Beer, Mines & Rails: A history of the brewing industry in Queensland to the 1920s
Beer and brewery history is fascinating. It’s the story of people and society, science and technology. As the James Squire brand shows it can be turned into a compelling back story for a beer company, or as Pete Brown’s Hops & Glory demonstrates, it can be turned into an engaging journey across oceans and through time.
It is well known that most beer styles have been produced as a result of local necessity. Local water, grains and the combustion source used in malting, the availability of hops and the distance that the beer has had to be sent to market have all had an influence on the development of local styles.
However, there are other local factors that have guided the development of breweries in history, one of these is local industry and also rail. Historian and Australian Brews News contributor, Brett Stubbs, has looked at the relationship between the development of mining and railways and the making and consumption of beer in his latest book, titled Beer, Mines and Rails: A history of the brewing industry in Queensland to the 1920’s.
The book has been out for some time now and I have been meaning to review it since its release, however, it is a serious work of beer history and not one that lends itself to quick study. That is one of the book’s many strengths, but also one that may limit its wider appeal. This is no potboiler. Stubbs takes an academic historian’s approach to the subject and it is one of the most thoroughly researched of its type on the bookshelves.
There is no shortage of books that deal with the history of beer and brewing. Many of these are corporate histories, books that in themself are interesting but which tend to be hagiographies given they are generally funded by the breweries themselves. Other books are histories that draw upon secondary research and in doing so often perpetuate lore and apocrypha rather than history.
Then there are histories such as the just-screened History Channel documentary, Your Shout: A History of Australian Beer. While entertaining and well crafted, this was more a series of advertisements for large breweries interspersed with snippets of history and brewing anecdotes, rather than the history of Australian beer. Designed for television, it skimmed the surface of the historical pond.
Stubbs’ book is the opposite. It dives in and swims deep. It chronicles the dozens of breweries that operated in Queensland until the 1920s, detailing the takeovers, collapses and economic and cultural forces that drove the development of the industry.
It is not a cracking yarn, but it is a valuable resource that documents Queensland’s early brewing history. If you have an interest in brewing history, or just the history of a Queensland town, this book deserves a place on your bookshelf, right alongside books such as Martyn Cornell’s Amber, Gold & Black.
Dr Brett J. Stubbs