ISBN 9780987395214.