But if you want to be amazed by the enormity of the place that produces a quarter of Australia’s beer supply, then this is your place. This is a brewery of epic proportions and a monument to the clinical efficiency that quenches a country’s thirst.
The tour itself is an avalanche of facts and figures, overwhelming the visitor with the scale of production. The brewery produces two million cans and three million stubbies a day, or 1.8 billion a year. Sixty-six thousand bottles pass through the pasteuriser at a time on their way to the bottling line running at 1,200 bottles per minute. Every bottle of beer runs through 87 different checks and inspections from the moment it enters the plant as a fraction of the 480 tonnes of grain used each week until the time it sits packed and waiting in the 6.1 hectare warehouse that would take over 3 weeks to empty.
Everything about the plant can, and is, measured. Our guide even cheerfully tells us that the farmers who buy the spent grain for their dairy cattle report their cows produce 30 per cent more milk.
The current brewery is 20 times larger now than when it began life as Powers Brewery in the late 1980s. It was built when enterprising hotelier Bernie Power sensed a chink in XXXX’s stranglehold over Queensland’s beer market after Alan Bond upset the state’s parochial drinkers with his takeover and rebranding of the iconic label.
Following a period of intense – but ultimately unsustainable -competition that saw Powers Bitter snatch 10 per cent of the market, Power went into a joint venture with CUB in 1992. He sold out of the business entirely the following year. What he left was a modern, efficient plant that has proved the perfect base for what is now the Fosters Group’s northern brewing operation.
Production has doubled since 2000 when Carlton and United closed its Kent Street brewery in Sydney and moved production north. With the recent closure of the Matilda Bay site in WA, Yatala and Victoria’s Abbotsford Breweries are the group’s brewing centres, with Yatala producing all of Fosters major beer brands for distribution through Queensland, Northern Territory and much of New South Wales.
Perhaps the disappointment of the tour is that at the conclusion of the visit, once you have said goodbye to the enormous stainless steel mash tuns and kettles (or the gleaming tops of them at least), the bottling line and its never-ending stream of bottles and the cavernous warehouse, you have an understanding of the production process, but no real feel for how beer is made. The brewing novice departs with about as much understanding of brewing as a visit to a modern hospital teaches about the human body. But then again, that’s not really the point of the hour-long tour.
The lasting impression gained from the tour, apart from the sheer scale, is the brewery’s relentless quest for quality control and consistency in their product. Ask any of the country’s growing population of small brewers and they will confirm the technical achievement here.
When you are dealing with grain bills that can vary from season to season, yeast that is essentially an untamed single-cell monster and countless billions of other micro-organisms whose only aim is to spoil your beer, the ability to turn out almost two billion stubbies of beer with each tasting just like the last is a monumental achievement and a tribute to the science of brewing. It is well worth seeing.
More insight into the brewing process is gained from the Carlton Brewhouse, the $4 million interactive Visitors Centre that serves as the start and end point of the tour. An interactive display lets you perfect your own brew and at the end of the visit you can jump the bar and take a turn at pouring and tasting some of the brewery’s product.
An appetising selection of pub meals are available to sate the hungry and the lover of branded beer merchandise will be in heaven passing through the gift shop.
It may be huge and a little impersonal, but as another Australian summer rolls around there will be a lot of people grateful for each of the 540 million litres of amber the Yatala brewery has produced this year.
Tours are conducted Monday-Saturday.
Cost $25 Adults, $20 Seniors, $10 Children (under 17). Tour includes one-hour guided tour, beer tasting and souvenier gift (Adults & Seniors only). Bookings essential.
www.carltonbrewhouse.com.au or phone (07) 3826 5858.