So there’s this beer called XXXX brewed by Castlemaine Perkins in Brisbane. It’s a beer the locals see as proudly their own – “Pride of Queensland” the label on the longneck trumpets.
It’s a funny claim to make – and not just because Castlemaine Perkins is now owned by Japanese company Kirin. It’s funny because the brewery’s origins – and even its very name – are Victorian.
The “Castlemaine” in the name, according to Keith M Deutsher’s The Breweries of Australia, refers to the town of the same name in Central Victoria. The Fitzgerald family started up a brewery in the town, and employees moving states or forming partnerships lead to Castlemaine breweries being set up in Queensland, Western Australia and NSW.
The Brisbane, Queensland, one came about it when two guys – Quinlan and Donnelly decided to start up a brewery and went into partnership with the Fitzgeralds at Castlemaine. The first batch of beer – XXX Sparkling Ale – was ready for sale in September 1878.
Deutscher says the company applied for the trademark of XXXX in 1894, even though the extra X wasn’t added to XXX Sparkling Ale until 1916. The now iconic (to Queenslanders at least) XXXX Bitter Ale first appeared in February, 1924. The use of the Xs is now meaningless but it did once have a purpose – apparently in ye olden days of England, a brewer would mark his barrels of strong beer with an X, for they were subject to higher taxes.
Soon enough other brewers starting adding an X, largely for marketing purposes it would seem – more Xs imply stronger and better beer. This was even though no-one knew how much stronger or better the beer got with each extra X. When XXXX came out, a rival Brisbane brewer actually tried to out-X them, by releasing a XXXXX beer.
The XXXX Bitter Ale (aka “Fourex”) is actually very hard to find in NSW. The low carb XXXX Gold is everywhere but I’ve only ever seen the XXXX Bitter in the one shop I bought this longneck from. Pouring the beer, I got a bit of a soapy head and an expected cardboard aroma (it might call itself an ale but it has definite lager qualities). Flavourwise, there’s a bit of sweet malt not much else going on, which I reckon is part of the beer’s appeal in Queensland, where it can get pretty warm. The sweetness of the malt gives it a hook and the lack of other flavours makes it easy to knock down. Still, that sweetness makes me rate this beer as better than your average mainstream lager.
Bonus XXXX fact: Keith Dunstan’s Amber Nectar includes a story about the Australian Trade Commission trying to promote the beer in France. They were hamstrung by the fact that Fourex was also the name of a famous French condom. Even worse was the beer’s famous slogan – “I can feel a Fourex coming on”.