The old joke goes that Queenslanders call their beer XXXX because they don’t know how to spell, but a tour of the brewery in Milton debunks that, and explains much more.
The Fourex Brewery has been a fixture on Milton Rd for well over a century, its big red XXXX lights beaming out across the city for decades.
You don’t have to be a beer aficionado to find a brewery tour interesting and if you are, then this is the place for you.
Like tours of the Carlsberg Brewery in Copenhagen, Guinness in Dublin and a few random others in England, that I have sampled over the years, Brisbane’s XXXX brewery tour is not just an explanation of its brewing processes, but a glimpse of its part in history.
Allow at least two hours for the tour as the guide “Paul’s the name, beer is the game” is clearly passionate about his workplace since 1974.
If you’ve ever been curious about what lies behind that big brick wall on Milton Rd, the tour begins at the courtyard inside.
First there’s a snappy glimpse of the origins of beer (who knew the Egyptians who worked on the great pyramids were paid in beer?) and changes to the brew and its processes down the centuries.
The visuals continue with an entertaining 12-minute video on the origins of the Castlemaine brewery, its founders and master brewers.
And this is when the name becomes clear. The letter X was used to measure beer quality and strength in medieval monasteries; and when it came to royalty it had to be XXX.
The Fitzgerald Brothers, Edward and Nicholas moved from Castlemaine in Victoria to Brisbane and founded the brewery.
That was 1878, 140 years ago this year, and 54 years after the colony was founded in 1824.
Their first beer was the XXX sparkling ale. Work continued on improving the drop and eventually, it was awarded a fourth X. Simple really.
In 1893, the XXXX first appeared on Castlemaine sparkling ale and a year later, the eagle trademark was registered.
The brewery had a few other firsts as well. In 1880, for example, the first telephone line in Brisbane was installed between its city office and the brewery.
When the brewery became a public company in 1887, shares were oversubscribed by 60 per cent. A new brewhouse opened in 1905 to meet growing demand.
Why brown bottles? To stop the contents becoming light struck.
The first bottles used for beer at Milton in 1878, were imported champagne bottles because they are designed to withstand high internal pressure. Local bottlemakers kept the shape.
The first small glass containers for more efficient transport were introduced in 1962 but weren’t called stubbies until 1966.
The Breakfast Creek Hotel rejected the new-fangled steel kegs and remains the only pub in Brisbane to have wooden kegs.
The winking Mr Fourex in his boater was born in 1924 and his roots remain a mystery, although it has been said he was modelled on a newspaper seller in the Valley. He was recognised as a Queensland icon by the National Trust in 2004.
And this is just a taste of the beguiling tidbits imparted on the tour.
The tour continues with a sample sniff of ingredients and full explanations of the brewing process right through to the production line where stubbies are hurtling down conveyor belts to be labelled, wrapped into six-packs and bundled into cartons.
When the tanks are full, they hold more than 250,000 cartons of stubbies, which is enough to get past the Gold Coast if placed end to end. It’s a nine-day process.
The big yellow and red wheel at the front of the brewery was the flywheel of the refrigeration unit which was installed in 1919 and used continuously until 1972. It was driven by DC power from the Brisbane tramway system until 1926.
Funnily enough, it is called the Big Wheel. It has been “preserved as a sentiment of a past era”.
The tour ends with a tasting in the Brewery Alehouse where meals are also available.
It’s a great way to spend an afternoon.
Tours are regular and easy to organise.