A brief history of Melbourne's love affair with beer

Chris Johnston
Abbotsford Invalid Stout is one of Melbourne's oldest beers.
Abbotsford Invalid Stout is one of Melbourne's oldest beers. 

Clean water

The key turning point in beer's epic history in Melbourne came with the arrival of Belgian chemist Auguste de Bavay in 1884. Beer had been brewed commercially before, but de Bavay changed the game.

Abbots Lager was apparently for your 'health'.
Abbots Lager was apparently for your 'health'. 

He had worked with Louis Pasteur, a clever microbiologist who invented pasteurisation and vaccination. 

But then de Bavay migrated to Australia got a job in East Melbourne at the Victoria Brewery.

In a quest for better beer he figured out the city's water supply wasn't clean enough so, through a campaign in The Age and an eventual royal commission, had new pipes built, got cleaner water and avoided a typhoid epidemic. All for better beer! What a legend.

Melbourne Bitter has remained largely unchanged.
Melbourne Bitter has remained largely unchanged. 

Is there a statue of him anywhere?

Melbourne's four power beers

In 1904 the second most important thing in the history of beer in Victoria happened – the formation of the Melbourne Cooperative Brewery in Abbotsford.

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A bunch of eminent pub owners (including Henry Young of Young & Jacksons and future Lord Mayor Sir Stephen Morrell) joined forces to try and head off the opposition.

They made four beers – Abbotsford Stout (which became Abbotsford Invalid Stout in 1909), Abbots Lager, Melbourne Bitter and Abbotsford Sparkling Ale. Of those Melbourne Bitter and the Invalid Stout remain largely unchanged and both are now brewed by the South African owned CUB.

Melbourne beer historian (or beerologist) Michael Bannenberg​ says "Invalid" was added to the name of the historic old Melbourne stout for medical reasons.

Abbotsford Invalid Stout was spruiked as having medical benefits.
Abbotsford Invalid Stout was spruiked as having medical benefits. 

"Doctors were giving stout to the infirm, supposedly to put more iron in their blood even though there is no iron in the recipe. You would be given stout in hospitals. It was something you would also take home to your elderly parents or your wife after the six o'clock swill," he said.

Beer label collector and former CUB brewer Rob Greenaway says both Melbourne Bitter and Abbotsford Invalid Stout are historic, "regional" beers, unique to Melbourne. Melbourne Bitter lowered its alcohol content by 0.3 per cent but apart from that both are the same as they always were.

"The secret is don't mess with the recipe. Don't play around with your product," he said.