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October 4, 2010 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Finders Coopers

Australia and good beer are words which are not often used together. While recently some of the craft breweries have started selling their beer in New Zealand, Australia is well behind in the craft beer renaissance we are experiencing here.

One of the obvious reasons for that is the heat. With temperatures rarely reaching below the early- to mid-20s, even in the middle of winter, it’s no wonder cold, fizzy lagers drunk out of a stubby holder are a popular choice.

But standing out from that crowd is Coopers. One of Australia’s oldest breweries, founded in Adelaide in 1862 by Thomas Cooper, it has remained in the family for five generations, and during that time has stayed very close to its roots. While the brewery has also jumped on the lager bandwagon, its main range consists of six bottle-conditioned ales (yeast is still in the bottles when you buy them), all brewed to the brewery’s traditional style.

Recently, I was lucky enough to meet the current brewer Tim Cooper, who joined the brewery in 1990 after first working as a doctor in the UK. Since he joined the company, the brewery has gone from strength to strength, and will make about 60 million litres of beer this year. While not a craft brewery in terms of scale, Coopers’ main range (four of which are available in New Zealand) easily fits into the craft beer category in terms of flavour, thanks to its bottle-conditioned style.

In 1862, Thomas Cooper brewed his first batch of beer as a medicine for his wife Ann, who was sick at the time. He discovered he had quite a talent, and started selling his beer to the neighbours. That beer, with a few minor adjustments, is still sold by the brewery today as Coopers Sparkling Ale 5.8%, and until very recently, was Coopers’ biggest seller.

Sparkling Ale
is a cloudy, honey-golden ale, which is best drunk with all of the yeast poured into the glass. It has caramel and biscuit malt flavours, with banana notes and a wonderful dry hop bitterness to finish. What I particularly love about it is that while most beers that we drink showcase either the hop or malt characters, it is the yeast character in this beer which makes it so outstanding.

My personal favourite of the range is the Coopers Best Extra Stout 6.3%. It has strong smokey, roast malt and dark fruit aromas, and its flavour is just as rich. It tastes of roasted malt and coffee, is slightly smokey and has dark chocolate notes with a full, smooth texture. The stout is perfect to drink on those not-so-nice Wellington days when it feels as though winter is still here. You could also try drinking it with some lemonade which, according the brewer’s daughter Sarah, is how some people drink it in Adelaide.

Those two beers, along with their best-selling Original Pale Ale and cellar-friendly Vintage Ale, are now widely available in New Zealand supermarkets, liquor stores and bars. Some of the range is also frequently available on tap at The Malthouse and Bar Edward. And best of all, the beers are incredibly affordable, with the 750ml bottles about $6 each. Bargain.

If you have any questions or comments about this week’s beers, you can email me at


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