Castlemaine Perkins (Fourex) Brewery
The pages of Australian brewing history are littered with take-overs and acquisitions, and while Castlemaine Perkins sounds like a merger, it was, in reality, yet another buy-out. As the name suggests, the Castlemaine Brewery had its origins in the Victorian gold-rush town of Castlemaine, where the Fitzgerald family established a brewery in 1859; in fact, they went on to set up Castlemaine breweries in Melbourne, Sydney, Newcastle and Brisbane. The latter venture was a partnership with various local business people, which took over the existing Milton Brewery in 1878; the first beer was Castlemaine XXXX Sparkling Ale and the brewery continues to operate in the suburb of Milton to this day. Meanwhile, Patrick Perkins had started the Perkins Brewery in Toowoomba in 1866, then expanded to Brisbane, taking over the City Brewery in 1872. In 1928, Castlemaine Brewery bought out their rival Perkins and the new company became Castlemaine Perkins Limited. Castlemaine probably got the jump on their major competitor a few years earlier with the release, in 1924, of XXXX Bitter Ale; the cartoonish Mr Fourex was also launched around then. The construction of a new brewery – known to locals as the XXXX Brewery – was completed in 1956 and two years later all the company’s brewing operations were consolidated onto this single site. In 1980 Castlemaine Perkins and Tooheys merged to form a joint company and then, in 1985, they were bought by Bond Corporation and, along with Swan Brewery, became the single, rather shortlived entity called Bond Brewing. During the Alan Bond era, XXXX was brewed under licence in the UK at roughly the same time as John Elliott was trying to ‘Fosterise’ the world. When the high-flying Bondy crashed and burned a short time later, Castlemaine Perkins was acquired by the trans-Tasman Lion Nathan group. Lion Nathan’s current Chief Brewer Bill Taylor came through the ranks of the XXXX Brewery, rising from Head Brewer there to the larger corporate role. In 2004 he was elected President of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling, the London based international representative body. Taylor was only the second Australian to achieve this honour.
Clean, middle-of-the-road beers rule here including, significantly, mid-strength XXXX Gold – the biggest-selling brand within the Lion Nathan group; the under-valued, chocolate-tinged Carbine Stout is a rare gem.
XXXX Bitter Ale
Behind the Label
Fourex (or XXXX) is a curious name for the beer brand that has become ‘Queensland for beer’. Nicknamed ‘barbed wire’ because it resembles a row of crisscrossed barbs, it has also been suggested, jokingly, that the Banana-benders call their favourite drop XXXX because they can’t spell. Funnily enough, that might be pretty close to the truth behind the practice of marking kegs with a given number of Xs. One theory is that, in the days before widespread literacy, it was common practice for workers to mark the brewery’s different beers with a series of Xs chalked onto the wooden casks. Thus, the standard brew was a single X, a stronger and/or more expensive brew was XX and so on. Castlemaine XXXX Bitter Ale obviously had pretensions to high quality when it was launched in 1924 and proved so popular that rival Perkins rolled out a 5X beer soon after. The latter didn’t last long and, Foster’s aside, XXXX has become one of Australia’s most recognised beer brands worldwide.
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