The three Danish-born Cohn brothers, Moritz, Julius Isaac and Jacob, arrived at Port Phillip during August 1853 at a time when Melbourne was almost deserted because of the Bendigo goldrush. The brothers decided to try their luck, and set out on foot for Bendigo. Moritz, the eldest brother, had the family fortune of 60 sovereigns sewn into the lining of his vest.
When they reached Bendigo, the brothers found the area to be a sprawling canvas town, and work difficult to find. They were able to open a general store in Camp Street, and during 1854 they built the Criterion Hotel, a ‘marvel of elegance’, and acknowledged as the premier hotel of the district.
After twelve months, the Criterion Hotel, was sold and the brothers began making cider, raspberry vinegar and other beverages, all of which found a ready market with the miners and traders. They constructed a ‘substantial brewery’ and the Bendigo Advertiser of 11 October 1858 reported the opening of the new ‘Victoria Brewery of the enterprising Cohn Brothers’. As well as brewing their own beer, they transported barrelled beer from Melbourne and bottled it at their brewery, to be resold to hotels and through their own wine-and-spirit store.
During 1861 Moritz Cohn started a brewery in the nearby township of Talbot, the Talbot Brewery, and maintained his involvement with that brewery until it was sold in 1872. In the meantime, Julius and Jacob Cohn had been running the Victoria Brewery in Bendigo. After selling the brewery at Talbot, Moritz acquired Julius’s shareholding in the Victoria Brewery, and Julius moved to Melbourne and started his own brewery there.
In 1891 a local campaign began for the city’s name to be changed from Sandhurst to Bendigo, partly motivated by a belief that the name so long associated with gold would attract British investment. A poll decisively affirmed the change and the city’s name became Bendigo on 8 May 1891.
The business became a public company on 17 November 1887, and the company took over the Bridgewater Brewery in 1893, and continued to expand through acquisitions of aerated-water and cordial factories, hotels, and wine-and-spirit outlets.
The brewing interests of the Cohn Bros, together with forty freehold hotels, and the mortgages, bills of sale and bank guarantees on an additional forty hotels, were sold to Carlton & United Breweries Ltd on 30 April 1925.