Go to the Carlton & United Breweries and do it now.
The brewery is located in Abbotsford, a suburb of Melbourne that is easily accessible by tram from the CBD (routes 109, 24, 78). Carlton & United is Australia’s largest brewer. The brewery’s origins lie in a flagrant antitrust violation (at least by modern American standards). In 1903, Melbourne’s six major breweries formed the Society of Melbourne Breweries and raised beer prices by 12% overnight. Those six breweries and their flagship brews were:
- Carlton Brewery—Carlton Draught;
- McCracken Brewery—Sparkling Bitter Ale and Australia Bitter Ale;
- Foster’s Brewery—Foster’s Lager;
- Shamrock Brewery—Shamrock Stout and Shamrock Pale Ale;
- Castlemaine Brewery—Castlemain XXXX and Bitter Ale; and
- Victoria Brewery—Victoria Bitter.
In Australia, accommodation was historically wedded with the serving of alcohol and thus the “hotel” was an important consumer of beer. The hotel owners were not too pleased with the brewers’ price hiking and in retaliation formed their own brewery—the Melbourne Cooperative. The Melbourne Cooperative made Melbourne Bitter and Abbotsford Invalid Stout. Deciding that even this competition was too much, in 1925 the Society of Melbourne Brewers, which had by then amalgamated into the Carlton & United Breweries, purchased the Melbourne Cooperative.
I won’t go into the details of each of the brews, many of which you can still see drunk around Melbourne today, but I would like to discuss one particular matter: Fosters. Fosters is not in fact a made up Australian beer sold to gullible Americans. It does, however, have a some romance with the country. Foster’s Brewery was founded in 1887 by American brothers William and Ralph Foster (who I have heard scuttlebutt were running from the law). The brewery was set up in Fitzroy but soon moved to Collingwood. Although today, some would say that Australian’s would dare only drink the beer in a dark room hoping that even God could not see them, Fosters was so popular that it monopolized the bottle beer market in Australia and became a matter of parliamentary debate at the turn of the 20th century. The decline, at least in Australia, began in the 1970s. However, virtually all Australian beers drank today are based off the original Fosters. It should also be noted that the recipe for Fosters differs between markets, though Australia, the United States and Vietnam all use the same recipe.
Despite this fascinating history, the thing that won me over about the Carlton & United brewery tour was the value. For full disclosure, I visited on a Groupon and consequently got an exceedingly good deal. But my husband and I joked that we should start stopping by for dinner. A full price adult brewery tour, which runs about an hour, costs A$25 and includes a tasting of four beers. As there were a number of closures today, complimentary beers were also provided on our tour. For perspective, a run of the mill domestic 12 ounce of beer at a bar costs between A$8 and A$10 and a six pack is roughly A$16. It was beer heaven. And you can’t get any fresher than straight from the brewery. Take it from someone who doesn’t like beer—even I was sold.
And while it may not be a craft brewery with gourmet food pairings, the A$15 chicken parm hit the spot and I could think of nothing more Melbourne than that. The very yeast that is used for Vegemite comes from the beers at Carlton & United—no other yeast will do. So even though SAB Miller acquired Carlton & United in 2011, this brewery is still a sliver of Australia that should not be missed.
Wear closed toed shoes and be aware that photos are not permitted on the tour. On the tram to the brewery, read up on the heritage beer controversy. Don’t miss the gift shop at the front of the tasting room where you can get your fill of brand pint glasses and shirts. If you have any room left, stumble down to some of the great Vietnamese places nearby. I recommend I ♥ Pho.
Be aware that as Carlton & United is a made to drink operation, i.e. beer is produced just in time for shipping, the brewery is in less operation during the winter. During that time, one can expect that the brewery will not be in operation Friday through Sunday, though tours will still run.
For a significant number of Australian males to have a crashing hangover is to be respected, to be able to drink vast quantities well beyond the call of thirst is commendable, to ‘chunder’ this unnecessary liquid is hilarious, and to collapse paralytic on the floor from intoxication is magnificent. If conditions allow a fight then the ultimate plane has been reached. It is all part of the ocker syndrome and heavy drinking is much more important than sexual prowess.
Jonathan King, Waltzing Materalism, 1976