This act, in itself, was not overly news-worthy or indeed even blog-worthy.  Mr Mallon pours a fair number of pints every week, some of them are even for customers.

However, this beer was special, historic even.  It was the first glass from the first keg of Coopers ale to be poured in New Zealand.  While a number of the famous Coopers products have been available in New Zealand for some time (particularly the Sparkling Ale, Pale Ale, Best Extra Stout and Vintage Ale), kegs of Coopers had previously only been exported to America and, according to one wag, Tasmania.

Now, they are arriving to a select number of outlets around the country and Malthouse was delighted to be the very first.  Coopers Sparkling Ale (5.8%) and Coopers Best Extra Stout (6.3%) are on tap now.

The Coopers Brewery is the largest family-owned brewery in Australasia.  The Cooper family have defied the odds and retained control of their brewery – despite a rather determined takeover bid from Lion in 2005 – and today a sixth-generation of Coopers are involved in the company.

The story of how Coopers started is told by Australian writer Cyril Pearl in his 1969 book with the simply marvellous title of “Beer Glorious Beer”:

“The history of the brewery begins in 1862 when a Yorkshireman named [Thomas] Cooper, living in Norwood South Australia, began to brew ale and stout for his invalid wife.  Soon friends and neighbours wanted to buy it and Cooper turned his home-brewing into a successful family business. *  In 1881 it had expanded so greatly that he moved to a building on the site of the present brewery in Leabrook. **

Adelaide hotels, stocked with imported ales, would not serve his beer, and until the turn of the century the brewery had to survive on private sales.  Then first city and later country hotels began to stock its products.  But it was not until 1929 that private sales were discontinued.”

In 1864, Thomas wrote to his brother in Yorkshire as people did in the days before Facebook.  His letter contained the famous line “Dear Brother, we are now engaged in the Brewery Business” and he went on to explain “There are some half dozen breweries besides ours in and about Adelaide, but they all use a good deal of sugar and so on for brewing, but we use only malt and hops, consequently, ours being pure, the doctors recommend it to all their patients.”

Or, as they put it on the snazzy Coopers website, “Thomas Cooper saw the opportunity to create a beer that was free from the ‘peculiar flavour’ of colonial ales – he would introduce an all-natural beer from the very best ingredients… Coopers uses only natural ingredients including malt, hops, sugar, water and a special yeast strain that’s over 90 years old.” ***

The Sparkling Ale was the first beer Thomas Cooper made for his ailing wife Ann.  Although the range has expanded dramatically in recent years, it remains the company’s flagship beer.  The recipe is said to have barely changed since that first batch over 150 years ago.  This sparkling ale is, paradoxically, a cloudy golden beer.  Yeast is left in the brew which requires the keg to be agitated frequently to ensure an even distribution of the yeast into each glass. **** 

It has a robust mix of fruit, hops and bitterness and is exceedingly quenching.  At the risk of having my provisional Beer Geek status revoked, I have to concede that I had always preferred the Coopers Pale Ale over the Coopers Sparkling Ale in the bottle.  I was aware that the Sparkling had a cult reputation after bursting onto the international beer scene in the 1980s and early 1990s but it was only after trying it on tap at Malthouse that I truly understood why.

The Coopers Best Extra Stout throws a dry, chocolate and earthy nose.  In the glass, it has plenty of bitter chocolate with hints of iced coffee, toast and cream. These first kegs are a relatively young batch and slightly different to what we have seen in bottles.  With the chill off, it’s a dark and delicious drop.  Interestingly, Coopers tend to use ‘best after’ rather than ‘best before’ dates.

As noted in the previous Malthouse blog to mention Coopers – Mayhem on the Dance Floor starring former Coopers Ambassador Paul Mercurio – larrikin Aussie beer scribes Ben Canaider and Greg Duncan Powell once described Cooper’s Best Extra Stout as not only tasting of a “burnt green stick” but also having “a bit of cooking chocolate, the bits scraped out the bottom of the roasting pan, old chests of drawers, brake fluid and iced coffee.”  Which begs the questions – what does brake fluid taste like and how exactly do you find that out without going blind?

Finally, on 20 November 2010, the Coopers Brewery will throw open its gates and host a concert featuring the best selling Australian artist of all time, John Farnham.  It’s a safe bet that Helen Clark won’t be there. *****

* This was fortunate as by all accounts he hadn’t much luck with previous enterprises
** The brewery moved to its current Regency Park site in 2001, some 32 years after this was written
*** It is not known what Thomas Cooper Esq would make of the new sediment-free low-carbohydrate Cooper’s Clear
**** Basically, everyone kicks the keg as they go past
***** In 2005, former Prime Minister Helen Clark opposed plans to have Farnham sing at Gallipoli saying it would not be appropriate and that she had “never heard of Johnny Farnham.”


Beer Writer
Real Beer New Zealand
Beer and Brewer Magazine


Official Coopers website –
Coopers on Facebook –
Previous Malthouse Blog ‘Mayhem on the Dance Floor’ –
ABC Report ‘You’re not voice, Farnham told’ – 
Malthouse on Twitter –
Malthouse Facebook Group –
Real Beer –
Beer and Brewer Magazine –