Australia can’t afford to be left behind in the world of beers. In fact, many people say that Australia produces the best beers in the world. The country-cum-continent was ranked fourth in terms of beer consumption in 2004, at about 110 liters that year.
A bit of the Australian beer history
The Australian beer industry is as old as the country’s colonization by the British, when Captain James Cook brought beer on his ship as his own way of preserving and conserving potable water. Before, rum was the favorite among the convicts who invaded what is known today as Australia; however, rum made them extremely tipsy, so to reduce drunkenness, beer was introduced as a “safer” alternative.
Today, Australia’s beer business has been booming. The country’s oldest operating brewery is the Cascade Brewery, which opened in 1832 and is located in South Hobart, in the island of Tasmania. But Australia’s leading beer company is Coopers Brewery, followed by other major beer players Foster’s Group and Lion Nathan.
Leading beers in Australia and New Zealand
In no particular order, here’s the rundown of some of the popular beer brands in Down Under (NOTE: this is only a partial list; users are welcome to add more Aussie/NZ beers in this list):
1. Victoria Bitter
Victoria Bitter is the most favored among beer-drinking Aussies. The beer accounts for nearly 25% of the country’s beer consumption, and obviously, is one of the best-selling Australian beers. The word “bitter” in the beer’s name is a misnomer (apart from its bitter taste). Victoria Bitter is actually a lager rather than the traditional bitter (which is merely an English term for pale ale, whose color ranges from gold to dark amber). Also called as “Vic Bitter” or “Vitamin B,” the beer is brewed by Foster’s (formerly by Carlton and United Beverages). Victoria Bitter is only one of the very few Australian beers to break through regional markets, as it’s also being sold in New Zealand, Indonesia (particularly in Bali) and in the United Kingdom.
The beer was originally brewed with 4.9% alcohol content. However, in 2009 Foster’s reduced it into 4.6%, which drew many complaints from consumers. This translated into the company’s loss of the big beer market share, so Victoria Bitter’s alcohol content was brought back to 4.9% in late 2012. However, in New Zealand the beer is sold commercially with both 4.9% and 4.6% alcohol by volume (ABV)
Steinlager could be New Zealand’s national beer. Also alternatively known as Steinlager Classic, it’s also the country’s most exported beer and has also won awards in several beer competitions abroad, particularly the United States.
Steinlager has some interesting history to tell. In 1957, the country’s then-finance minister Arnold Nordmeyer was dismayed by the country’s sagging economy. In response to this, he made a threat to cut foreign beer imports and dared New Zealand beer makers to “come up with an international-style lager beer.” Lion Nathan, which is Steinlager’s brewer, was up to the challenge and came up with a beer called “Steinecker.” However, the world-renowned brewery Heineken sued Lion Nathan on grounds that “Steinecker” sounded like “Heineken.” So the Auckland-based brewer changed its name from “Steinecker” to “Steinlager.” From then on, the name has stuck.
The beer, according to many beer enthusiasts, has a dry, crisp, strong and sharp taste. Its ABV (alcohol by volume) stands at 5.0%. It owes much of its popularity through sponsorships of the major sports teams in New Zealand.
3.Little Creatures Pale Ale
The beer has been highly favored for its delicate, full-bodied and floral flavor. No wonder Little Creatures has won several awards in Australia and also abroad. It is brewed by Little Creatures Brewery, which is now wholly owned by Lion Nathan.
The beer’s floral flavor is owed to the hop flowers (both Cascade and Chinook varieties), but the homegrown Australian malts also impart its full-bodied taste. The beer has a 5.2% ABV. Little Creatures Pale Ale has a long, bitter finish (but in a good way) so beer drinkers should enjoy it one sip at a time.
4. Coopers Sparkling Ale
One of the chief products of Coopers Brewery, it’s also one of Australia’s most easily recognizable and premium beers. It was the first beverage that Thomas Cooper brewed when he established the company back in 1862. And although a lot has changed since its establishment, this sparkling ale’s taste remains the same — like before, the beer is brewed with top fermentation and second fermentation process inside the bottle itself so the sediments remain in it. This gives Coopers Sparkling Ale its famously cloudy appearance.
This English-style golden ale has the appearance of a lager, and has a fruity aroma but otherwise a dry and bitter aftertaste. It has 5.8% alcohol content.
If United States residents want to have a taste of Down Under beers, they don’t have to go to Australia or New Zealand just to sample them. Foster’s, as one of the famous Australian beers, has been sold in over 135 countries. So there’s a good chance Americans will find Foster’s in Wal-Mart stores or other outlets. There’s another source where they can buy Australian beers and other beverages from around the world as well — BevMo! (bevmo.com). This is an online store which ships its products throughout the US.