Australia’s Top 10 Beers
As you know, here on BobinOz we love a good survey. But what we have here today, I think, is even better than a survey. The people from Nielsen produce statistics each year to find out Australia’s most popular beer.
I haven’t been able to find the full details behind their figures, but I am led to believe they are based purely on sales volume.
You can’t argue when people vote with their wallets.
Australians, as you know, love their beer. They are something like the fourth or fifth biggest beer consumers in the world, according to various figures. Blokes don’t buy their beer in party fours here; they grab a carton of 24 from the bottle-o.
But what are they buying?
Here’s the top 10 list courtesy of Nielsen.
Australia’s Top 10 Beers
- XXXX Gold 12.4%
- VB 12.3%
- Carlton Draught 9.3%
- Tooheys New 7.1%
- Tooheys Extra Dry 4.4%
- Carlton Mid 3.8%
- Carlton Dry 3.3%
- Corona Extra 3.1%
- Pure Blonde 2.6%
- Hahn Premium Light 2.5%
NB. Those percentages are volume share of the market, not ABV 🙂
So, top of the pile is XXXX Gold, which is brewed up the road from me at the Castlemaine Perkins Brewery in Milton. This year it pipped Victoria Bitter (VB) to top spot, last year the positions were reversed.
Either way you look at it, a quarter of the beer buying blokes of Australia are drinking either VB or Gold.
Both, in my humble opinion, are absolutely awful.
Gold is about as fizzy as you can make a beer without calling it lemonade, its weak (3.50% ABV) and tasteless.
VB, on the other hand, is as fizzy as you can make a beer without calling it lemonade, stronger (4.60% ABV) and tasteless.
Sounds like I’ve just insulted 25% of my fellow Australian beer drinkers here, but I think I know why these beers are popular.
Many Aussies workers tend to be up at about 5:30 AM, on-the-job by half six in the morning, and work through till about 3:30 PM or four o’clock.
It’s usually still very hot by then; so something really cold that will quench the thirst is in order. But no-one wants to get a hangover; they need to be up at 5:30 AM again the next day.
So, what can be better than a 3.6%, 375 ml can of XXXX Gold?
And the colder the beer, the more tasteless it gets anyway. Cool any lager down to 2 or 3°C, and they all begin to taste very similar, as long as you drink them real fast.
Add to that, both these brews are budget beers; you can pick up 30 cans of XXXX Gold for around $37 and the same quantity of VB for about $45, although most people seem to prefer the slightly more expensive stubby bottles.
But popular beers aren’t the same as favourite beers. There isn’t a survey for Australia’s favourite beers, but I can certainly tell you mine.
Top 10 Favourite Aussie Beers by BobinOz
Well, it is my top 10, but I am splitting it into two halves, so two top 5’s.
Pretty much all the mass produced beers in Australia are lagers as we would call them in the UK. To confuse matters, Australians can call certain lagers “bitters”. As in the example above, Victoria Better is not a bitter at all. It’s a lager.
Generally speaking, if you are looking for a “bitter” beer, look for the words “Pale Ale” or “IPA”. There are plenty about, designer beers are becoming more popular here in Australia. But they can be quite expensive; I have tried to concentrate on the more accessible brews available in the shops.
Please be aware I have limited myself to Australian brewed beers in both of these lists. We do have plenty of imported beers but they can be quite costly.
So here are my two lists for lagers and bitters, first…
Bob’s top 5 Aussie budget lager beers
Update August 2016:
Just last weekend it came to my attention the some sneaky brewers are messing with our beers. I haven’t bought XXXX Bitter for a while, and I was just about to pick up a carton of it at the weekend when I noticed something strange.
The ABV on the tin said 4.4% and I knew this beer was supposed to be stronger than that. So I Googled it to find out what was going on and yes, the strength has been reduced. The brewer in question is Lion, and they have been gradually reducing the strength of XXXX Bitter. Originally it was 5%, then it went to 4.6% and it is now 4.4%. They have done a similar thing with Tooheys Extra Dry.
