Jolly Good Ale and Old: Coopers Brewery, 1862-1998
Jolly Good Ale and Old is the official history of Coopers Brewery, originally published by Wooster/Aussie beer books in 1987 for the brewery’s 125th anniversary and then reissued with an additional chapter on the 1990s. It’s a better-than-average company history because Painter is a good writer who gives a lot of the history of south Australia brewing while telling the Coopers story.
Coopers is unusual as it’s one of the few breweries outside of North America and Europe still controlled by descendants of the founder. As such, it’s comparable to such North American breweries as Matt and Yuengling or such British firms as Shepherd Neame and Bateman.
What makes Coopers exceptional is that, for at least its first 75 years, it was one of the smallest breweries in south Australia. Moreover, it was among the most traditional ones. For example, as late as the 1950s, Coopers still hand-labeled bottles. But by stubbornly insisting on producing ales and stouts when its competitors were switching to lagers, Coopers maintained a market niche that enabled it to survive the 1960s and 1970s and thrive in the 1990s.
Jolly Good Ale and Old also shows that even firmly traditional breweries have to innovate if they’re going to survive. The company’s entry into the homebrew market in the 1970s probably saved it, and its diversification into the honey and vinegar markets in the 1990s help provide some insurance against changes in the beer industry.