Stories have emerged in the press this week casting doubt on the future of the iconic Castlemaine Perkins Brewery in Milton, home of the famous XXXX Bitter. The United Voice union has claimed that parent company Lion has threatened to close the brewery but a spokesman for Lion has denied the claim. I can call the brewery iconic with some confidence as it was named one of the Q150 Icons as part of Queensland’s 150th birthday celebrations in 2009.
Victorian brothers Nicholas and Edward Fitzgerald bought the site of a failing distillery on Milton Road in 1877 and opened a brewery which they named Castlemaine after a brewery they already owned in Castlemaine, Victoria. The first beer was brewed there in 1878 and was named XXX Sparkling Ale.
Some years earlier Patrick ‘Paddy’ Perkins, another Victorian with interests in mining and brewing, opened a brewery in Toowoomba in 1866 and purchased the City Brewery in Brisbane in 1872. In 1876 Perkins moved to Queensland to manage the brewing business and from 1877 was member for Aubigney in the Queensland Legislative Assembly. His reelection in 1883 was declared void due to electoral fraud but he was not disqualified from standing again and was elected in Cambooya in 1888 and was appointed to the Legislative Council in 1893 where he sat until his death in 1901.
XXXX Bitter was introduced in 1924 after Castlemaine brewery employed a German brewer, Alhois William Leitner. Cartoon character Mr Fourex appeared in advertising at the same time.
In 1928 Perkins brewing company was purchased by Castlemaine Brewing to form Castlemaine Perkins Limited. Castlemaine Perkins merged with Tooheys in 1980 to form Castlemaine Tooheys and the company was acquired by Alan Bond’s Bondcorp in 1985 and taken over by Lion Nathan in 1990. XXXX Gold was introduced in 1991. In 2009 Japanese company Kirin Holdings assumed 100% ownership of Lion Nathan which was renamed Lion in 2011. Although the Milton Brewery has been in operation on the same site since 1877 much of the production of XXXX Bitter now takes place in the Tooheys brewery in Western Sydney and XXXX Gold is also produced in South Australia.
Castlemaine XXXX Bitter features quite prominently in our current exhibition Freedom Then, Freedom Now in the section ‘Drink, smoke, ‘n gamble’. The exhibition continues in the Philip Bacon Heritage Gallery, level 4, State Library until 1 October 2017. Castlemaine Perkins was inducted into the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame in 2009.
Simon Miller – Library Technician, State Library of Queensland