Carlton United Breweries (CUB) use the same trick with their Pure Blonde, reducing it from 4.6% down to 4.2% ABV, they then introduced a new and more expensive but product called Pure Blonde ‘Premium’at 4.6% ABV.
The brewers say they have done this in order to keep the pricing competitive, the rest of us really know they’ve done it in order to maximise their own profits.
On that basis, none of these three budget beers deserve a top 5 place in my list, I will personally no longer buy any of them. Until I have had a chance to review other beers, my budget beer of choice will be Crown Lager, although I do think I will be looking more closely at the whole Coopers range.
The good news though is that my top 5 Aussie “Bitter” beers have not been reduced in alcohol content, and quite right too. Back to the original post.
5. Pure Blonde Premium Lager (4.6% ABV- Now down to 4.2% ABV)
I only mention this one because it is Australia made and is a low carb beer. Okay as a thirst quencher for those who need to watch their sugar intake. There, not much of a review, is it? I only drink this one if it’s given to me.
4. Tooheys Extra Dry (5% ABV – Now down to 4.4% ABV)
Or TED’s as they can be known. Another beer at its best when served icy cold on a very hot day. Not a favourite of mine, but a few of my friends like it.
3. James Boag’s Premium (5% ABV)
Brewed in Tasmania, this has a much better taste, so doesn’t have to be served so cold. I will sometimes by this one for a change, if it’s on special.
2. Crown Lager (4.9% ABV)
AKA Crownies. I hated this beer when I first had one, thought it was quite disgusting. Two years later, somebody handed me one on a hot day in the afternoon. I loved it! I think that’s part of becoming an Aussie.
1. XXXX Bitter (5% ABV- Now down to 4.4% ABV)
This may surprise you, being as it is brewed by the same people who make XXXX Gold which I dislike so much. But this one is their “bitter” version, but yes, it’s a lager. It’s nowhere near as gassy as Gold, it’s stronger at 5% ABV – Now down to 4.4% ABV (see update above) and it’s a good budget beer at around $45 for a carton of 30 cans.
When people ask me what I drink indoors and I tell them it’s XXXX Bitter, they normally go “Aaargh, how can you drink that *&^%!”
I explain it’s not the Gold, but the Bitter version in the red can, not the fizzy thing in the yellow can.
“Oh!” They usually say, still not quite understanding.
Trust me, it’s worth a try. It’s about the only Australian lager that I buy regularly to put into my fridge.
Okay, I’m hoping to be a little better at this next one. I’m afraid, by and large, all lagers taste pretty much the same to me. I can’t help it, I’m English.
The only exception being Stella Artois, which is available here and made under licence in Australia. It costs about $40-$50 for a 24×330 ml carton.
Bob’s top 5 Aussie “Bitter” beers.
5. Coopers Original Pale Ale (4.5% ABV)
This is a cloudy beer; each bottle has a little bit of sediment in the bottom which you really should pour into a glass to appreciate. So it’s not a “drink it out of the bottle” beer. Slightly fizzier than I would like for a pale ale, but a good budget beer that isn’t a lager.
4. James Squire Stow Away India Pale Ale (5.6% ABV)
Now we are venturing more into the traditional English IPA taste, and this one from James Squire is quite hoppy, but not too much so for the Australian market. Remember, heat and hops don’t really go well together. Not a beer to quench your thirst, but nice in the evenings.
3. James Squire Nine Tails Amber Ale (5% ABV)
No apologies for having two James Squires’ beers in this list, I recommend anything from that brewery. Never had a bad drop from them, including their “Golden Ale”, which is a kind of lager. This Amber ale has a great flavour and is very drinkable and thoroughly enjoyable.
2. Fat Yak Pale Ale (4.7% ABV)
I really like this beer, especially because I can get it in pints on draft down the Pig n Whistle in the city. The bottled beer is pretty good too. This beer is not too heavy, and not too gassy. Perfect for sinking a few pints. Probably better on draft, just.
