Book review

A history of Coopers

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Jolly Good Ale and Old – Coopers Brewery 1862-2012
Alison Painter, Tim Cooper and Rob Linn
Published by Coopers Brewery

One of many things I’ve learned in my two decades as a journalist is this – just because you have a lot of information doesn’t mean you need to use it all in your story. I might have reams of quotes from an interview subject but using most or all of them just tends to bog the story down in detail.

I was reminded of this when reading the second half of this official story of the Adelaide-based Coopers Brewery. What is indeed a worthwhile purchase for any Australian beer scholar, the beautifully-designed book covers the brewery’s history from when Thomas Cooper started up his brewery a few short years after arriving in Australia to last year. That story is told over 309 pages, the years 1852-1970 are dealt with in the first 146 pages, leaving more than half the book to focus on the brewery’s last 40 years.

The reason for that is obvious – there is a lot more information around detailing what happened in the last 40 years. But, as I’ve stated above, that’s no reason to use it all. So we get an imbalance, wher greater attention is paid to recent events, largely because there is more detail. For instance, there’s a whole chapter of nearly 30 pages devoted to the brewery’s plans to relocate in the late 1990s and an even longer chapter about the brewery fighting off Lion Nathan’s takeover bid.

While both items are undoubtably of significance to the brewery it feels like they’re dealt with in far too much detail here. As a reader I found myself skimming these chapters, whereas I read every word of the first 150-odd pages of this book. Perhaps that’s because the first half isn’t overloaded with detail so we get a clear narrative. It might also be that the first half largely focuses in beer, while the second half deals with the other businesses Coopers buys into and the financial side of the company.

For me, what makes this book well worth buying is the beer history of Coopers. I didn’t know that Coopers once released a shandy which was apparently sold in milk bars. Or the fact that Coopers Pale came to life as Light Dinner Ale. They even got into the low-carb market very early, launching DB (aka Diet Beer) back in 1971. The book also includes images of many now defunct beers oce made by Coopers. It made me wish Coopers would create a retro range and bring some of them back as a limited release.

If you’re interested in the history of the Australian beer scene, Jolly Good Ale and Old is definitely worth reading. Especially the first half of it.

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