The Australian Beer Companion - Willie Simpson

By Kerry Scambler
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Ironhouse Brewery on the east coast of Tasmania

Ironhouse Brewery on the east coast of Tasmania [©Ironhouse Brewery]

The Australian Beer Companion by Willie Simpson
Moorilla's famous
Enjoy a Wheat Beer at the Red Hill Brewery, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria


Willie Simpson tells us that 'Beer is far more than a mere commodity to quench a thirst – it offers all the diversity and complexity of wine, if you are prepared to explore its many possibilities.'

Thankfully for those of us who are all for exploration, Australia has a flourishing beer industry to help us along this journey of discovery. And we’re not just talking about the big brewers whose names and beers are a common part of our culture and vocabulaty, it’s the growing number of craft brewers who have started to educate beer drinkers that there’s so much more to life than pale lagers.  (Of course, there would probably be many more microbrewers if the Federal Government didn’t take around 25% of the production costs in excise – but that’s a whole new discussion for another day.)

Willie too is playing his part in our learning process – whilst his previous book, The Beer Bible, included an array of international beers, The Australian Beer Companion focuses solely on our home-grown brewers.  It’s an armchair journey around each state featuring around 100 of the best breweries and microbreweries in one, beautifully produced tome. It might also be a handy holiday-planning aide, making sure you don’t miss that special brew near your intended destination or even helping to decide your destination.

There’s a brief introduction on what actually goes into beer - and even if you already know the main ingredients, there always seems to be new things to be learnt, (eg that Coopers does a reverse-osmosis on the town water supply and then adds minerals to the base water).  This is followed by a very brief description on each of the beer styles then it’s straight into the breweries of NSW and ACT.

Each state chapter starts with an iconic image then has a brief section on general history and that state's top five beers, as chosen by Willie.  Each brewery is then detailed with history, house style, signature beer and an interesting section called “behind the label” – where there are some very unusual stories to be told (eg just who named a beer “Three Sheets”?).

From Sydney’s longest-running brewpub, The Lord Nelson Brewery Pub, to the award-winning Redoak Brewery who won a swag of medals at the Australian International Beer Awards before they’d even sold any beer, there’s 26 breweries to cover from Stone and Wood in Byron Bay to Zierholz Premium Brewery in the ACT.

Next stop is Victoria and what other photo would epitomise this state other than the huge balloon of a glass of Carlton Draught next to the MCG? Victoria might be the home to Carlton Draught and Australia’s most popular beer, VB, but out in the regions there’s a whole new world of beer to explore.  Mountain Goat started up un 1997 and probably revitalised the craft brewing industry in this state so that it’s now home to around 35 or more microbreweries, 22 of which are covered in the Companion.  A couple of this reviewer's favourites are the brand new White Rabbit Brewery, recently set up in Healesville by WA’s Little Creatures and Red Hill Brewery ( Partners) - this book is already starting to inspire a Victorain holiday to discover more first hand and do some serious taste testing.

Next it’s on to SA, home of the iconic cloudy Coopers’ ales and with surprisingly fewer microbreweries than I’d expected. Perhaps with Coopers being the third largest brewer in the country and already with a diverse range of beers on offer, the market has been relatively fulfilled.  It’s in SA too that winemaker Knappstein opened their brewery in the historic Clare Valley’s Enterprise Brewery which ceased brewing beer in 1916. This beautiful sandstone building then became home to the Knappstein winery before returning to its brewing roots in 2006.  It’s not uncommon for winemakers to be fond of the amber ale and microbreweries are now becoming part of wine regions and quite often, incorporated into wineries and run by wine-makers turned brewers.

Often called the cradle of craft brewing in Australia and perhaps the capital with the earliest and biggest acceptance of imported beers, Western Australia is home to some of the most established boutique beers.  Matilda Bay paved the way back in 1984 and WA now has the likes of Little Creatures, Gage Road and the Sail and Anchor Hotel each with a national and well established following and at least another 24 microbreweries to choose from.

The Queensland section, again surprisingly, only features eight breweries (two of which are owned by the big two, Fosters and Lion Nathan) and this is the same number as the island state of Tasmania.   It’s home to XXXX, brewed by Castlemaine Perkins and now part of the Lion Nathan stable, which still dominates this market and perhaps accounts for the sunshine state lagging behind the rest of Australia. However with the recent addition of Burleigh Brewing Company and Blue Sky Brewery in Cairns, there is hope and room for many more craft beers in between.

And last, but of course by no means least, we travel to Tasmania, home state of, with eight breweries. Tasmania’s also the home of hops with the only other significant cultivation area being Myrtleford in Victoria.  With the hops and the freshest water, it's no surprise that it's home to two of the country’s first and best premium lagers – Boag’s and Cascade, developed and brewed incidentally by the same brewing team. Whilst these two brewers are now part of the Lion Nathan and Fosters’ companies respectively, there are another six boutique breweries around our beautiful state. There’s Moo Brew, located at the iconic Moorilla Estate, Ironhouse on our spectacular east coast , Two Metre Tall brewery up amongst the hop farms in the Derwent Valley and of course, the author’s own Seven Sheds where, along with his Kentish Ale he produces a deliciously refreshing raspberry beer.

After this swift ride around the country’s brewers, you might have developed a thirst so here’s a few beer names that might just pique the interest further:

  • Prickly Moses
  • Matso’s Smokey Bishop
  • Beast
  • Seeing Double
  • Three Sheets
  • Last Drop

Another interesting aspect, and perhaps material for a whole new article, is the prevalence of numbers and animals in brewery and beer names, here’s a few examples:

  • Mallee Bull
  • Mountain Goat
  • Raging Bull
  • Red Duck
  • 3 Ravens
  • 2 Brothers
  • White Rabbit
  • Red Angus

What comes alive after this trip through the easy to read text and wonderful photos in the Companion, is that Australian microbreweries have a unique character all their own and this comes through whether their brewery and cellar door/pub is a rustic shed-like construction in one our of outlying regions, or an architectural piece set in the more fashionable areas.  Our brewers are making more diverse beers and importantly are also matching them with food (I’ve already planned a trip to Redoak just to try their beer tasting plate). And I for one am celebrating this and planning my next break with one eye on the Companion.


The Australian Beer Companion by Willie Simpson is published by Explore Australia (2009). RRP A$49.95. and subscribers can buy The Australian Beer Companion  from our book partners Seekbooks at 12.5% discount (plus postage).



  • North West Tas (TAS)

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October 01st, 2009
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