What Is XXXX Beer And What Does It Taste Like?

You may be familiar with Dos Equis, the Mexican beer that once had "The Most Interesting Man in the World" as its spokesperson, but did you know there's also a Cuatro Equis? Well, not by that name, since XXXX is brewed in Australia and not Mexico. It's not all that well known in the U.S. — at least, not by anyone who isn't a fan of fantasy author Terry Pratchett (some believe that Fourecks, which is Discworld's "Last Continent," takes its name from the beer). However, it's one of the biggest names in brewing throughout the Land Down Under. Known for its bitter but slightly sweet flavor and smoothness, XXXX Gold was named the nation's third best-selling beer in 2022 by IRI Australia (via Drinks Digest).

Even though XXXX has a name that seems suggestive, its moniker has nothing to do with the adult entertainment industry. Instead, it's an indication of quality or strength. In the 19th century, beer was rated with X's, much as we award star ratings to just about everything these days. While Castlemaine Brewery originally produced an XXX-rated beer (which sounds even racier), it gained that additional X circa 1893. Much like Pabst Blue Ribbon when it won its eponymous award at the Chicago World's Fair that same year, Castlemaine Brewery celebrated its own success by naming its brew after the honor.

History of XXXX beer

Castlemaine Brewery first went into business in Castlemaine, Victoria, but the Queensland branch, which is today home to XXXX, opened its doors in 1878. 15 years later, XXXX itself was born (the beer formerly known — or, at least, rated — as XXX). The next milestone in the brewery's history came in 1924. That year marked not only the addition of XXXX Bitter to the lineup but also the introduction of the mascot: Mr. Fourex. This dapper gentleman has been raising his beer bottle in a toast to the good people of Queensland for the past century, and XXXX doesn't seem to have any plans to pull a Mr. Peanut on him.

In 1928, the brewery merged with another company to become Castlemaine Perkins, and that's a name it still goes by today. However, it's been owned by Lion since 1990 — and Lion, in turn, by Kirin since 2011. The Queensland XXXX brewery is still the flagship, and the product is strongly associated with Queensland state, but some XXXX beers are now brewed in New South Wales and South Australia.

Sometime in the latter part of the 20th century, XXXX introduced the Australia-famous "stubby," a short, squat bottle that holds 375 milliliters (a little over 12 ounces). 1991 saw both the launch of XXXX Gold, which is now the brewery's best-selling beer, and the start of the brand's ongoing sponsorship of the Queensland Rugby League Maroons. 

How XXXX beer is made

XXXX is made in much the same way as any other large factory-brewed beer. If you'd like to see the exact process, step by step, you can book a tour starting at A$37 (Australian dollars), about $24 in U.S. currency. That price, of course, does not include airfare to Queensland, though. Should you take the tour, anyway, expect to hear a lot about the brewery's sustainable initiatives. The brewery was certified as carbon neutral in 2020 and uses both solar panels and biogas to supply part of the power it needs for operations.

Two of XXXX's beers — the Bitter and Gold varieties — are also brewed without preservatives of any kind. The only ingredients they contain are hops, malted grains, cane sugar, yeast, and water; this has been the case since a 2008 initiative that moved toward a more basic, natural approach. Of course, there's still a need to keep the beer from growing stale or flat, so there is actually one more element added at the end of the bottling process: A machine sucks out all of the oxygen and adds a squirt of carbon dioxide before the cap goes on.

XXXX beer varieties

Over the years, XXXX has introduced new brews and dropped old ones from its lineup. Among the dearly departed varieties are the original pre-1893 XXX Sparkling Ale, followed by 20th century examples like XXXX Lite and Castlemaine 2.2 Bitter. Today's lineup includes the same XXXX Bitter that debuted a century ago and the XXXX Gold that came along toward the end of last millennium. They've been joined by XXXX Dry — which first came out in 2020 and has been sold throughout Australia since 2021 – plus a line of Summer Bright lagers available in mango, lime, and raspberry lemonade, as well as a standard beer-flavored product.

XXXX also offers a nonalcoholic beer called "XXXX Zero," touted as being the nation's first 0% ABV beer to also be entirely carbon-free. As Lion's chief sustainability officer Justin Merrell explained to The Drink Business, the brewery went so far as to contact the can and bottle manufacturers. This was to determine the precise amount of carbon generated in production, so the brewery could know how much of it would need to be offset.

Where to buy XXXX beer

During WWII, XXXX sent its beers abroad for the very first time, but only for distribution to the Australian armed forces. The brand did so again during the Vietnam War, during which the bottles earned the nickname "barbed wire," because the linked X's bore a similarity to something soldiers saw on a regular basis. Once the war was over, however, XXXX was out of the import business; to this day, the brewery maintains that none of its beer will ever be available for overseas purchase.

Well, that isn't entirely true. You can't get your hands on the stuff in the U.S., something that's sparked a number of Reddit threads. Though, many of those are taken over by Aussie beer snobs eager to take swipes at a beer that has a somewhat Budweiser-like status in its homeland (meaning that millions of people must be buying the stuff, but surprisingly few will admit it). If you can't afford a ticket to the other side of the world, a shorter plane ride will allow you to try the XXXX that's produced by Interbrew U.K. in Manchester. Sure, the British version may not taste quite the same as Australian XXXX, but if you can't try the latter, how are you ever going to know the difference?