Joseph Connor, 'Walker's Brewery, Hobart', undated (W.L. Crowther Library, SLT)
The brewing of beer in Tasmania started within the first year or two of European settlement, but it was not until the early 1820s that the first major breweries were established in Hobart. In Launceston, the pattern was similar, and today J Boag & Son is a link with that past. James Boag, a Scot, arrived in Launceston in 1853 and became brewer and manager at the Cornwall Brewery, which had been established in 1829.
One of the first references to beermaking was in 1806 when brewing was banned due to a shortage of grain. For the most part, the colony relied on imported ales from England, and spirits – gin, rum and brandy. The consumption of spirits, both imported and locally made, caused serious social problems and the colony's drinking dens and sly-grog shops became notorious.
It was against this background that brewing was encouraged. In May 1816, the Hobart Town Gazette declared the colony's climate was ideal for the growing of hops and brewing, and later that year published a guide to hop-growing, and accompanied it with the following comment: 'How much more delicious to the parched and thirsty Labourer in the field in Harvest season, would be the cheering and sprinkling cup of Ale to the draught of Grog [spirits]? What sums of money would be left in the Colony, or applied to other uses, was Ale and Beer the general beverage? What excesses would be avoided, and Crimes less likely to be committed? It would be to the interest of every Settler to Endeavour to have a Barrel of good Ale in his House instead of Gallons of Rum'.
A slump in the prices received for wheat exports to Sydney in 1819 led to calls for local brewing and distilling to be encouraged as a means of finding a use for the wheat surplus. One of the first successful brewers was George Gatehouse, who began building his brewery at New Town in 1820. He soon had several competitors, among them the Hobart Town Brewery in Davey Street, and by the mid-1820s there were six in and around Hobart – Gatehouse's New Town Brewery, the Tasman Brewery, the Derwent Brewery, Presnell's Brewery, Gorringe's Brewery and the Hobart Town Brewery. Launceston's first brewery was established by William Barnes in 1824.
The number of breweries more than doubled over the next twenty years, and among them was Peter Degraves' Cascade Brewery – today the sole survivor in southern Tasmania. Degraves was later able to export his ale to Sydney in his own ships. The consolidation of the breweries began in 1882 when Cascade, which had recently been bought from the Degraves estate by a Victorian company, began to acquire its competitors. Today, Cascade and Boag's continue to flourish with their premium beers exported both interstate and overseas.
Further reading: M Bingham, Cascade, Hobart, 1992.