1. Little Creatures Pale Ale (5.2% ABV)
The undisputed King of Australian pale ales, this beer is a beaut! Better still, it does come in pint bottles. I was in a bar in the city and I was paying $17 per bottle for this stuff, but who cares? Worth every cent! Available on tap in certain places, but unfortunately, not my kitchen sink.
Easily Australia’s best brew, almost.
Update June 2018:
These days though, if I’m going to have a beer, I choose from one of the many craft brewery beers now available in Australia. The more on that, see my post Microbreweries in Brisbane: Let’s Go for a Beer.
Almost, because the best beer of all, pipping Little Creatures Pale Ale but not mentioned in either of my lists, is the beer that I brew myself in the microbrewery in my garage…
Not available in the shops; not for sale; it’s mine! I brew…
Thomas Coopers India Pale Ale
“A strong, robust ale with bold malt characters with very high hopping levels. It carries all the hallmarks of a genuine India Pale Ale.”
It works out at the equivalent of $13.50 per carton.
And it’s on draft!
It’s lucky you don’t know where I live, isn’t it?
What about Foster’s?
Update June 2018
Yes, I was reminded of this by DRM’s comment below about it being the only Aussie beer they’ve heard of in the US. Well, here’s the story about Foster’s…
Good article. The much maligned 4XXX bitter is a great beer, but much better out of the tap. It tastes like Smithwick’s (which is an ale) – quite bitter – or a Bavarian lager. Another great Australian beer is Four Wives Pils by James Squire. Most traditional Australian beer out of the bottle and can is crap – needs to be from the tap, when it can be surprisingly good. I have drunk beer all over the world and my favourite beer is Czech Republic pils.
I agree with everything you say Shane. We have a pub in the city that sells 4XXX bitter on tap, even better, it’s out of a wooden barrel. Tastes lovely.
As for Czech beer, I remember arriving in Prague once and popping into a hotel for drinks and a snack early afternoon and the weakest beer on the menu was 8%. That’s when I realised I was in the right place. Don’t think I’ve had any beers better than those I had in Prague.
So I’m here. An update… even Dan Murphy’s don’t stock West End Draught. I could order it online… or just try some of the huge amount of other beers available.
I haven’t tried them all (yet) but a few stand out good ones are Carlton Draught and Coopers lager. I didn’t like Melbourne bitter. I’ll keep trying a few more, it’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it. Especially with the temperature hitting the low 40s yesterday.
Yes, it is a tough job, one I’ve been working on myself for over 10 years now. It’s comforting to hear that you are helping me with my burden.
Trouble is, each month more and more different types of beers are appearing on the shelves, making it a never-ending task.
As you say though, someone’s got to do it 🙂
Hello Bob. In the uk I used to get a beer called west end draught. I thought it was odd as it came in bottles but it tasted great. I see no mention of it in the blog post or comments. I’m in Melbourne at the end of the month. Am i likely to be able to find it anywhere?
Yes, I have heard of that one, but never seen it around here. I checked with Dan Murphy’s, it is still available, but probably only in South Australia, which is where it is brewed.
Whether or not you’ll find someone in Melbourne who sells it, I don’t know, you’d probably have to do a bit of googling. I think you’re more likely to get it there than we are to get it here in Brisbane.
Otherwise, maybe a trip to Adelaide? Cheers, Bob
Ok, thanks Bob. I’ll let you know if i find any when I’m there. I do remember it as being very nice stuff.
You can make an excellent beer at 3.5% alcohol. Coopers Mild Ale is an example, and home brewers do it regularly. Not sure why its so hard for the big boys.I guess when your product sells, you don’t change it.
You are right, it is possible. One of my favourite beers in the UK was just 3.6% alcohol. It was a draft IPA, I used to drink in the pub regularly.
I’m sorry Bob, but making a home brew beer from a can of goo – such as Thomas Coopers IPA doesn’t really qualify as a “microbrewery.”
