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ANZAC Centenary: Our Drinks Brands A Year Ago and 100 Years On

ANZAC Centenary: Our Drinks Brands A Year Ago and 100 Years On


One hundred years ago, with nearly a tenth of Australia’s population at war, two drinks enlivened our servicemen more than any other: beer and rum. One other drink rectified them when conditions were often far worse – and life-threatening: brandy. This was a time when brewing was run on a widespread and very parochial basis, not just state-by-state, but even at a regional level.


It was also, in the immediate lead-up to the war, a time when interesting changes were occurring in the national beer palate. Yet the war’s privations and the insular effect it had on our nation’s worldview slowed down Australia’s embrace of a wider and more inclusive food and drink culture. And perhaps because of that we have some of the alcohol brands of a century ago still going strong.  By Ben Canaider 



Firstly, beer. From a high point in the 1880s, the recessionary period of the 1890s took a toll on local breweries, and then in 1901 the Federation passed the Beer and Excise Act, which made any form of unregulated or unlicensed brewing illegal. (This wasn’t repealed, by the way, until 1972 – one of Gough Whitlam’s first acts as new Prime Minister…) By 1905, 16 out of Sydney’s 21 breweries had closed. Within three years these had consolidated into two larger breweries: Tooths and Tooheys. The same thing was happening in Melbourne, where a plethora of breweries had been reduced to less than seven in 1907, five of which formed Carlton & United Breweries in that very year. Go back to 1871 and Victoria had 120 breweries, 20 of which were in Melbourne supplying the city’s 1,120 pubs.


More than a handful of beers from this period have remained with us today, and it’s perhaps because of both world wars that our beer landscape didn’t change and became more international more quickly. One of the stalwarts is Fosters, released in 1887. Two brothers from New York – Ralph and William Foster – started the Foster Brewing Company in Melbourne. Thanks to new refrigeration developments it was Australia’s first commercial lager brewery – up until that time our beer had been nearly wholly ale. To avoid rapid spoilage – Foster’s Lager needed to be kept cool – the brothers supplied ice – gratis – to any pub that sold their beer. This ate substantially into profits. Despite taking out First Prize at the Centennial Exhibition in 1888, the brothers had sold the brewery and left Melbourne six months later. Yet less than 20 years later, Foster’s was one of the breweries to help form CUB, along with the Victoria and the Castlemaine breweries, among others.


[box type=”shadow” ]  Raise A Glass

Victoria Bitter has been associated with soldiers and veterans since as early as the 1900s. Today, the beer brand continues to show its support, each year raising funds and awareness for the welfare programs of the Returned Services League and Legacy through its Raise A Glass Appeal.

The appeal began in 2009, after an image of a group of soldiers serving in Egypt during WWII was found at the old Victoria Brewery. In the photo, the men stand by a VB symbol made from beer bottles, resounding the long-standing relationship VB has with Australia’s soldiers and veterans. And so each year, VB calls on Australians to Raise A Glass and share together the stories and experiences of diggers, past and present.

To date, the appeal has raised almost $6 million, as each year VB donates $1 million to both causes, combined with donations from the public, and is one of the single biggest contributors to veteran welfare in Australia.   Donations can be made on the website at  [/box]

By this time, lager was becoming much more widespread, thanks to continued advances in refrigeration mechanics. The sweet, warm and thick ales of the nineteenth century were giving way to cooler, lighter-bodied lagers that suited Australia’s climate so much better. Other changes were less technical, but still mark a clear shift in beer’s evolution – VB replaced cork stoppers with crown seals in 1907. And by this time Queenslanders had taken Victoria’s XXX lager (yes, that’s three Xs) as their own. The fourth X came in 1916 – its addition to the label suggesting that the beer was stronger than the old XXX version, as medieval monks used the mark “X” to indicate a beer’s strength.


Also in Queensland there’s one juggernaut of alcohol production and necessity – Bundaberg Rum. It was producing 250,000 litres of rum a year by 1907, the same year the distillery burnt down. Back in operation by 1914, such was the demand for Bundaberg rum that the Federal Government bought the total stock to supply troops abroad. (As had happened in the Boer War, and would happen again in WWII.) Bundy was transported and distributed in half, gallon or 2-gallon ceramic jars, known as SRD jars, which troops claimed stood for Seldom Reaches Destination or Soon Runs Dry. It in fact refers to the Supply Reserve Depot in Deptford, Kent…


With regard to wine during WWI, its domestic consumption was genteel, but exports to England in 1885 were already at 150,000 litres per annum. Fortified wines and brandy were in wider use locally, such as Château Tanunda (established in 1890) and Angove’s (1886). Such brandies would have been all too familiar with so many servicemen hospitalised. For some, no doubt, it was their last drink. Wine brands so widespread today, such as Penfolds (established in 1844), Seppelt (1865), d’Arenberg (1912) and McWilliam’s (1916), were more widespread after Federation too, thanks to abandonment of state border levies.


One hundred years on it is still those two classic Australian alcohol brands that link the servicemen and women of today with their comrades of a WWI – Bundaberg Rum and Fosters Lager. Both have been refined over that time, but neither has lost their everyman’s touch. And as many Australian’s contemplate 1915 this year, perhaps over one or two of the above mentioned extant beverages, they will no doubt remember that a century ago Australian soldiers were entrenched in a world war that, by its sobering completion, would see 218,000 Australians killed or wounded.


[box type=”shadow” ]  d’Arenberg 100 Years On

In 1912, Joseph Osborn sold his stable of prize-winning racehorses to purchase the Milton Vineyards in McLaren Vale. He worked the land and lovingly grew the vineyard’s plantings until his son, Francis ‘Frank’ Ernest Osborn, left medical school to work alongside his father.

Over the years, Frank increased the size of the vineyard further and sold fruit to local wineries, until he joined the AIF in 1915. Whilst serving overseas, his family continued to plant vines and upon his return, Frank renovated and extended the original d’Arenberg homestead looking across the Vale to St Vincent’s Gulf. Joseph Osborn died on 25 May 1921, leaving full control of the business to Frank.

Frank married Helena d’Arenberg in 1920, and had three children, Antoinette, Rowen and d’Arry. Helena sadly died shortly after giving birth to d’Arry. A year after Helena’s death, Frank was encouraged by friends and family to build a winery and produce wine as a way of getting his life back on track.

The first vintage in 1928 produced a heavy red table and fortified wine. Production increased to supply the Empire, but was disrupted at the beginning of WWII, until d’Arry, like his father, returned from school at the age of 16 to help run the business, and eventually assumed full management in 1957.

In 1959, d’Arry decided to launch his own label named after his mother, Helena d’Arenberg. He had always envisaged including a stripe on his label, inspired by happy memories of his school days at Prince Alfred College, where he wore the crimson-and-white striped school tie.

Today, d’Arenberg is one of the most significant wineries in McLaren Vale and in 2004, d’Arry was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for his contributions to the wine industry and to the region. d’Arry has produced more than 65 consecutive vintages and d’Arenberg now proudly boasts a portfolio of award winning wines commonly known as the ‘Red Stripe’ brand, after the red striped adorned by its label.



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