XXXX Bitter

Melbourne's got rain and Sydney's got yuppies,
Tassie got the chop and we got lucky,
Nobody does it like up here does it,
We love it up here,
We don't just like it, we love it!
We don't just like it, we love it!
We love it up here,
The people the places, the mates the faces,
The XXXX, yep, the beer up here, we love it up here!

Great XXXX jingle, early 1990s

And indeed, we do love it up here. Brewed from 1924, Fourex (or just plain XXXX) it is the beer that is most associated with Queensland. And rightly so. From the cradle to the grave, it is the beer that we judge all others by.  And if a pub doesn't have it on tap - it's the pub's problem, not yours.  Queenslanders are rightly shocked when they travel down south, or indeed, virtually anywhere outside their great state, and find themselves being given strange looks when they ask for their treasured "pot a fourex thanks mate".  It is indeed strange times when XXXX is available on tap in Portsmouth, England, but you hard pressed finding a stubbie in Australia's biggest city Sydney, the so-called Olympic city.

XXXX in the Royal Exchange (RE), Toowong, Brisbane, Queensland

Taste wise, fourex is a crisp lager that has a delicate aroma and sweet fruity taste.  The blend of hops produce a distinct bitter flavour with a light texture. Not surprisingly, it is perfect for BBQ meats on a warm afternoon, such as beef and pork.  The stronger bitter taste also compliments seafood dishes such as cuttlefish, baby octopus (freshly plucked from its parents) and battered fish.

But it isn't just the taste that makes XXXX the best beer in Australia in the eyes of Queenslanders.  Not by a long shot.

The first thing that must be understood about people who live in Queensland is that they consider themselves Queenslanders. And no that isn't just a tag like Brisbanites, or Sydneysiders or Melbournites.  People who grew up in Queensland are fiercely proud to be Queenslanders.   People from 'down south' often smugly generalise about Queenslanders - they think that we think of ourselves as somehow different, that our lifestyle is more relaxed, that we spend most of our time at the finest stretch of coastline in the world, by the beach, in the sun, slowly knocking back icy cold beers with our mates.  The birthplace and epitome of the classic Australian "No worries mate, she'll be right" attitude. Friendly, piss-swilling Aussies who worry more about having a good time than running around like a chook trying to make money.

Well, they're right. The joke's on them.

Why is this relevant? Because Queenslanders want to be Queenslanders.  They are proud of their beautiful state, and of their lifestyle which in their opinion is the best in the world (and the further north you go, the more you live it).  And being proud of their state, and of their golden, outdoor, sporting, mate-driven, beach lifestyle, Queenslanders take passionate pride in their own. In their sporting teams, in their heroes, and, of course, in their beer.

Sydney papers, Sydney beer. Bulldust an' Pommy piss.  Not worth readin', not worth drinkin'.  Give me the Courier Mail an' Four X

It's your shout mate!, John O'Grady, 1972

On the NSW/Qld Border - Entering the heartland of XXXX

And fourex is indeed their beer (the X's deriving from the old medieval europe tradition of using X's to indicate the beer strength). The golden drop was masterfully brewed by Castlemaine's newly appointed german brewer in 1924, essentially replacing their Sparkling Ale, using a yeast transported from Germany (which was, ironically, transported back to Germany after the original culture was destroyed during World War II).  The beer quickly gobbled up most of the market share in the Sunshine State, and deeply wove itself into the fabric of Queensland culture.

Queensland Culture is Australian Culture writ large - Encyclopaedia Britannica

Before long fourex became a Queensland icon. It became representative of everything that was great about Queensland, of the Queensland way of living.  Every pub stocked it, it was the beer you drank with your mates on those long sunny sundays in your local beer garden (perhaps the Brekky Creek, or the RE or the Victory).  Of shouting, of barracking at the footy, of scoffing down a few snags at your mate's barbie, of watching your son train with the local nippers, of the friendly outdoor lifestyle of which we are so justifiably proud. We loved it. And loved it with a passion.

The Development of the XXXX bottles

However, concern has been expressed in recent years about XXXX's declining market share.  One factor contributing to this is the growth in popularity in that other fine Australian beer, Victoria Bitter (or simply vic, or VB).  However, while this trend alone is disturbing, the real cause for concern is the massive surge of the modern beers that rely on gimmickry rather than taste or tradition.  Australians have traditionally been fiercely parochial about their beers (on a regional basis, not national), and XXXX is the greatest of Queensland beers. So why is it that cracks are beginning to appear in the XXXX stronghold?

