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The 'wholefood' ale from Adelaide

Beer of the Month: Michael Jackson applauds five generations of the Cooper family, whose brew does not sparkle like a lager but goes down a treat

There is a super-strain of stubborness as is found only in Yorkshiremen. In cricket it is exemplified by the stonewall batting of Geoffrey Boycott; in beer by the Yorkshire family of Cooper who, for five generations have persisted in brewing one of the world's great ales in Australia, a country better known for especially tasteless lagers.

After sporadic appearances in Britain in the pasts Cooper's Sparkling Ale is now available from Oddbins and speciality beer shops. It is my Beer of the Month, not only because of its robust character but also its epic history.

Thomas Cooper grew up near Skipton in Yorkshire, emigrated to Australia in the 1859s, was a Wesleyan lay preacher, and is said to have brewed his first batch as a tonic for his sick wife. He married twice, had 19 children and at one stage sold the family home to keep his Adelaide brewery in business.

Even in recent times the family worried about the future of the brewery. One of the fifth generation Tim Cooper, took the precaution of qualifying as a doctor of medicine as well as taking his degree in brewing. He still does the odd weekend shift at a hospital while working during the week at the brewery.

Cooper's is the only one of Australia's nineteenth-century breweries to have survived as a family-owned small business.

Cooper's is the only one of Australia's nineteenth-century breweries to have survived as a family-owned small business. As a Wesleyan, Thomas Cooper had no objection to beer but disapproved of pubs. For most of its history the brewery owned none, and today has only one. That may have made it less attractive to takeover bids.

Even more remarkable is its survival in a country that could not give a XXXX for ales. It did eventually add several lagers to its range, in the late Sixties and early Seventies, but soon afterwards a new generation of drinkers began to discover its ales and relish them for their eccentricity.

Its most prized product is its Sparkling Ale, the name of which could be taken to be ironic. It is true that this golden ale will just about sparkle if poured with the gentle hand of a seducer, but any technique more clumsy will result in a profound haze of yeast sediment.

In Adelaide, where there are ale loyalists old enough never to have switched to lager-drinking, some still pour their Cooper's carefully, producing a bright ale in the glass and leaving the yeast sediment in the bottle. Younger Australians, however, presenting the promise of a post-Foster's Lager movement, prefer their Sparkling Ale a muddy yellow: a "wholefood" of the beer world.

The ultimate tribute to Cooper's staying power has been the recent emergence in Adelaide of two local rival ales. Cooper's advertisements note that "every cloud has a silver lining." One of the upstarts announces itself as a new cloud on the horizon."

Perhaps we Brits should join the competition by sending them our famously yeasty Worthington White Shield (the future of which has been placed in question by the planned closure of the brewery where it is made).

Cooper's golden-yellow colour comes from barley grown on the Yorke Peninsula of South Australia. The merits of barleys cultivated inland and near the sea divide maltsters but some devotees claim to detect a special maritime saltiness in Cooper's. The barley is trucked to a maltings owned by Cooper's at the thirstily-named Dry Creek near Adelaide. To make its own malt is a rare distinction for a brewery as small as Cooper's.

The brewery itself is an agricultural-looking premises. Thomas Cooper moved to the site when it was still bush because he could not afford to build in the city. Today the brewery is incongruously hidden among suburban villas.

Cooper's seasons its beer exclusively with hops of the Australian variety Pride of Ringwood. It is said that the first cuttings were smuggled from Kent, Surrey, or Hampshire, though the name seems to derive from a research farm at Ringwood near Melbourne.

Pride of Ringwood hops confer a robust bitterness, and this vigour of attack is compounded by Cooper's yeastiness. The strain is about 90 years old and full of character. Until the last decade it fermented in wooden vessels, and that habitat must have helped shape it.

Why is there yeast still in the bottle? This is not due to poor filtration: as in other sedimented beers, the purpose is to create a secondary fermentation in the bottle. It is methode champenoise without the degorgement.

All ale yeasts (as opposed to lager strains) create fruity flavours, and Cooper's brew has a huge complexity with notes of pears and bananas, especially, being evident. This rare Australian ale may look muddy, but it has its own earthily refreshing qualities.

I have long been an enthusiast and recently enjoyed Cooper's Sparkling Ale in Adelaide to the sound of leather on willow at the local Oval. I think I shall lay down a stock for the upcoming season In Britain. Sparkllng or opaque, It would enliven the most Boycottian innings.

Published Online: SEPT 2, 1998
Published in Print: FEB 1, 1992
In: The Independent

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