During a recent visit to my local Dan Murphy’s outlet to peruse the beer shelves for something tasty and interesting to share with an overseas visitor, I came away also with a copy of a new Murphy publication called Beer Styles: the beers, the brewers and the breweries. This 28-page glossy and colourful brochure is not only a catalogue of the extensive range of craft beers available at the Murphy stores, but it contains apparently authoritative articles about beer ingredients, beer styles, several individual breweries and brewers, and beer history. It was the latter that first caught my eye.
Murphy has presented some fascinating and generally accepted historical facts about beer in Australia, and throughout the world, in a commendable effort to educate the beer drinking public. Along the way, however, some myths have been blindly repeated and some careless mistakes have been made, all of which tend to distort that history and potentially misguide the unwary reader.
For instance, it is stated that Captain Cook brought beer to Australia on the First Fleet in 1788 (p.14). This obviously confuses Cook’s voyage to Botany Bay in 1770 with the First Fleet, led by Arthur Phillip, eighteen years later, a mistake that one would hope most Australian primary school students would not make. Murphy also states that Cook, meaning Phillip, brought with him two men who became early brewers in Australia: James Squire and John Boston. The mistake here is less obvious. Although Squire was indeed a first fleeter, Boston in fact came as a free settler several years later.
We are also told on page 14 that Peter Degraves established the Cascade Brewery at Hobart in 1824. My own thorough research on the topic persuaded me many years ago that the Cascade Brewery was not started until 1832, despite the persistent use of the earlier date for many years on Cascade labels and crown seals. This myth is now perpetuated through the brewery’s own website, and perhaps Murphy can be excused for accepting such a source as trustworthy.
It would take a much longer article than this to point out all the historical errors in the Murphy booklet, so a single additional example will suffice. On page 18, Dan explains that ‘Craft Beer in Australia can be traced back to the late 1980s’, then elaborates that Matilda Bay was then the first new brewery to open in Australia since the Second World War. Such an erroneous assertion, which is also made regularly by Matilda Bay’s own marketers, cannot go unchallenged. I have spent a lot of time researching the brewing industry in New South Wales during the immediate post-war period, and have published at length about the breweries that started in the early 1950s, after the war, at Brookvale (Sydney), Branxton (Hunter Valley) and Grafton (North Coast). Matilda Bay cannot even correctly claim, as it frequently does, to have been the first of the modern band of ‘craft’ breweries; even its older sister, the Sail and Anchor, was preceded by some months by the Old Ballarat Brewery in Victoria.
The evident carelessness with which Murphy has compiled the historical content of this little book makes me wonder how many more errors might be lurking in sections dealing with other topics, such as beer styles and ingredients. Insofar as this is a genuine (though misguided) attempt to inform and educate beer drinkers, Dan Murphy’s can be congratulated for making the effort. In effect, however, it is an uncritical compilation of self-serving and adulatory corporate vignettes, dressed up to look like ‘information’. I am greatly concerned that professional looking publications such as this, printed and given away in thousands, are capable of spreading historical nonsense rapidly and effectively, creating new errors and reinforcing old ones, rather than educating.