Although the Swan Brewery commenced in 1857, the acquisition of the Emu Brewery in 1928 gave the company a lineage that dated back to 1837 when it had been founded by James Stokes as the Albion Brewery. It changed to the Stanley Brewery in 1848, and to the Emu Brewery in 1909.
By mid-1857 Frank Sherwood had started building the Swan Brewery. The site was in the vicinity of a hillside spring that ran down to the Swan River. With his brewery well under way, Sherwood began to advertise on the front page of the local newspaper:
Superior Pale Ale, £1 10 shillings per hogshead exclusive of cask, also 2 shillings per gallon and in bottles for 3 shillings per gallon including the bottles which will be allowed for when returned.
Within a year Sherwood was advertising the Swan Brewery as the only malt brewery in the colony, and with disregard to the prices of beer elsewhere he was offering a hogshead of Swan Pale Ale for 10s more than the Stanley Ale of his competitor, James Stokes of the Stanley Brewery.
Sherwood’s sons travelled to country districts selling Swan beer and farm produce, at the same time purchasing carefully selected barley to bring back to the brewery for malting. They had little interest in the brewing business, and when their father died in 1874 the brewery was leased.
Two years earlier John Ferguson and William Mumme had leased the other brewery, the Stanley, but the experienced German brewer Mumme was never satisfied with the quality of his beer, blaming this on impurities in the water supply. When the Swan Brewery came on the market, they took up the lease, left the Stanley, and on 1 January 1875 they were open for business as the Swan Brewery. Four years later the partners purchased land at the foot of Mt Eliza (now King’s Park), and also a larger tract of land in Mounts Bay Road, and built a malthouse, icehouse and a new brewery on the site.
Mumme’s beer, made this time from clear, pure water, became a favourite in the town and country, but after twelve years of successful brewing the partners decided to separate in 1886. John Ferguson then started his own Subiaco Brewery.
On 7 September 1887 the Swan Brewery Co. Ltd was floated on the Melbourne stock exchange. The new company now owned the brewery and several cottages, all on 5 acres of land facing the Swan River. It also owned hotels and other freeholds, and had absolute rights to supply its ale to twenty-four hotels. Under the dynamic leadership of the general manager, Thomas Hardwick, and the wise counsel of the Melbourne-based chairman, Montague Cohen, the Swan Brewery became the largest and most profitable brewery in the west.
The brewery was extended, and improvements were carried out in 1890. In the following year William Mumme resigned as the head brewer, and took on the position of manager at the rival Stanley Brewery.
During 1903 the company installed Australia’s first automatic bottle-wiring machine which assembled wire-tie corks in place. Imported from Ireland, the machine had a capacity to assemble 800 bottles per hour.
Much of the company’s expansion was due to acquisitions. The Lion Brewery was taken over on 25 May 1888, the Castlemaine Brewery, Fremantle, in 1927, and the Emu in 1928. The Kalgoorlie Brewing & Ice Co. Ltd was acquired in February 1945, giving Swan a strategic base to the east. By the end of 1932 Swan owned fifty-two hotels; and by the late 1960s the company owned more than 120 hotels spread throughout the state.
Following the acquisition of the Redcastle Brewery in 1951, Swan changed the name of that brewery to the Stirling Brewery Ltd, and began marketing Stirling Lager, while retaining Redcastle Stout.
In August 1966 brewing ceased at the Swan Brewery premises in Perth, and all brewing operations were then based at the Emu Brewery in Spring Street, the Swan Brewery premises being used for fermentation and storage.
About five years earlier there had been local criticism of the old brewery being an eyesore and a hazard to passing traffic. The brewery may have looked untidy during the day, but at night it presented a unique and spectacular sight. In 1962, with the Commonwealth Games being held in Perth, the brewery was illuminated at night with 1792 light globes placed around the contours of the buildings to form a 200-metre-long static facsimile of a sailing ship, representing the arrival of the Swan River colonists. In June 1981 the old brewery buildings were sold, and in September 1985 the property was purchased by the state government.
On 18 March 1978 the first bottles of beer rolled off the line at Swan’s newly completed brewery and packaging plant at the Perth suburb of Canningvale. The Emu Brewery continued to operate until 1980. On 1 April 1982 the Swan Brewery became a subsidiary of Bond Corporation Holdings Ltd, changing to Bond Brewing W.A. Ltd in June 1987. In October 1990 the New Zealand-based Lion Nathan group acquired the interests of all the Bond breweries: Swan in Perth, the Castlemaine Brewery in Brisbane, and Toohey’s in Sydney.
On 21 October 2009, the Japanese company Kirin Holdings Co. Ltd took over all the assets of Lion Nathan, including the Swan Brewery. The business continued to produce the same popular brands of Swan beers.
On 12 October 2012 Lion Nathan resolved to close the Canning Vale operations of the Swan Brewery by March 2013. After closing, both the Emu and Swan beer brands were brewed at their West End Brewery in Adelaide.
Since closing the West End Brewery in 2010 the only remaining WA beers, Swan Draught and Emu Export, are now brewed at Tooheys NSW or Castlemaine Perkins Queensland. That’s a long way to transport beers!