Phillip Withers with a bottle of Terry's Ale.
Phillip Withers with a bottle of Terry's Ale. Photo: Jason South

After more than 130 years and some very late nights trying to decipher a dusty notebook, Australia's once lost beer was flowing from the taps of Melbourne's famous Chloe's Bar at the Young & Jackson pub yesterday, giving drinkers the chance to taste a colonial beer from the 1870s.

Such was the determination of the brewers from Brunswick's Thunder Road Brewing company to stick to the original recipe, which dates back to before Federation, they were forced to hunt down the same kind of hops used more than a century and a half ago and even used sugar from Mauritius, as was the custom of the time.

Initial impressions of the beer first created and brewed by Alfred Terry, a pioneer of Australia's beer industry who came to Melbourne in 1851, were of the beverage's incredibly fruity flavour, almost marmalade taste, and a bright vibrant copper tinge beneath a foamy creamy white head.

David Terry, a descendent of the Terry family, samples the revived ale while Chloe looks on in the background.
David Terry, a descendent of the Terry family, samples the revived ale while Chloe looks on in the background. Photo: Jason South

"I was pleasantly surprised," said Thunder Road senior brewer Marcus Cox who studied Mr Terry's original recipe and turned his sometimes half-scrawled shorthand notes into a proper recipe he could follow.

"It's a colonial ale, and it would have been the first beer out the door from the brewery, giving them the volume they needed. Once we deciphered the recipe and knew what we were doing it all came together, with that English tradition very close to its heart."

On sale to the public last night, Terry's Ale was brought back to life after a chance discovery of Mr Terry's original brewer's manual, which was lying unwanted in a second-hand bookshop in York Beach, Maine, USA.

The recipe itself dates back to around the 1870s with Mr Terry's innovations in styles and production making the Carlton Brewery the most successful brewer of its age. The Carlton Brewery traces its history to Melbourne's Bouverie Street in 1864 and is a forerunner of today's Carlton & United Breweries, owned by Foster's.

By coincidence, beer from the Carlton Brewery, including potentially Terry's Ale, would have been sold at Young & Jackson in the late 1800s.

Thunder Road owner Philip Withers said 400 litres (or 1400 pots) of the ale was produced with all sale proceeds donated to the Institute for Glycomics.

"What startled us in this particular detail was the brewing process was very clear and unique, we have never seen anyone brew beer like this before, and we were able to reproduce that."

Mr Withers said a decision to go into full commercial production of the 130-year-old beer would depend on drinkers' reaction to the beer style and a retail deal with a leading supermarket that would result in all money going to charity.

But how does it taste?

Terry’s Ale is something foreign to our modern Aussie beer drinking culture.

It’s a taste of England based on an English running ale. It should be served warm and from the keg and in turn it is warming and generous. Today it is served at 2 degrees so as to give it time to open up. 

The Golding hops from Tassie bring spiced apple to the nose, the raw sugar a rich, full textural quality. Neither filtered nor pasteurised it is a piece of our drinking history ... imported like us.

JENI PORT