Marmite Vodka: Only Under Prohibition

James C. Wilson
Vegemite Liquor: Only Under Prohibition

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot denies that his government seeks to impose restrictions on the sale of Vegemite, Australia’s popular yeast-based sandwich spread. Allegations of such a ban rose after Australia’s Indigenous Affairs minister Nigel Scullion made headlines alleging that the spread’s use in home-brewing is a “precursor to misery” in certain dry counties with large aboriginal populations.

Several scientists have declared brewing alcohol from Vegemite somewhere between difficult and impossible, while one local official has claimed that fermenting orange juice is actually the preferred method in dry counties. Vegemite, for those unfamiliar, is a black, bitter extract and an acquired taste, to put it charitably. It’s hard to imagine Vegemite-based alcohol as an appealing drink, yet that is precisely what the consumer gets under state enforced prohibition.

If true, the Vegemite allegations show how utterly ineffectual government prohibition is. If false, they prove that state officials are not reliable sources of information for what is happening in their own jurisdiction. Concerns over home-brewing safety have led the Queensland government to talk about removing alcohol restrictions in at least some of the dry counties in recent years.

Much of the renewed controversy stems from concerns about sickness (including type 2 diabetes) and death caused by bad batches of homemade alcohol. There is also the social impact: great harm done to families and communities by the harsh laws imprisoning and fining home brewers.

Prohibition also has the unfortunate side effect of discouraging localized consumption of alcohol. American studies have shown residents of dry counties often drive long distances to consume alcohol only to drive back impaired, causing accidents on their way home. Dry counties are also economically disadvantaged by their ruling class’ Puritanism. Money that could have been spent on alcohol purchased within the community is spent elsewhere, making the local area poorer. Additionally, Prohibition encourages violent criminal elements to enter and dominate communities via black market alcohol trade. What would otherwise be the domain of peaceful community members is handed over on a silver platter (very often) to thugs.

Alcoholism is a real problem among Australia’s indigenous population. But using patronizing, authoritarian means to deal with it does little to help. Aboriginal Australians have been subjected to a long history of prejudice and discrimination, one in which their lands, traditional food sources, and family members have been forcibly taken from them. They’ve also been subjected to “unfree labor” and restrictions on their freedom to move about the continent. Imposing further restrictions on them is not the way to correct these wrongs. Instead, we should do seek to undo the underlying injustices that contribute to poverty and alcoholism.

While Vegemite liquor and other forms of homemade alcohol production are not without risks, it is the state that creates the need to resort to such unsafe measures. We should not begrudge attempts to resist unjust prohibitionism. It should be seen as a positive development that the increased ease of home-brewing in recent years has made such laws less enforceable. Hopefully, such developments bring more attention to this issue and lead to the demise of this authoritarianism.

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6 comments


  1. I gave Marmite a try awhile back. Um … different, I’ll give it that. The color and texture reminded me of axle grease; the taste not very much to my liking. But to each their own, and huzzah to the fellow who figured out how to turn exhausted brewer’s yeast into a profit center.

    When I worked for French’s, we produced a lot of mustard bran from the Dijon-style process and pepper seeds/pulp from making hot sauce, and ran an experiment with another company for using those things in livestock feed. Don’t know if that worked out or not. As a side note, if you use the official powdered mustard of the British royal family (Colman’s), for awhile I was the guy who made that.


    • I’d pass on the meths if I was you. I did try methanol once just to see if what people say is true. Yes, it’s repulsively disgusting. (No, I only tried a fraction of a thimbleful as it makes you blind.)


  2. I never thought one could ferment Marmite or Vegemite. I will have to do some experiments, and will report back. But it does seen an expensive way of making not very much alcohol, even set against the British State’s taxation-rates. Better just to buy a few pounds of sugar and chuck yeast into it surely, making sure to add about half a gram of ammonium phosphate, then just filter after a week or so, and drink.

    If you don’t want to drink it right away, then before you filter it, add about a teaspoon of potassium metabisulphite and leave for a night or so. Then filter. then leave for a day, then drink it all quickly.


    • You need fibre as well as sugar and water. I know this from long experience. But I doubt there is much fibre in Marmite.


      • Well then, the only “fibre” type material, chemically, in Marmite would be any residual cell-wall components left over from the degraded yeast. None of which is massive enough to comprise fibre.

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