The Matilda Bay Brewery, Nedlands.

A Short History of Craft Beer in Australia (Part 2)

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The unfamiliarity of small-scale beer production in Australia in the early 1980s became an obstacle to the development of new small breweries, partly because the legal framework for brewing beer, retailing beer and for building new breweries had developed around very large industrial brewing facilities. For instance, when Geoffrey Scharer was seeking to install a brewery in his George IV Inn at Picton in New South Wales in the early 1980s, he was initially prevented from doing so by an antiquated law, a hangover from the nineteenth century, which prevented a brewery from operating within fifty yards of a place where beer was sold by retail.

Another early obstacle was that brewing in small commercial breweries was perceived by the drinking public in a similar light to home brewing, which having been legalised in Australia only in the early 1970s was still usually equated with poor quality beer. This public perception was sometimes justified, as lack of brewing expertise and the difficulty in obtaining good quality malt, hops and yeast sometimes prevented some new small breweries from achieving or maintaining desirable standards of quality. Many in the 1980s adopted the easier and safer route of using wort concentrate. This was usually obtained from Cooper and Sons in South Australia, who had begun making this product for the home-brewing market in 1984, and who even took financial stakes in several of the new extract-using breweries.

Many of the earliest of the new wave of small breweries in Australia were modelled upon, or at least strongly influenced by, a similar but earlier movement in the United Kingdom. Brewtech, the creator of the Sail and Anchor Pub Brewery (1984) and the Matilda Bay Brewery (1985) in Western Australia, and later of joint-venture brewpubs in Adelaide (1986), Melbourne (1988) and Hobart (1988), obtained inspiration from David Bruce’s chain of Firkin brewpubs, the first of which, the Goose and Firkin, opened in south London in 1979. Brewtech also borrowed the name of one of Bruce’s beers, Dogbolter, for one of its earliest brews. Brewing equipment for the Matilda Bay Brewery and for the Old Lion Brewery in Adelaide was obtained from Robert Morton of Burton-on-Trent, England, one of few sources of small-scale brewing plant at that time.

The Old Ballarat Brewery, Victoria, which came into production in 1984, shortly preceding Brewtech’s Sail and Anchor, used equipment from brewpub system manufacturer, Inn Brewing, established in England in 1982 to service the pub-brewing revival there.  Old Ballarat also became the Australian agent for Inn Brewing, and helped to establish three more small breweries in this country, all using Inn Brewing equipment. They included the Strzelecki Brewery, which later became the Grand Ridge Brewery, and today is one of the oldest and more successful of Victoria’s craft breweries.

In South Australia, two brewpubs were started in the late 1980s in addition to Brewtech’s Old Lion project. The one that survives, the Port Dock Brewery Hotel at Port Adelaide, used an Inn Brewing system, obtained directly from the manufacturer before Old Ballarat gained the Australian agency. Pub Brewing, the company behind the Port Dock, also established similar operations in Melbourne and Sydney, the latter being the now famous Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel, at which brewing began in 1987. In contrast to the Brewtech establishments, the Port Dock and Lord Nelson both began as extract breweries.


Chuck Hahn (r) and Blair Hayden lobby Canberra for excise relief.

The Lord Nelson was followed closely in New South Wales by Scharer’s Little Brewery at Picton (1987) and by Chuck Hahn’s self-named brewery at Camperdown (1988). Hahn had worked for Tooth and Co. in Sydney, then briefly for Lion in New Zealand, before starting the Hahn Brewery back in Sydney. Its centrepiece is a set of copper Steinecker vessels from a brewery in New Zealand that he had decommissioned for Lion in 1986.

Centrepac, another pioneer of craft brewing in New South Wales, established Britten’s Brewery at Tamworth in 1988, and started brewing at its Pumphouse Brewery Tavern in Sydney in 1989. Both breweries incorporated equipment manufactured by Robert Morton, through Centrepac having engaged the same consultant responsible for the Brewtech’s Robert Morton installations in Perth and Adelaide.

Queensland’s first contribution to the boom came in 1987 with the opening of a small brewery at the Waterloo Hotel in suburban Brisbane. This operation was different from its contemporaries in two main ways. First, its proponent, Graham Howard, came from a home-brewing background, not from industrial brewing or from wine-making, which were common sources of expertise for the 1980s new breweries. Secondly, Howard built his own brewing equipment. Although this operation was short-lived, Howard’s equipment was acquired by Carlton and United Breweries for use as a developmental brewery, which purpose it still serves at the giant Abbotsford Brewery in Melbourne.

The record year for Australian new breweries in the 1980s was 1988, with sixteen starters. Economic hard times and adverse beer taxation laws then reduced the robust flow to a trickle over the next several years. The total number of new breweries in Australia stabilised at around thirty for most of the 1990s. Notable among the new starters during the slump were the Wig and Pen Tavern and Brewery in Canberra (1994), the third small brewery to open in the national capital, but the only one of those three to have survived.


Dr Brett J. Stubbs is an independent historical consultant and writer, and an honorary research fellow in the School of History, Philosophy, Classics and Religion at the University of Queensland. He is Australia’s leading historian of beer and breweries, having written numerous scholarly articles and books on those topics. His works include the definitive histories of the early breweries of Queensland (Beer, Mines and Rails; Tankard Books, 2010) and Tasmania (Very Good Beer and Ale; Tankard Books, 2013). His other books include The Gold Digger’s Arms: Pubs of the Upper Clarence River District, New South Wales (Tankard Books, 2009; revised edition due 2014). Also forthcoming is a history (in two volumes) of the early breweries of New South Wales.