I really have no idea how to write this one, so I will simply tell you what happened…
After growing curious about the history of Crown Lager, I posed some questions to CUB on 4 July about the basis for their claims that:
- Crown Lager was first created in 1919
- it was reserved exclusively for visiting diplomats and Australian ambassadors
- it was made available to the public for the first time to commemorate the Queen’s inaugural visit to Australia in 1954.
After lots of stonewalling and promises of a response, I decided to publish the information that I had been able to trace about Crown’s history last Monday.
This clearly shows that:
- Crown Lager was brewed as early as at least 1914
- That it was freely available to the general public from when it was first brewed
I think it also arguably shows that there was nothing special or noteworthy about the 1954 release of the beer, other than it was a commemorative release.
Now, even though I am frequently told that I am cynical, I assumed that there must be more to the story. CUB spends so much money promoting this story that there must be some basis in fact for any one of the key dates that the company uses in its marketing. “Surely they can’t just be making it up entirely,” I thought, “just exaggerating”. With no response from CUB to my initial questions, I just kept digging to see what I could find to support the official Crown story.
As described in the last article, I knew that there was a mention of a Crown Lager being ‘specially produced’ for the Royal tour, so I used that as a starting point. I started to read all of the newspapers covering the tour. I even took myself off to the library to go though microfiche archives of Melbourne’s newspapers to see if I could find any other mentions of this special beer.
What I learned, though, was:
- Unlike the whirlwind royal tours of Australia these days, this tour lasted for almost two months, from 3 February until 1 April,
- It was covered in excruciating detail,
- Newspapers were, by and large, just as inane in their reporting of this type of event as they are now, looking for anything to try and add some colour to their coverage or a local angle,
- Paul Keating was harshly treated when he touched the Queen in 1992; judging by the 1954 coverage it sounds as if she got felt up by every mayor and minor potentate she met,
- You could not get a watch fixed by a jeweller in the lead-up to her tour of Melbourne because of all of the brooches, bracelets and tiaras that were being fixed in anticipation of her visit,
- Melbourne received its first shipment of Queensland sugar in bulk rather than in bags (I did wonder if the arrival of Crown’s real fifth ingredient in bulk was related to the special beer, but have dismissed this as a coincidence),
- Whatever beer CUB released during the visit wasn’t newsworthy.
Apart from a single mention in relation to the possible disruption due to strike action, there is absolutely nothing about the special beer that was released or fawning references about how this special beer is finally available to the plebs rather than being reserved for the gold braid class.
I thought this odd for a number of reasons. Firstly, literally anything to do with the visit was covered, from the Queen’s penchant for matching her dress colour to trains, to the origin of the wood used in a basket of chocolates she was presented. In a city where a beer shortage due to the CUB strike gets a screaming headline and says how unthinkable it would be not being able to celebrate the visit with beer, you’d think the release of a commemorative beer as revered and auspicious as Crown Lager might rate a line of two.
But the second reason I was intrigued was that I had seen footage on the The Crown Company’s website of the Queen touring a CUB brewery (this has now been removed, but you can view it here). At least I assumed it was the CUB brewery, because it sat on a page headed “1954” saying “35 years later Crown Lager is released to the Australian public for the first time to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and her inaugural visit to Australia”. She must have visited the brewery.
Surely such a visit would be thoroughly covered by the press, as would the special beer that was released to mark the visit. So I have literally spent hours poring over tour itineraries and media reports trying to track down when the Queen went to the brewery, hoping that might provide a mention of the beer and help to reconcile the company’s official line with the lack of any other corroboration at all. I mean, if she toured the brewery, that would make the papers, wouldn’t it?
I just could not find it anywhere in the media reports. What was I missing? I started searching the video for a clue to a date at which this brewery visit took place. I grabbed the footage and watched and re-watched it looking for a clue.
Suddenly I saw something that I recognised. Yes, fleetingly in the bottom left hand corner of the grainy black and white film, it was a beer brand adorned with a crown. Finally, I had something. I had a clue to the royal origins of Foster’s Crown Lager…
Just look a little closer and you’ll see the Crown logo…
Carlsberg…WTF? Were CUB brewing Carlsberg under licence in 1954?
A quick search for “Carlsberg Queen Elizabeth visit” reveals the Carlsberg official history page, and that Queen Elizabeth visited their brewery in 1957. Guess what, Carlsberg even released a ‘special brew’ to commemorate the visit.
After that, it was an easy matter to track down the source of the video, the British Pathe website has similar footage listed Queen In Denmark 1957. Presuming that the footage Crown uses is copyrighted and it has been purchased by CUB for use on their site, the marketing team can’t really be under the impression that this is footage of the Queen visiting their brewery. So devoid are CUB of any proof for their long-standing claims about the history of their beer, they have to resort to blatant trickery to try and give the beer any kind of royal bearing.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the silence coming from CUB has nothing to do with ‘looking into it’, it is because they have nothing to say. The very best they can do to support their prestige brand is misrepresent archival footage and trot out empty PR driven lines for which they seem to have no basis in fact or historical record.
Of course, it would only take one email from the crack team of historians at CUB to prove any one of the three claims made about its pedigree, but I won’t hold my breath. And I am quite enjoying my time in the research library…