Australia has a proud, rich tradition of state-based beer pride. Each state and territory has their favourites; staunchly defended by drinkers, reviled by interlopers, the weathered logos affixed to rural pubs dividing state lines better than any landmark or road sign.
While a lot of you may be using this isolation time to embark on a full lap of the fancy beer fridges of your local bottleo’s online store, I have been relentlessly punishing myself in a Quantity Over Quality scenario, guzzling my way through an entire nation’s worth of RSL taps and country footy Grand Finals without once leaving my house. And here’s the awful truth: Some of Australia’s states mass produce liquid gold. But some – oh lord, some of them – have conned entire populations into defending stagnant river water in a can.
With the assist of a timely delivery from BWS, I embarked on my round trip journey of the country, one tin at a time. The end result? This definitive ranking of Australia’s bog standard, nothing to ’em, find ’em everywhere Froth Whitlams. A list with a blue truer than John Williamson himself.
Crack the tube.
10) Tooheys New – NSW
A beer not even NSW is that proud of. For the purposes of this experiment I’ve been given a Tooheys Extra Dry, which is a borderline war crime. But the ghosts of Tooheys New hurtle around my soul like 19-year-old me launching himself into the bushes outside the Uni Bar after putting his face into a handful of $6 jugs on a Tuesday night. It’s a beer so downplayed in its own home state that they’ve allowed a Victorian beer to put its logo on the State of Origin shirt. That’s a dire sin. If Woody Guthrie’s guitar was a machine that killed fascists, then Tooheys New is a beer that suggests they should be revived. Democracy dies in darkness and also in cans of New. Swill.
9) Cascade – TAS
The million dollar secret that all Tasmanians are entrusted with is that the best beers the state produces is not allowed to be taken outside of it. For Cascade, it’s their Cascade Lager, a no-nonsense, get shit done beer with a collar as blue as it’s label. Everything else they do, however, is as cold as kunanyi in June. The entry-level Cascade Draught burns like knives going down and rocks a taste palate flatter than the bed of the Derwent. The so-called “Premium” Light – which I’ve been given on this occasion – is so ineffective at everything it sets out to achieve that it could be safely served in a Recovery Ward. But the Lager – the Clager, the Bridgewater Blue – is an instant classic. So it’s getting a point for that.
8) Great Northern – QLD/NT
Don’t get it twisted: The only way to drink every beer on this list is at a temperature so dizzyingly close to freezing that an errant shake of the bottle could turn it into a slushie. Were you to fill a lake full of them, a still day could see a duck get trapped in instant ice if it disturbed the surface by landing. The problem with Great Northern is that it’s been genetically engineered to absorb the heat of the sun once it’s been opened. I’ve seen ovens that warm up slower. That’s not a problem in somewhere like Darwin where you’ve gotta suck ’em down like Coca Cola just to avoid being boiled alive by the air. But in any other environment, you’re left nursing a clear bottle full of thin, yeasty jelly far sooner than you’d ever prefer.
7) MB – VIC
Saying this out loud immediately gets me banned from The Evelyn and probably several other area pubs filled with 22 year olds all paying $1,300 a month for a room in a mouldy King William St sharehouse with half a couch and cardboard windows, but Melbourne Bitter? Christ it’s overrated. It tastes like it’s somehow absorbed the red metallic tan painted on the outside of the tin. It’s perfectly drinkable in scenarios with no better alternatives. But if there’s something else on offer – and there is, frequently – you’d be wise to take it up. Even if it’s just the bartender offering to punch you in the face.
6) West End – SA
Against all odds, South Australia has produced a stock state beer that is, for all intents and purposes, fine. West End Draught gets you pissed, only tastes mildly of iron filings, and produces hangovers that hover at a consistent 6 out of 10. That’s a tick in every box. It’s not that good, it’s not that bad, it’s just kinda… there. You forget about it until you’re faced with it. You’ll have no problems dealing with it. And when you’re done you can part ways with it and happily not think about it for another 10 months or so. Much like South Australia itself, really.
5) Emu Export – WA
From a design standpoint alone, Emu Export whips the piss out of everyone else on this list. Where others have dabbled in colour and logo variation over the years, Emu has stayed true to itself. The red, the white, the sandgroper gold. It’s a classic combination. An unmistakable look. A timeless tin if ever there was one. And it’s the kind of palatable neck grease that’ll handily ease a FIFO worker into a beautiful Indian Ocean sunset before he drops a house deposit on shard and blinks through the traditional off-week bender. Like getting glassed at The Cottesloe on a hot August night, it’s a true WA classic.
4) VB – VIC
The Matemaker. The Hand Grenade. The Very Best. That big cold beer that quenches the hard earned thirst. Drinking an ice cold VB is a right of passage for Victorians. It’s a fizzy treat for a hard workin’ tum. Sure, hammering down a glovebox full of ’em makes you feel like three shirtless old boys all named Costa are laying a concrete slab in your guts. But let’s be clear here: That slab is dead flat. And I mean dead flat, all over, millimetre perfect. You’d give your life to that slab, just like you’d give your life to a slab of VB. It’s the classic for a reason. Why is it here at four then? Because it’s a fucking criminal dog act that you can’t get it at the footy. What the christ is going on there, goodness me.
3) Resch’s – NSW/ACT
Redeeming itself largely through the presence of Canberra, like it does in so many other ways, New South Wales’ shining saviour in this torrid experiment is the borderline-holy Resch’s. A warming, welcoming froth brimming with nostalgia. The kind of tin you wish you were sinking in the backyard at Nan’s while Pop nurses a shandy and tells you about how he had to walk 50 miles to work uphill both ways with one leg off. Robitussin for pissheads. It’ll fix anything.
2) Boag’s – TAS
Much like Cascade, Boag’s best work is done entirely within Tasmania, to the exclusion of all mainlanders. The Boag’s XXX Ale – the humble Boag’s Red to locals – is the world-burning truth. It is the mother’s milk, the angel’s tears, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Tinnie. But unlike Cascade, the other efforts Boag’s puts out are just as mighty. The Draught – ye olde Green Devil – is the kind of beer you build nations on the back of. Drinking it is like weaponising a sick one. And the shift to 30 can blocks a few years back is as right and just a decision as you’re likely to see in a long time. Because the only thing better than 24 Boag’s cans is 6 more. That’s socialism, mates. Very socialism.
1) XXXX Gold – QLD
Tastes like the first sharp crack of thunder ripping through the stuffy Toowoomba air. Tastes like the rumble of hooves hammering down the straight in Birdsville. Tastes like the slap of worn-down Havaiana on weathered heel clacking across the balcony at the Marcoola SLSC. Tastes like sinking a 5 iron into the thick side of a cane toad at 3am. Tastes like Warwick Capper sitting on heads at Carrara. Tastes like King Wally’s blood and sweat dripping off the walls of Lang Park. Tastes like Michael Voss hoisting three cups at the Gabba. Tastes like Baby I’ve Got You On My Mind. Tastes like Covered in Chrome. Tastes like Streets Of Your Town. Tastes like eight in a row. That’s XXXX Gold. The Milton Mango. The all day, every day froth dog. The King.