As you raise a glass to national pride this long weekend, it's a good time to ponder the question: what is Australia's national drink?
If you live outside Australia you might nominate Foster's Lager, but we know better. Or do we? If it's not a Foster's, then what'll it be?
There are plenty of obvious ones – Coca Cola for the US, Guinness for Ireland, grappa for Italy, rum for Jamaica and Barbados, ouzo for Greece, sake for Japan, sangria for Spain, schnapps for Germany, single malt whisky for Scotland, tequila for Mexico and vodka for Russia.
A few were ripe for debate – gin for England (neither lager nor tea, although India was the allocated the latter), absinthe for France (red wine, perhaps? Champagne?), and the caipirinha cocktail for Brazil (great choice, but Brazil is among several nations that could make a legitimate claim on coffee).
There are also a large number of national drinks of which you've likely not heard. Try a tej in Ethiopia (a honey wine flavoured with powered leaves and sticks), the seco herrerano in Panama (70-proof clear liquor made from distilled sugarcane), palinka in Hungary (fruity brandy), kumis in Mongolia (fermented dairy drink), brennivin in Iceland (unsweetened schnapps), and bajtra in Malta (liqueur made from prickly pear), to name but a few.
So … does Australia have something exotic and fancy to serve up in the face of such a diversity of drinks, according to the folks at Wine Investment?
Er, no. Make ours a VB, thanks mate.
Yep, the southern state's working bloke's brew comes out on top and it's hard to argue, given the lack of challengers with true national appeal.
The latter point is an important because the poison you prefer is highly likely to be influenced by where you were born (or where you lived when you came of drinking age).
But argue we will, on the basis that the ubiquitous "Vitamin B" sells us disappointingly short in the eyes of a world eager to pigeonhole us as a nation of beer-swilling louts. Surely we can aspire to something with more flavour and craftsmanship?
The question has the merchandising manager for national liquor retail chain Dan Murphy's, Campbell Stott, scratching his head.
“It's really difficult to name a national one. VB is in strong growth at the moment since they've changed the recipe and the alcohol in the heartland of Victoria, but selling it in Queensland is very tough going,” he says.
“I don't think we've truly got one. It's a diverse country with diverse tastes and I think that reflects in the brands people love and follow regionally.”
The united states of disagreement
So, who's drinking what, then?
In Queensland it's all about Bundaberg and XXXX. “Bundaberg fans are just fanatical, it's got the most incredible following,” Stott says. “It's probably the most brand-strong product in Australia but it's definitely Queensland-based. And they love drinking XXXX. Bundy's pretty strong in northern NSW too, but that's where it stops.”
New South Wales, he says, “sits on the fence”. “Tooheys New is a strong brand from a beer perspective, but there's no icon brand that people fall all over.”
Victoria is VB's stronghold, with support from its sibling brew Carlton Draught. South Australia, surprisingly, has a strong passion for St Agnes Brandy, while brews from Coopers also sell well. West Australians are particularly partial to local wines, with Amberley Chenin Blanc the standout.
Perhaps a wine, then? “I'd say Penfolds is a brand that works in every state, and Annie's Lane also seems to work everywhere,” Stott says. “Pepperjack is another that does well, and of course New Zealand sauvignon blancs sell very well everywhere. The only problem, of course, is that they're not from here.”
Craft beers and flavoured ciders are growing strongly in all states, as are premium white spirits such as gin and vodka. Single malt Scotch whisky is another continuing to gain momentum, especially at the premium end of the market.
None, though, appear likely to wrest the mantle of national tipple any time soon.
How about a cocktail?
Cocktail culture is growing but remains a niche market, and none among the hundreds of professional bartenders plying their trade around the country has yet captured the public's imagination with a uniquely local concoction.
Reigning Australian “World Class” bartender of the year, Sydneysider Luke Ashton (above), says a cocktail to capture the heart of the nation – as has the caipirinha in Brazil – should be driven by seasonal fruits and big on refreshment.
“It would need to be something that was cool and refreshing-tasting, something tall that can be enjoyed in the heat,” Ashton says. “In terms of ingredients, there's lots of great tropical fruit (in Australia) and some great citruses, too.
“Australia is such a young country and we still have a developing palate, so you want something that's fairly approachable and that you can enjoy with your friends.
“A pineapple would probably be my starting point, and then make up something that's vodka or gin-based, two categories that are on the up. I'm a big fan of using grapes in a cocktail as well, as an acidifier, and we have such great grape producers in this country that you could just as easily produce a cocktail in Victoria that was based around grapes as you could one with pineapple in Queensland.
“The thing is, there's limitless possibilities. You could give 50 bartenders the same brief and get 50 different drinks.”
So what will it be this Australia Day weekend, then?
New Zealand sauvignon blancs sell phenomenally well but of course, are from across the ditch. Bundy Rum is extraordinarily strong in its northern heartland, but largely ignored elsewhere. Coffee is a morning staple in most cities, but impossible to claim as our own.
Beer remains popular in spite of falling sales of the mainstream brews and a growing trend to smaller craft beers, but which one should be the standard-bearer? VB? XXXX? Carlton Draught? Tooheys New? Coopers? None can be said to have captured truly national support, despite what they'd like you to believe via their saturation advertising of sporting contests.
That leaves Penfolds wine, which appears to have the strongest claim with a distinctly Australian heritage, good brand recognition and Australia-wide appeal across a suite of offerings.
By default, courtesy of the extreme diversity of tastes from one end of this land to the other, the iconic South Australian winemaker is our pick as Australia's national drink.
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