When brewing was being carried on at the Sail & Anchor Hotel in Fremantle, Western Australia, from 1984 until 2010, that establishment was often referred to in promotional writings as ‘one of Australia’s first pub breweries’. How this notion arose is unclear—was it a result of the brewery’s own propaganda, or of the imagination of the writers?
Although pub-breweries had not operated in Australia for many years, certainly before the limits of the memories of those living in the 1980s, it is a little appreciated fact that they were commonplace in the Australian colonies in the nineteenth century, as they were then in the United Kingdom.
When settlement began at Sydney Cove in 1788, publican brewers – or brewing victuallers – were a highly significant component of the brewing industry in the United Kingdom. At that time, about 1,200 common brewers (wholesale brewers) produced 57 per cent of British beer, and the other 43 per cent was produced by more than 27,000 brewing victuallers. In the 1830s, still nearly half of all beer brewed in England and Wales was produced by publican brewers, and nearly half of all publicans brewed their own beer.
Naturally, therefore, publican brewers were among the earliest producers of beer in the new British colony of New South Wales. Several were operating in Sydney at the time of the first general census in November 1828. For example, Thomas Mordant brewed at his Pine Apple public house in Pitt Street; Thomas and Catherine Clarkson ran a brewery adjoining their Woodman public house at the corner of Hunter and Elizabeth Streets; and at Kissing Point, half-way to Parramatta, Thomas Farnell ran the pub and brewery of his deceased father-in-law, James Squire.
Publican brewers operated in the other Australian colonies, too, and were especially common in Van Diemen’s Land, or Tasmania as it later became. Some of the very earliest breweries in Hobart were attached to public houses. James Austin, who ran a ferry service across the Derwent River a little upstream of the town, also kept an inn, and was brewing beer there by 1820. The first brewery to operate within the town of Hobart, William Wood’s Hobart Town Brewery, was attached to his Barley Mow public house in Davey Street. The first pub-brewery in Launceston, the island’s northern ‘capital’, was probably the Commercial Tavern in Cameron Street, where Abraham Aaron was brewing in the late 1820s. Among the first publican brewers to operate in the ‘country’ districts of the colony was John Martin, who was working a brewery attached to his Star and Garter Inn at New Norfolk by the early 1830s.
In the United Kingdom, the number and importance of publican brewers declined dramatically through the nineteenth century, until by 1900 the proportion of beer brewed by them had diminished to only 5 per cent, although they still numbered 4,500. They were almost extinct by the 1970s.
Their decline in Australia was much more sudden and complete. The reasons for this are a subject for another time, although it can be said that in New South Wales they seem to have been legislated out of existence. By the early 1980s, no-one in Australia could even remember a pub brewery, let alone visit one. There were still four in operation in the United Kingdom when the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) was formed in 1971, and they had been augmented to about seventy by 1984, largely through the efforts of David Bruce, who put brew-pubs back on the map in London with his chain of popular Firkin houses.
To the British pub-breweries of the seventies, remnant and new, we owe the revival of the concept in Australia. His discovery in 1975 of the Old Swan at Netherton, one of the rare survivors, inspired the late Geoffrey Scharer to begin his long quest to have a small brewery installed in his own George IV Inn at Picton in New South Wales. Phil Sexton was similarly inspired at the end of the 1970s during his time as a brewing science student at the University of Birmingham. When Sexton and his friends opened the Sail & Anchor in 1984, no history of pub-breweries in Australia was readily apparent, so it may easily have seemed even to them that they were creating this country’s first.
Note: Tasmania’s early pub-breweries are documented more fully in the author’s forthcoming book on the history of the brewing industry in that state.