A tour around Australia's rich brewing heritage

Including today's boutique craft breweries

By Kerry Scambler
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The Breweries of Australia by Keith Deutsher

The Breweries of Australia by Keith Deutsher

 

Many wine lovers – and quite a few of our wine makers – also enjoy a 'cleansing ale'. If you love Australian beer and its rich history then this book must be on your bookshelf. It’s also a wonderful armchair tour of the country’s cities and towns, each with their own particular brewing heritage.

Encyclopaedic in size and impressive in scope, this second edition has fully recognised the massive growth of the craft beer industry and included an extra section dedicated to the latest boutique breweries.

Beer is such an integral part of Australian life – once it was basically about mainstream and quantity, but over recent decades the rise of premium, imported and boutique beers has seen a shift in focus to quality, and for some, image.

From early Australian settlement, governments encouraged and indeed supported the establishment of breweries, and key in their thought process was the alcohol content of beer – it was much less than the spirits of the day and therefore, they reasoned, drunkenness should be less.

It was also about the secondary industries that would be needed to produce the barley and hops as well as brew and bottle the beer.  However it was not all plain sailing through those early years with brewers facing unfamiliar weather conditions, a shortage of ingredients which resulted in the use of many weird and not-so-wonderful substitutes and a basic lack of scientific knowledge.

There was an enormous number of bankruptcies, ownership changes, new breweries opening and existing ones closing.

Given this foundation and the fact that every town in the country had at least one, if not numerous, breweries at some stage, plus the required pubs and hotels to dispense the product, any comprehensive history of the subject is going to be complex and difficult. Mr Deutsher has done a magnificent job.

The Introduction takes us through the early history, then the major milestones noted on a calendar from 1770 through to 2011.  Some interesting notes here (especially from my Tasmanian perspective):

  • 1793: James Squire becomes Australia’s first brewer
  • 1818: Tasmania’s first brewery is opened in Launceston but by 1833 NSW has 15 breweries whilst Tasmania has raced ahead to 22!
  • 1856: Victoria has 50 breweries operating and likewise Tasmania
  • 1882: lager beer first commercially produced by Cohn Brothers in Bendigo.
  • 1913: crown seals introduced, replacing corks
  • 1998: 28 boutique breweries operating
  • 2011: 127 boutique breweries operating.

And that’s just a small slice of the milestones.

From here it’s into the starting point of your armchair tour of Australia as we go state by state, town by town, brewery by brewery. Time to think about where your next holiday will take you and discover the what went into each city or town’s development, and perhaps what remains today.

Many entries are detailed with changes in partnerships and fortunes, closures and re-opens and newspaper mentions. Others are very brief, just one line or cross-referenced with another, but mentioned all the same so that the complete picture of the comings and goings is formed. And what a massive picture it makes for those 220 years since James Squire poured Australia's first beer!

It’s interesting to note that most brewery names have reference to the specific location or brewer with only a few more idiosyncratic like the Perseverance Brewery in Gunnedah; there could be no doubting the business of The Strong Beer Brewery.

I do wonder how tiresome it would have been telling people you worked for the Great Northern Brewery & Malting & Wine & Spirit & Aerated Waters Co. Ltd!

Whilst place and brewer names are still prevalent today, you're also more likely to come across far more distinctive names for breweries and beers has come with the advent of the craft beer movement. I’m thinking Thirsty Crow, Gang Gang, Hopping Mad, Happy Goblin and Brewboys to name a few.

Throughout the book are anecdotes taken from The Australian Brewers Journal which are fascinating in themselves, from tales of theft by 'putting a syphon through and open window into cask' (the end result being the culprits were so drunk most got arrested!) to 'How to Cure Drunkards' and 'New Cure for Influenza'.

Following the boutique brewery listing are further chapters on the development of lager beer, the temperance movement (and this was a shock – the very first was the Dieman’s Land Temperance Society in 1832) and a summary of the number of breweries. 

The last section, perhaps fittingly after all this serious history, has a few beer facts and trivia.  Who would have thought that collecting beer coasters would have you labeled a tegestologist?

And I like this one, Bavaria still defines beer as a staple food.

At the conclusion of the book’s introduction, Keith Deutsher says “Today nobody remembers the plight and struggle of the early brewers. Their successes and failures are barely recorded in history, but through their toil and determination and spirit to achieve, the foundations were laid for what is today one of Australia’s most important industries.”

And so I raise a glass – an Australian ale would be appropriate methinks – to those early brewers, to all those who followed and to those who today are giving us such a vibrant and varied range of beers to choose from and enjoy on any occasion. A great book, highly recommended to any beer lover.

 

This updated edition of The Breweries of Australia by Keith Deutsher is published by Beer & Brewer Media Pty Ltd (Sydney, NSW, 2012;  hc, 374pp) and retails in Australia for RRP A$59.95. Available in good bookstores and online at www.beerandbrewer.com/books

 

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July 08th, 2013
 
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