This week as we're in the Australia Day long weekend, I have been thinking about how far the liquor industry in this fabulous country of ours has come. It makes me proud to be a part of this fabulous industry. So, for “All In Good Taste” this week, I wanted to have a quick chat about the Australian liquor industry, where we have come from and where we are today.
No matter whether you are a beer, wine or spirit drinker, this country’s heritage in all things booze is rich and diverse. It starts way back before white man reached the shores. There is evidence that Aboriginals in Tasmania had known about the art of fermentation and an article by Vladimir Jiranek, Professor in Oenology at the University of Adelaide states that “In the past, Aboriginal people tapped the Eucalyptus Gunnii trees to allow the sap, resembling maple syrup, to collect in hollows in the bark or at the base of the tree. Ever-present yeast would ferment the liquid to an alcoholic, cider-like beverage that the local Aboriginal people referred to as Way-a-linah.”
It is known that the Aboriginals would collect and eat this sap, but whether it had any major significance in their society or culture is not known. It is said to have a sweet and sour flavour that tastes something like apple cider and that early settlers in Tasmania would also collect the sap to consume. Keep in mind that its alcohol content would be more along the lines of 0.5 to 1% and would have to be consumed in large quantities to make people drunk.
It wasn’t until colonisation did we start to see alcohol prevalent in the society of Australia. In fact, Captain Cook was said to have brewed beer on the Endeavour as a way of preserving drinking water. However, it was rum (a generic word at that time for any distilled beverage) that was the tipple of choice to the early settlers, so much so that it was used as an unofficial currency for a short period of time. Rum at that point was being consumed at outrageous levels so the government of the time thought it would be a good idea to change people from drinking spirits to beer and so they started to import hops and brew beer as early as the 1790s. But it wasn’t until James Squire successfully cultivated his own hops in 1804 that the beer industry really took off.
The first beers were all top fermenting ales that were quicker to produce and it wasn’t until 1885 that the first lager was brewed by Gambrinus Brewery in Melbourne. But Lager quickly took off and no longer than 2 years later the Fosters Brothers arrived from New York and started brewing with refrigeration equipment to make it more achievable to brew in large batches and 2 years after that Castlemaine brewed the first lager in QLD.
Our magnificent wine industry has just as rich of a history. Governor Phillip actually grabbed some vine cuttings from the Cape of Good Hope on his way to Australia on the first fleet and some small vineyards were set up around Sydney straight after colonisation. But it wasn’t until James Busby, did we see a large growth in the industry. Busby went on a year long mission around Europe collecting vine cuttings from all the great wine regions in Europe and brought them all back to Australia. Most of the old vines still alive today can be traced back to this mission and are among the oldest vines in the world.
As the colony opened its doors to more and more European settlers the wine industry grew and it was due to this immigration that the wine regions of Australia are now world famous. One of our most famous wine regions the Barossa Valley, started as a settlement for the people of Prussia (now Germany) who were escaping from religious persecution. Some of those families are still making wine, take the Henschke and Langmeil families for example.
It didn’t take us long to start winning accolades for our wines, one Australian wine won a gold medal "first class" at the 1882 Bordeaux International Exhibition and another won a gold medal "against the world" at the 1889 Paris International Exhibition.
However, it is in the products you see on the shelves now, that you really get an idea of how far we have come. We have thousands of producers making the most amazing beer, wine and spirits. And the day of the big companies ruling the roost are slowly dying, with craft brewers, distilleries and wineries leading the way in the evolution of the booze world. There are now, at last count, 605 Craft Breweries, 2468 wineries and more than 120 distilleries now operating in Australia.
These craft producers are the ones pushing the boundaries and are the reason we see the variety that now have on our shelves. Wineries planting grape varietals that were only seen in remote places in Europe are starting to become mainstream, beers like Sour Boysenberry double Indian Pale Ale and Farmhouse Noir Saison and vodka being made from sheep’s whey in Tasmania are amongst hundreds of cool, quirky drinks that are being produced.
Being Australia Day this weekend it’s a great time to try a new beer, wine or spirit that is being made in this wonderful country of ours.
Come on in to Birtinya Cellars where we have a huge range of Aussie products and let us help you find you a new drink to try this weekend.