The Swan Brewery was established in 1857 by early Western Australian settler Frank Sherwood, who had emigrated from England with his family in 1842. Interestingly, he originally set up a school of classics and languages in Perth before moving into the brewing game. Meanwhile, Captain John Ferguson and William Mumme leased the Stanley Brewery in 1872 but the German-born Mumme became increasingly dissatisfied with the quality of their water supply. Frank Sherwood died in 1874 and the Swan Brewery was offered for lease; Ferguson and Mumme grasped the opportunity, left the Stanley Brewery and re-opened the Swan Brewery on 1 January 1875. It seems that their enterprise was a success and, by 1879, they were building an icehouse, malthouse and brewery on a site in Mounts Bay Road, beside the Swan River, which became the headquarters for Swan Brewery for the best part of a century. As noted in the introduction to this chapter, Mumme was a colourful character active in both business and yachting circles, whose roller-coaster fortunes would mirror those of Alan Bond, roughly a hundred years later. Mumme parted ways with Swan in 1890 and, somewhat sadly, went bankrupt in a subsequent brewing venture. But the Swan Brewery continued to thrive and, under a variety of different owners, it acquired many other Western Australian breweries over the years, notably its major rival, the Emu Brewery in 1928, and the Kalgoorlie Brewery in 1945. Interestingly, Swan bought out the Perthbased Lion Brewery in 1888, only to be taken over by the similarly named Lion Nathan group, again, roughly a hundred years later. By 1951, Swan Brewery and its subsidiaries enjoyed a beer-making monopoly across the state, a situation which only changed with the launch of the Matilda Bay Brewing Company in 1984. In August 1966 brewing ceased at the Mounts Bay site and all brewing operations were consolidated at the Emu Brewery; a modern and significantly enlarged brewing plant was built at Canning Vale and from 1978 onwards this became home to the Swan Brewery. During 1982 the Swan Brewery became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Bond Corporation, which was controlled by English-born signwriter turned business magnate Alan Bond. Around this time, ‘Bondy’, as he was affectionately known, was riding on the crest of a wave – winning the America’s Cup yachting challenge in 1983 and subsequently acquiring the Castlemaine–Tooheys nexus of interstate breweries, before turning his attention to myriad business ventures, including Australian television networks, overseas breweries and phone companies. By the late 1980s, Bond had launched Swan Premium Export Lager as our ‘first national beer’; unfortunately, the rest of the country resisted the expensive marketing campaign behind it. As quickly as he rose to prominence, Alan Bond soon overstretched his company’s financial resources; in 1992 the Swan Brewery was taken over by the trans-Tasman Lion Nathan group.
For a mainstream lager, Emu Bitter almost lives up to its name, while moderate bitterness defines the rest of Swan’s range, with the exception of a flavoursome stout.
Behind the Label
Swan Gold was undoubtedly ahead of its time when this moderately alcoholic lager (3.5% abv) was launched back in 1978. The category, which has become known as ‘mid-strength’ was unheard-of at the time but both Western Australian and Queensland beer drinkers have increasingly taken up such beers in more recent times, though other states have been less enthusiastic. Perhaps it’s the generally hotter climates of the mid-strength heartlands that explains their appeal. During the Bond Brewing era, Swan Gold was briefly repackaged as a ‘woman’s beer’ but failed when female drinkers steadfastly ignored the advertising message.
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