Thomas Cooper, a shoemaker by trade, arrived in South Australia from Yorkshire in 1852 and lived in Bridge Street, Kensington. After moving to George Street, Norwood, he began brewing in a small way in 1862, using his wife Anne’s family recipe. Unfortunately, in 1868, after failing to meet mortgage repayments, he lost his property in George Street and moved to rented premises in High Street, Kensington where he started again. Like many early brewers, Thomas experienced problems with brewing in a hot climate, overcoming these by controlling fermentation temperatures, using good quality materials and emphasising strict cleanliness of equipment. By the time he built a brewery in Statenborough Street, Upper Kensington (now Leabrook) in 1881, he had mastered the art of brewing consistently good quality top-fermented ale and stout.
Thomas Cooper was a devout Methodist and would only sell to private customers and not to public houses. Following his death in 1897 the business was conducted by four of his sons as a partnership and until the early twentieth century the partners maintained Thomas’ tenet and did not supply hotels. However, they realised this had to change in order to increase sales, and with distribution into ‘free’ public houses – not owned or tied to a particular brewery – Coopers’ ale and stout gained wider acceptance.
Later generations of the family enlarged brewing operations several times to meet increasing demand, but unlike their competitors the Coopers did not produce draught beer and did not own or lease hotels. In the late 1960s the directors decided to brew and bottle lager beers, but not until the 1980s did they produce draught beer, bringing them into line with mainstream brewers nationally. At the same time, their primary sales remained their in-bottle fermented ale and stout remained popular. In the mid 1980s, to promote their draught beer, the company purchased the Earl of Aberdeen Hotel and became involved in three other hotels, but later sold them all to concentrate on brewing and other food products.
A successful joint venture was establishing Adelaide Malting Co. Pty Ltd at Cavan in 1986 for the production of malts used for brewing, malt extract for the Australian food industry, home-brew kits and malt for sale. The export of malt, malt extract and home-brew kits allowed Coopers to operate the maltings at full capacity; this was so successful that in 1988 production was doubled.
Expansion and survival
By the late 1990s it was apparent that Coopers had outgrown the Leabrook site where further expansion was not possible in that prime residential area. The company purchased Transport SA’s bus repair workshops at Regency Park in late 1997, at first using the buildings for warehousing and distributing products from Leabrook.
The modern brewing plant equipped with the latest bottling and packaging machinery was completed at Regency Park in 2001, and all operations at Leabrook ceased. The expense of constructing the new brewery led to the decision to sell Adelaide Malting in 2002, but Coopers continues to produce home-brew kits and malt extract.
Having survived a takeover bid in 2005 by Lion Nathan (Australia) Pty Ltd (which acquired the South Australian Brewing Co. Ltd in 1993), Coopers continue brewing lager and their traditional ales and stout with great success and in recent years has increased its export of beer, home-brew kits and malt extract to North America, and countries in Europe and Asia.
With the fifth generation of the family in control, Coopers Brewery remains a private, family-owned and controlled company.