Centuries ago, the European monks put XXX on the kegs holding their best beer: the triples. The marketers of the Castlemaine-Perkins brewery in Brisbane, Australia decided in 1924 their beer was better, so they added an X. Talk about chutzpah! One thing is sure: the bright red XXXX on yellow background, nothing more, nothing less, is seen all over Australia. The word ‘beer’ is not needed. Everybody knows what the four X’s mean: delicious salvation from thirst.
In 1842, the British create a penal settlement on the mouth of a river on the sunny East Coast of Australia. These modest beginnings grew into the bustling modern city of Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, third largest city of Australia with 2 million inhabitants. The British claimed the whole ‘island’ by populating settlements with convicts on every side of the landmass. Not an easy task, since Australia is the size of the 48 continental States of the USA. Population today: only about 22 million.
The brewery takes up two large city blocks along the Brisbane River, just outside the downtown business center. In 1866 the Perkins brothers take over a little local brewery, and through more purchases, mergers and expansion a large industrial brewery emerges on the actual site in 1878. At the same time, a new beer, the ‘XXX sparkling ale’ is launched. Notice: only 3 X’s. Eleven years later, following a global trend, the brewery introduces cold fermentation to brew lagers. Brewing lagers down-under didn’t go easy in the first years, but in 1920, the renowned German brewing engineer Alhois William Leitner, solves all technical problems and launches the brewery on a success path. Today, only lagers are brewed at the brewery: about 2.5 million barrels per year!
The actual brewery is high-tech, completely automated, and except for the malting, everything else is done in-house. The total water consumption is down to 2.8 times the beer production. This is very low compared with European and US breweries, where the water usage can easily be double. The focus on water-consumption is standard practice for every body in Australia, a very dry country.
The brewing process consumes 500-ton malt and 200-ton sugar per week. All ingredients, including the hops, are harvested in Australia. Although, a small amount of Czech hops is imported. The huge mash-tun holds 500 barrels! The lagering tanks: 50,000 barrels! The beer rests in there 7 to 10 days. Thanks to the amount of the extra sugar, high gravity brewing is possible, and allows the short maturation time. High gravity means the hopped wort is so sweet, the fermentation can produce the maximum of alcohol content possible, about 13 % ABV. A higher percentage kills the yeast. Before bottling, water is added to the liquid to attain the desired alcohol content in the beer.
The brewery operates 17 hours per day, on a 9/14 schedule, which means 5 days brewing the first week, and 4 days the second week. On the second Friday the brewery cleans the whole brewing process and all filling machines. The key brewing and packing technology comes from Germany (Krones, KHS Kisters). Some parts of the packaging lines (bottles, cans, kegs) come from Italy (Sasib) and Australia (Foodmach). The can line fills up to 120,000 cans (12.6 oz) per hour. The bottling lines together: 196,000 bottles (12.6 oz) per hour. Every product, including kegs, is pasteurized. Robots shrink wrap bottles and cans, put everything in cases, palletize and deliver the pallets to the warehouse. It is a very impressive sight to see all the moving parts in a warehouse the size of a football field, with no people walking in between the machines.
One 50 liters keg (13.21 gallons) is filled in 28 seconds! 850 kegs are filled per hour. Australia outlawed glass bottles in venues that don’t serve food at tables. No wonder draught is so important to breweries: 25 % of the production is sold in kegs.
Let’s talk beer. The ‘XXXX Gold’ is the best sold beer of the brewery. The color is deep yellow gold, no bitterness to speak of (14 IBU), and the dominating sense of taste is a sweet maltiness. This lager is very drinkable, especially very cold, and offers only 3.5% ABV, which is the average for a regular Australian beer.
Although the word ‘bitter’ is included in the name, the ‘XXXX Bitter’ is not really bitter (18 IBU), only a touch more pronounced than the XXXX Gold. A classic Pilsner yellow in combination with a higher alcohol content of 4.6% ABV and a richer taste, makes the Bitter the better choice.
Just before the summer 2009, this means the winter in the USA, the brewery launched its latest creation: ‘XXXX Summer’. A refreshing very pale, almost greenish yellow lager, in a clear bottle, is aimed at an active young public. Could the creation of this beer be provoked by the overall presence in the market of Corona? Very light in carbs, hops (8 IBU) and general taste, ‘XXXX Summer’ finished with a faint sweetness. When enjoyed cold, Australian youngsters drink lots of it on the beach, in the bush, at the parties. 4.2 % ABV.
The XXXX beers are heavily promoted with funny TV commercials (see YouTube), on sport events (teams and tournaments), and by a group of sexy Aussy girls, named the ‘XXXX Angels’. (YouTube again, mate!) The open-door policy welcomes everybody at the brewery. Young hostesses guide the visitors, on a specially made circuit, through and above all the brewing and packaging phases in the brewery. A dynamic video presentation, in combination with puppets, tells the history of the brewery. Video screens, strategically placed on the walking circuit, explain what happens in the brewing process at that particular spot. At the end of the tour, the beers are tasted in a large bar-restaurant, open to the public. Next time you are in Brisbane, you have to visit this awesome brewery.
Information source: I was offered a personal guided tour through the brewery followed up by an interview with Shaneez Johnston of the communication department.