Recently in a hotel in Sydney’s inner suburban belt I came across an old pub mirror that said Reschs: the Drink a Man Remembers and it struck me that what was once seen as an old man’s beer, best left to grandpa’s and those propping up the bar in a dingy city pub, has somehow held on to re-emerge as the retro beer of choice.

Back when few beers were available to the discerning drinker, Reschs was my beer of choice too, and still is when I see it.  As their more popular marketing slogans went, It was the beer we drink round here.  The point was that it was Sydney’s beer, with a long history.

One of the many Reschs pub signs that once graced the walls of Sydney's hotels
One of the many Reschs’ pub signs that once graced the walls of Sydney’s hotels

The beer was the product of German brewing in nineteenth century Sydney.  In 1863 Edmund Resch arrived in Victoria, heading to the mines before moving to Cobar NSW in 1871 where he and another were the first to mine copper.  After moving about for 5 years, in 1877 he and his younger brother Richard, purchased a small cordial factory in the river port of Wilcannia in the states far west.  They were soon joined by a third brother, Emil and opened the Lion Brewery, with branches in Silvertown, Cootamundra and Tibooburra.

In 1892 Edmund installed a manager and retired to Melbourne, before taking up the offer to manage Allt’s Brewery & Wine & Spirit Co, known as the Waverley Brewery in Sydney in 1895.   Reviving the sagging business of Allt’s, Resch then purchased a second business, the New South Wales Lager Bier Co on South Dowling Street in Redfern.  Closing Waverley, he shifted the equipment to Redfern and expanded the brewery, while keeping the Waverley name. In 1906 the business was renamed Resch’s Ltd and the lion emblem of the Wilcannia operation became the symbol of the new company.

He had arrived in Sydney at the time of a great transition and turmoil in the brewing industry.  In 1900 there were 19 breweries in the city.  By 1920 there were only three, as the giant firms of Tooth’s and Toohey’s bought out, shut down or amalgamated with their rivals.  Only Resch’s withstood the onslaught.

Edmund Resch as an internee, 1917 (NAA D3597)
Edmund Resch as an internee, 1917 (NAA D3597)

From 1904-1914 he proudly advertised as being brewer to the Governor General and his beers captured a large portion of the NSW market.  Resch’s Dinner Ale and Pilsener were particularly popular.  Edmund’s business was increasingly successful, enough for him to buy the harbourside mansion Swifts, built in the 1882 by his brewing rival Sir Robert Lucas Tooth and to expand his Waverley brewery, hold off his rivals and purchase hotels to sell his products.  When war broke out in 1914, Resch, who had been naturalised in 1889, contributed generously to the effort and made up the difference in pay for around 60 workers who enlisted.  Despite this, his German heritage was enough to see him arrested and interned at Liverpool Camp in 1917 until the wars end.

Resch died in 1923 and his sons took over the business.  In 1929 the company was bought by Tooth & Co, who continued the Waverley brewery and maintained the name and range of Reschs products.  In 1983 Tooth were taken over by Carlton United Breweries in Victoria, who also continued the Resch’s brand.  In a quirk of history, CUB had been established by Edmunds brother Emil in 1907.

Although now much reduced, Resch’s is still available in NSW pubs.  Its silver bullet Pilsener is about the only survivor.  But as long as it is, Reschs still Refreshes.