Beer and wine. They’re staples of Australian life, and South Australia has played a leading role in the brewing and winemaking industry. Canberra writer Irma Gold takes a look at the extensive records pertaining to the regulation and control of the industry, some dating as far back as 1894, held by the National Archives in its Adelaide Office.
In the late 1800s, beer brewed in Australia began to capture the local market. Between 1894 and 1895, a total of 34 brewers in South Australia declared their intention to brew beer, describing the location and layout of their brewery, along with their capacity and methods. The need for imported beer was consequently reduced.
Since imports attracted customs duty, the result was a decrease in government revenue. By 1902, the Australian Government was replacing this lost revenue through beer duty on all locally brewed products. In South Australia – and most of the other states except Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania – duty was charged at twopence per gallon.
Bulk beer and home brewing
Prior to 1950 bulk beer was often bottled by hoteliers. This practice was legal if the bottle label included the names of the hotel and the bottling plant. However it was brought to a stop by the South Australian Brewing Company in an effort ‘to bring about an equitable system of distribution’. The company threatened that any hotelier found distributing bulk beer would have their draught beer supplies reduced.
Until 1973 it was illegal under the Beer Excise Act 1901 to brew beer at home that was more than 2 per cent proof (just over 1 per cent alcohol by volume). The Act also stringently defined what beer was to be made from (malted grain, hops and possibly other sugars).
This made prosecuting some home brewers difficult if they were producing beer made with ingredients such as chilli, horehound or aniseed. For example, in 1965 five wooden casks were seized by customs officers from the home of a Mr Maple. Despite confessing to home brewing with a view to establishing a business, he was not prosecuted. To conform with the Beer Excise Act he had adjusted his recipe for mead by excluding malted grain.
Control of Liquor Order
In March 1942, in an attempt to reduce excessive drinking, the government imposed a one-third reduction in the manufacture and supply of beer through the Control of Liquor Order. In the following month, when 60,000 international troops arrived in Adelaide, the rations inevitably caused shortages. By 8 April, 96 South Australian hotels had already reached their sales quota for the month. The result was the emergence of a thriving black market.
Breaches of the Order were investigated by custom officers. One such case was the Commercial Hotel at the South Australian town of Morgan. It was discovered that supplies of beer purchased at Springfield Brewery under the names of various sporting clubs were actually being shipped to Morgan by train and sold through the Commercial Hotel or onto the black market.
Australian Wine Marketing Board
The Archives holds records created by the Australian Wine Marketing Board and subsequent agencies. In 1930, an office was established in London to promote wine from the ‘Empire countries’. In 1969, the board was telling New Zealanders: ‘Your life is more pleasant with Australian Wine’.
International tariffs and duties had a significant impact on the countries to which Australian winemakers exported. The board looked favourably on relations with wine markets in the United States, and in 1972 the US National Wine Queen visited the Vintage Festival of the Barossa Valley. Here, she diplomatically stated, ‘I love wines but I don’t like comparing them. Each country’s wines have something different to offer.’
Other countries, such as Japan, were not so appealing. In 1936, the concessions they demanded outweighed the benefits. It was not until 1963, when Japan relaxed its liquor import quotas for wine, that the board became interested in it as a market.
View Archives records relating to this article:
- Bottling of bulk beer for hotels by bottling agencies (includes hotel beer labels), 1949–50
- Illicit manufacture of beer, general correspondence, 1932–71
- Home brewing of alcoholic liquors not being ‘beer’, 1944–45
- Alleged manufacture of illicit beer – HL Maple, Torrensville, 1965–69
- Control of Liquor Order – Springfield Brewery and Commercial Hotel, Morgan, 1945
- Australian Wine Board – general public relations, 1974–75
Fact sheet 26 – The wine industry in South Australia
Fact sheet 94 – Excise control of distilled products in South Australia
Fact sheet 98 – Regulation of beer and brewing in South Australia
The records referred to in this article are held by the Archives’ Adelaide Office. On 5 April 2011, this office co-located with State Records of South Australia at the South Australian Archives Centre, 26–28 Leigh Street, Adelaide, SA 5000.
Research support for this article was provided by Archives staff member, Jeremy Sibbald.