TEN years ago the bars of most Queensland pubs were propped up by drinkers sucking on a Fourex heavy, frowning at any southerners who had the audacity to order a Victoria Bitter beverage... The brewing landscape has changed dramatically over the decade. VB now accounts for about 60 per cent of all heavy beer sold in the state.

Today's sophisticated palates mix their drinks, The Courier Mail, 2 May 2005

Queenslander! Queenslander! Queenslander!

The problem can simply be expressed as this:  fourex is losing its grip on younger Queenslanders.  The 18-25 year old market, which is of course a massive one, are not as passionate about their choice of fourex as their forefathers were.  And it all comes down to marketing.  During the 80s, fourex was renowned for its fantastic ads.  Those ads recognised that Queenslanders specifically had to be targeted for maximum return, because they are different culturally, and by christ they did.  They targeted our great sportsmen of the era, for example, the Wally Lewis song below.  The songs were so popular that people would record them off the radio and make tapes for their private collection.

The genius sometimes just came from the catchy simplicity:

I can feel a fourex coming on
I can feel a fourex coming on
I've got the taste for it!
Just can't wait for it!
I can feel a fourex coming on

And of course the classic, which is still fondly remembered:

Here's to Wally Lewis
For lacing on a boot
Some times he plays it rugged
Some times he plays it cute

When he's carving through the backline
Like a stradbroke Island shark
There's glue on all his fingers
He's the emperor of Lang Park

And when the blues come up here
To try and make a show
They'll go back scratching their heads
Saying which way did he go?

The next time he goes over there
to educate the poms
Perhaps he'll teach a few to sing:
[Pommy Accent] I can feel a fourex coming on 

I can feel a fourex coming on
I can feel a fourex coming on.
Got the taste for it
Just can't wait for it
I can feel a fourex coming on.

And so it was.  However, the current set of ads are, to be kind, bloody stupid.  You watch them and you wince. You don't sing along. You don't feel great about being a Queenslander. You don't think, "You bloody beauty!".  You just think, what the bloody hell are these people thinking.  For christ's sake, give me a Squires.

A couple of mates enjoying their XXXX

What has happened? Well one theory is that the yuppies in Sydney have taken over.  They sit there with their University of Sydney MBAs, and try and write content for a market they have never lived in promoting a beer they have never enjoyed.  They think, hmm, who is the market? Ocker, working class Queenslanders who are as thick as pig shit.  Well they think, let's throw in a bit of Queensland content, a few local shots, a few old codgers sitting around. And a stupid bloody story about some bloke missing the train and being watched by russians in space who also happen to drink fourex.  Nothing witty. Nothing worth watching. Nothing to make you proud about.  A bloody disgrace.

Well, here is some free advice for the MBAs responsible for the latest crop of fourex promotions:  bring back the old ads.  That's right.  The old ads - all of them! Run the old Wally Lewis ads on the radio.  Run the old television ads again.  The Allan Border ads.  Complement it ever so slightly with some intelligent modern addition as well.  They were bloody excellent, those old ads, and Queenslanders the state over would be staying up just to watch them. Think about it.

A sad sign of the fourex deterioration is the fact that more and more fourex is being seen as a working class beer.  Just recently a newly employed young Brisbane lawyer on a work retreat to South Stradbroke Island was drinking a fourex when his supervisor came up to him, literally looked down on the beer and sniffed, "Showing your working class roots there mate?".  When that starts happening, you know you are in trouble.  If there was still universally appealing intelligent advertising taking place then this shift would not be happening.

And a couple of final tips on marketing - the questions under the bottle caps was a good idea (now, at the least, everyone knows where the Birdsville races are held), although you should throw in a free six pack every now and then as well just to reward the faithful.  And the brewery tour - everyone used to know you could get half an hour of free grog at the end of the very demanding tour.  Now it is reduced to four beers or so for $7.50! Alas.

XXXX is Queensland.  It is, according to Queenslanders, the best beer in Australia. Let's not see it go to the dogs because of a failure to instil into the younger generation the value of tradition: solid, friendly Queensland tradition based on the noble ideals of mateship, fair go, and outdoor living (fast being forgotten in Sydney).  Queensland taught Australia those ideals, and is the last bastion in changing times. It is too precious to lose. So drink up, boys, drink up.


It doesn't get any better than this!

Take a break from drinking like the author of this article did - Read why and how in his book Between Drinks: Escape the Routine, Take Control and Join the Clear Thinkers