But, it IS nice to see your taste in beers has developed somewhat 🙂
Well, it was a microbrewery to me 🙂
Just a point of clarification though. The Thomas Cooper’s IPA cans that I used to buy were not the typical ‘goo’ that many of the supermarkets would sell, I tried those and they were horrible. This was Premium Thomas Cooper’s IPA kits that were only available from recognised homebrew shops like Brewers Choice.
I used to buy the large containers of liquid wort and some of those beers were very good, but I found that I actually preferred the premium Cooper’s.
I’m not sure it’s my taste in beers that have developed, it might be more of a case that in the last 10 years the amount of beers available here in Australia have increased phenomenally. The choice is way better now than it used to be, and I’ll say cheers to that!
Foster’s is the only Aussie beer we’ve heard of in the U.S., and it’s not even in the top 10 in Australia!, though it’s apparently the UK’s #2 beer (after Carling). It’s not a huge seller here, since they no longer have the big advertising push they had when Paul Hogan was it’s TV pitchman
Well, I’m glad you mentioned this DRM, it reminded me that I have written a post about Foster’s, so I’ve included a link to it at the bottom of the above article.
It also reminded me of another story I have about Foster’s and the US, so if you do read that post about it, you’ll see an update at the bottom of that as well. You can even watch a Paul Hogan advert while you are there.
It was a big seller here (well in the state of Victoria anyway) before anyone outside Australia had heard of it, but it lost popularity sharply in the 1970s and 80s, replaced by Victoria Bitter, which is almost identical anyway. It wouldn’t be in the top 100 now. People would look at you funny if you were seen drinking Fosters in Australia. You’d be considered a tourist.
Paul, is it you Hoges, is it really you?
Microbrewery beers can go and get stuffed. Overpriced, foul tasting handbag kitsch slop for people trying to add muscle to their usual Bacardi and Coke with a twist of lime staple.
Well, I love microbreweries and the quality beers they produce and I’ve never been near a Bacardi and Coke with a twist of lime. Let’s go for a short tour…
I will be visiting Australia and New Zealand October of 2018. Will beer actually cost upwards of $17.00 per drink? We will be staying in hotels that do have bars and I was looking forward to a few beers at the end of the day.
No, you won’t pay that much for a standard beer, it’s just the craft beers and speciality beers that can cost that much.
We’ve recently seen a boom in microbreweries here, and you can get some great beers for about $10-$12 a pint. Lots of places sell beer in schooners, that’s 425 mL, and you can usually get those for about $7 or $8. It’s worth looking around though, some bars are expensive and others are not so bad. Some have special offers as well, like by a jug of beer, that’s two pints, for $15 or so.
Enjoy your visit, cheers!
XXXX has stayed an independent brewery despite CUB trying to put them out of business since 1924, so it must have something going for it. XXXX went through some bad times in the 70s and 80s and they hired a German master brewer in 1982 to fix the problems. He did!
Once they used Cluster hops (love it or loath it) exclusively, but now it’s Super P for bittering and Cluster for flavour..
Yes, I know they do have a lot of history, and the building in Milton close to the city centre here in Brisbane is quite iconic. But I simply can’t get over that reduction in alcohol content, it deeply upsets me.
Maybe if CUB had taken over it was still be 5% ABV? 🙂
XXXX isn’t independent. It has long been part of the Lion Group (New Zealand), which is now owned by Kirin of Japan. Prior to that it was owned by Alan Bond’s Bond Brewing, along with Swan (now closed, beers brewed in Adelaide) and Tooheys.
XXXX Gold is brewed in all the Lion breweries; in Queensland at Milton, at Lidcombe Sydney and by West End in Adelaide for the various markets around the country.
Yes, I agree Mike, I thought that when Rowan made his comment, but because I didn’t know the full history off of the top of my head, I didn’t question it. Frankly, I don’t care who owns it now, I just think it’s sneaky to reduce the alcohol content on the quiet.
