Toohey’s, Technology, and Two Austral Ales

A Twain of Australs

Looking for references on Toohey’s Standard Brewery of Sydney, founded 1869, I found this interesting article from 1910, as well as similar pieces that appeared between 1900 and 1910. All are clearly advertorials, and while the enthusiasm of the writers can pall after a while, there is good detail conveyed.

Essentially, they tell a story of unceasing technological improvement and a growing reputation for the once-derided “colonial ale”. Automated bottling machines were the focus in one story, the corks were allowed to protrude to exactly 1/8″. Mechanical filtration was used, and so good it was the bottles would not throw a deposit for 3-4 months. (I didn’t see a reference to pasteurization).

The beers were clearly still top-fermented as fermentation was indicated to be a short 30-40 hours, with skimming done before the beers were cleansed. There is continual reference to storage but the length of time and temperature regime are not mentioned. My sense is the beers were not then stored at lagering temperatures, but I could be wrong.

The plant stood on 15 acres, with facts such as boiling kettles holding 10,000 gallons. The barley came mostly from NSW. Some sugar, also mostly local, was used. Hops were both Australian and international.

The company made “bulk” pale ale (draft), a bottled pale ale, which was slightly lighter in colour, an amber sparkling ale (bottled), and yet other beers including stout. Refrigeration machines allowed brewing in summer.

The articles mention that Toohey’s distributed Dog’s Head Bass Pale Ale and Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. This was the well-known bottling by London’s Read Bros., who dominated the Australian market in this period.

This 1905 article published in the Perth press (Western Australia) gives some good detail on how Read operated and how Bass’s ales were treated before bottling. The term “nutty” was suggested for the state Bass reached on perfect maturity. I’ve seen the word before, I think in an Institute of Brewing article from about the same time.

One would think a term referencing brettanomyces would be used – the wild yeast element made active by long aging and imparting earthy, barnyard aromas. In contrast, nutty seems to imply a malt characteristic. Maybe it meant a Madeira quality, an oxidized but attractive taste such as some fortified wines have. Alfred Barnard used the term “Madeira odour” to describe a London-matured stock ale in this period.

The Bass ads also referred to its Austral Ale, bottled specially for Australia, and the article gives a taste note here as well. The Trove newspaper resource shows numerous ads for Bass’ Austral Ale between about 1900 and 1914. Read Bros. clearly made a big push to sell it in Australia and New Zealand.

The article stated that Austral Ale had the aroma of “wallflowers” – an unusual metaphor for beer then. In botany the wallflower, sometimes called the gilly-flower, is a flowering plant of the mustard family – the cabbage is also related. It tends to grow at the base of walls where there is good drainage, hence the name.

The botanical word is not pejorative, unlike the social expression presumably inspired by it. I’d guess the social term takes the idea of “hiding” behind walls but it is not a reflection on the odour, which is favourably commented on. Indeed the scent commonly appears in perfume and bath products.

What does the wallflower smell like? This site gives a good description: it’s like clove and violets. Some hops definitely have a clove-like taste, I just had a beer like that, Tankhouse Ale from Mill St. in Toronto. Some English hops have a garden flowers scent, so one gets an idea what the hop note was like. Also, it was different to the hops in Bass Pale Ale (red triangle), or partly anyway.

The 1905 article states too that the beer is “light”, implying a lower gravity and ABV than for red triangle. The article makes clear the beer was designed for a warm climate.

Martyn Cornell discussed Bass’ Austral Ale in this 2011 article, but addressed an earlier period, when the brand seemed to be a strong beer. Clearly it was lightened late in the 1800s or after 1900, probably to meet the challenge of lager. It was sold in nip bottles that were crown-corked, a very recent innovation, the image above is from this Christchurch-based collectables site which also contains other interesting promotional items for the brand.

The 1905 article also states that Read’s man was looking at trade mark protection in Australia. Why would he want to protect the trade mark in this period, especially as Austral Ale had been around for some 50 years in one form or another?

Let’s turn now to another part of the world, but also the southern hemisphere, and where Britons were influential.

In 1895 German immigrant José Fischer founded a brewery in Patagonia, Chile. It has remained independent ever since and markets, amongst other brands, an Austral Pale Ale. The current range includes three ales and a number of lagers. The brewery is in Punta Arenas on the southernmost end of Chile.

As it happens, Punta Arenas was a British enclave then, a dêpot. Punta Arenas is a port town and was a major transit link for Atlantic-Pacific sea-going trade.

Did Fischer sell his Austral Pale Ale from day 1 and pre-empt Bass’s market for an Austral beer in Patagonia? Bass Pale Ale (red triangle) certainly was known in Chile and elsewhere in South America in the late 1800s, many sources confirm it. Also, the ocean trade meant sailors and others in transit from Australasia would have known an Austral Ale, from Bass’s earlier exports to the Antipodes. Could Fischer have seized an opportunity Bass was slow to exploit for this particular brand?

It’s a tempting theory, but the brewery’s website makes clear the brewery was called “Patagonia” on founding, not Austral. The Austral corporate name only dates from the 1990s. The website shows a number of attractive labels from c. 1900, but most are lagers or pilseners, and none is for a pale ale or any Austral-branded beer. If Fischer did brew an “Austral Pale Ale” in 1900 for his Britannic customers, I have not seen the evidence.

Austral in many Romance languages means “south”, southerly, and this also is the origin of Australia’s name, from Latin.

I’d count the matter therefore a coincidence unless evidence emerges that Fischer did sell an Austral Pale Ale c. 1900.

Current reviews for the beer indicate a malty-fruity taste with good hop notes, and 5% abv. See the website linked above where the company gives its own notes on the beer.

Note re images: the first two images above were sourced from the Christchuch, NZ collectables website linked in the text. The third is via Wikipedia Commons and its author is Fredlyfish4 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons. The last image is from the Chilean retailer Lider, sourced here. All intellectual property in or to the images belongs solely to their lawful owner or authorize user. Images are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.