I’ve never bought a can or bottle of it since I realised what they’d done.
Would you please go to your local James Squire’s pub and critique the new Hop Thief #8.
We have almost run out of HT 7 down here so the bottled release of #8 must be close.
Sounds like I need to drag myself up to South Brisbane and pay a visit to The Charming Squire to see if they have the new Hop Thief #8.
If they don’t, I suppose I could always console myself with a #7.
Work, work, work. The things I have to do 🙂
Damn, life is such a hard place to be at times. Maxwell’s silver hammer came down upon his head …
Didn’t make it to The Charming Squire this weekend, but I did pop into The Grand View Hotel in Cleveland on Saturday evening and enjoyed a fine pint of Old Speckled Hen from the tap.
Very, very, nice.
See how I go the extra mile?
Back with more later.
Found myself within the vicinity of The Charming Squire last Sunday at approximately 5:30 PM in the evening. The perfect time to enjoy a pint…
Apparently they have had it in since sometime in July, and very nice it is too. I couldn’t compare it to #7, simply because I can’t remember what that tasted like. Maybe you could let me know what you think of it John when you get the chance to have a taste yourself.
Greetings Bob, I found your Web site because I was looking for a good Australian beer. I haven’t had one as of yet. I live in Los Angeles, CA and find myself drawn more to microbrews than the huge large batch breweries. My favs are lagers, nut brown ales and pale ales. I don’t like IPA’s or anything with a lot of hops. I just started using an app called “Untapped”. It keeps track of the beers you have tried. A cool app. Anyway what would you recommend as my premier Australian beer? Cheers.
Well, you are definitely looking in the right direction, all the best beers are now being produced by microbreweries. Which microbrewery would be best for you is hard to say, they are very much a local thing, so it depends where you live.
I can’t think of what to recommend you simply because I’m not much into lagers or nut brown ales. IPAs are my thing, but I like pale ale as well though.
The above-mentioned James Squires Hop Thief is definite worth a go and I’d also recommend Burleigh Brewing Company’s 28 Pale Ale. These are not microbrews, so should be easier to get no matter where you are.
My best recommendation though would be to try them all 🙂 cheers!
Hey Bob, Thanks for the reply. Yes, trying them all is a very enjoyable adventure indeed. My wife, sis and I are going to a place called, The Yard House this weekend. This place supports the local microbrews. Should be fun. I’ll look for your recommendations. Thanks again. Cheers.
Its me Ashok again…! Do you know where I can buy some beer for a wholesale price. I would like to stock it up so its cheaper. Also which Heavy beer which is high in ABV tastes good?
Suggestions are welcome for the newcomer in Australia.
I like your question Ashok, buying heavy beers in bulk is a great idea. I live in Queensland, I’ve had no such luck with that sort of thing, but Queensland only allows bottle shops to sell beer.
Some other states do allow supermarkets with a license to sell beer, so you might get cheap beer in bulk from either Costco or Aldi, although to be fair I’ve looked online and the prices aren’t that much different from the big bottle shops we have here in Queensland.
So I think ultimately the answer will probably be no, but if you really want cheap beer I would suggest you look into homebrewing. With the right equipment you can make great beer very cheaply.
If anyone out there knows a different answer to this question, I think we would all love to know about it so please feel free to add a comment.
Good luck, Bob
Just to mention that the Prancing Pony Brewery near Mount Barker in South Australia has an India Red Ale touching 8%. The best beer in Australia without a doubt! Have a look at the website…….http://prancingponybrewery.com.au/ .Feral Hop Hog from WA is damm good too! Crust has spoken.
I want one!
As for the Feral Hop Hog, I had three the other week at the Brisbane Ekka, they had a stand.
Very nice. Not the stand, the beer.
I just read that a beer produced by Mountain Goat (MG Barley) was voted best Australian beer at the AIG International Awards, which had 1700 submissions. Top world beer went to Speight’s 5 Malt Old Dark from Lion Breweries in Auckland, NZ. I haven’t tried it but I bet they’re right. In fact the NZ companies dominated the awards. Try Tui (not Toohey) NZ stout as well.
I don’t think I’ve had any of the Mountain Goat creations, but I have heard all the fuss about them. They seem not so much a craft beer, more of a designer beer. Quite expensive, small bottles.
Probably why I’ve stayed away. Not heard of the others, but I’ll keep an eye out for them.
I agree with most of what you say Bob. This thread being long, I haven’t read most of it.
You’re completely right about XXXX bitter, and about XXXX gold being the best of the mass-produced soda-pop beers. I also like Resch’s Dinner Ale, a lot of people don’t, it can be hard to get. Resch’s Pilsener is also good. I disagree about Squire and Boags, I think they are fake artisan beers, I don’t think much of Boags. Personally I hate India Pale, but that’s a matter of my own taste, it is a good beer. There are some Cascade beers that are very good, it’s the water. Similarly imported Andes from South America is an ordinary beer made from fantastic water, well worth a try. Apart from Little Creatures and Fat Yak, try Mountain Goat Steam Ale and Beez Neez. If you are in Sydney pop into the Craig tavern at Darling Harbour and try Craig Strong. It’s a very normal lager but it’s very good.
Good British beers are not that widely available alas! Nothing beats Samuel Smith, Churchill lager which nobody seems to be importing now is also good. European beers are widely available. Peroni is rubbish. Stella is good. I would tend to drink German and Dutch beers and Carlsberg, which are, Grolsch especially. It’s always worthwhile watching out for very cheap specials on imported German beers.
In Melbourne the artist/intellectual crowd universally drink Guinness, man and girl, and have for more than a century. A pub without Guinness on tap will never attract the arts crowd.
I’m not terribly impressed with most Australian alcohol. The universal white wines are awful. Cab Sav is dire. You’d be much better buying an imported German hock. With considerable hunting it is possible to find excellent red wines, but if you want drinkable cheap reds, get imported Italian or Spanish. If you’re spending $20-30/bottle, I don’t think the best Australian reds have any rivals. Dessert wines and fortified wines are mostly excellent – the Sauternes and Muscats are fantastic, especially the NZ ones. If you have a sweet tooth, it’s well worthwhile trying some of these, especially things like Orange Blossom Sauternes.
Rum is good. Australian brandy is horrible unless you pay top dollar and most places don’t even have it – why is a mystery, unless of course you have tried it. Whiskey I don’t drink except Irish so won’t comment on,in any case, it’s almost all imported. Vodka is mostly disgusting wherever it comes from. Generally speaking anything that comes from Greece or what used to be Yugoslavia is good, no matter how weird the ingredients sound.
If you want to be surprised, nip over to Cambodia or Vietnam and spend $1.00 on a 500 ml bottle of whiskey or vodka produced in those countries. You might be very surprised indeed.
Firstly Tom I just want to clear up what may be a misunderstanding, the first list is of Australia’s best selling beers, not what I think are the best. Personally I can’t stand xxxx gold, I think it’s awful, the xxxx bitter is very good though for a budget beer.
I’ve pretty much gone off the Boags since I wrote this, but I still really like all the James Squires range, never had a bad beer from them. The Samuel Smiths you mention, I used to buy that from my local convenience store when I lived in England. It came in a clear white pint bottle and smelled like a fart when you opened it. The beer was gorgeous though. Incidentally, Samuel Smith was John Smith’s brother and apparently they were originally partners, but they split because they disagreed about the type of beer they wanted to make.
John went on to make a load of money, but Samuel made the better beer.
I used to drink Guiness a lot in the UK too, but it’s not a drink I’d like here in Australia, it’s too hot for it. Maybe that’s why they like it in Melbourne 🙂
For me, Australia make some really good wines and at good prices, like $6-$10.I’m not into shorts, so I’ll pass on that subject.