An historic Australian brewing family is back in the business with the relaunch of Brehenys Bros. Brewing, 100 years after its last beer was brewed.
The brand is being reinvigorated by descendants of the original brewing family, including James and Justin Breheny. It is brewing its beers from Burnley Brewing Co. and it attracted 100 friends, family and industry members at its launch event on Monday (15th March).
From the mid-nineteenth century, a series of Breheny family members, starting with John Breheny, became brewers in businesses from Carlton & United to the Swan Brewery in Perth, as well as a multitude of regional breweries and have been described as ‘Australian brewing royalty’.
A descendant of the family and co-founder of the new venture James Breheny said that now seemed the opportune moment to relaunch the Breheny name in the brewing industry, especially as other heritage beer brands make a comeback.
“We have been aware for a long time of the influence that the Breheny family had on the Australian brewing industry due to the many breweries that 22 Breheny brewers worked in and in many cases started up,” he told Brews News.
“Late last year we discovered that one of our Breheny relatives was in possession of the original recipe book from one of the Breheny Brothers Breweries that contained the recipe for four beers that were brewed in the early 1900s.
“This motivated us to investigate the opportunity to ‘bring back’ one of the Breheny Brothers beers based on the original recipe.
“We were already in possession of the many labels the were used at each of the Breheny Brothers Breweries and decided that Breheny Brothers Sparkling Bitter would be the ideal beer to relaunch.
This time round however Breheny Bros. will be contract brewing.
“I have worked previously with Burnley Brewing to produce a commemorative can for the ‘Beer & Beef Club’ that I am President of so I was aware of their beer producing capabilities,” Breheny explained.
“We met with the owner of Burnley Brewing, Mark Hopkinson to discuss the opportunity to bring back one of the Breheny Brothers beers and he was keen to be involved.”
Bringing brewing back to the Breheny family
While James himself was not brewing directly, that didn’t mean he wasn’t involved in the brewing industry.
“I worked in a variety of sales and marketing roles at CUB for 25 years up until 2002 so I was involved in a number of major beer launches,” he said.
“I’ve always had a close personal interest in the industry.”
James also worked as brand manager for Carlton Draught, Crown Lager and early Matilda Bay brands, in addition to running his own marketing consulting business.
James’ cousin and grandson of James Patrick Breheny, Justin Breheny, has also been heavily involved in the launch after a career in the finance and insurance industries.
It has been a true family affair in other respects as well, with another Breheny, Julian – currently a senior designer based in New York – producing the Brothers Sparkling Bitter label with George Patterson Y&R Brisbane agency art director Michael Bannenberg. Family historian John Breheny was also able to provide background into the Breheny Brothers Breweries.
James said he absolutely felt the pressure with the relaunch of his family’s brewing brand.
“However we are proud of our family’s achievements in the brewing industry so we have ensured that everything we have produced and communicated is totally authentic,” he said.
“We believe that the Breheny Brothers story is so genuine and authentic that it will resonate with beer drinkers as well as the fact that the beer is based on the original recipe from over 100 years ago should encourage people to try the beer.”
Brewing an historic beer
Burnley Brewing is brewing and distributing Breheny Brothers Sparkling Bitter, which is now on tap at its Richmond brewpub, as well as being available for takeaway in 750ml bottles, before moving into kegs.
“Given our main objective was to re-launch an existing family brand based on the original recipe and given Burnley Brewing’s interest in the project as well as their brewing credentials it was clearly the best option which also enabled us to move relatively quickly,” James said.
“Burnley Brewing head brewer, Michael Stanzel has done an amazing job reproducing Breheny Brothers Sparkling Bitter based on the original recipe.”
While they had the original recipe, some of the ingredients were no longer available and were substituted by Stanzel, with a little help from veteran brewer Dermot O’Donnell.
“Michael learned his brewing craft in Germany so has had great experience working with recipes even older than Breheny Brothers,” explained James.
“The beer itself has its own taste characteristics and is very easy drinking so should have broad appeal to beer drinkers.”
While the beer will be available at Burnley Brewing Co. the team want to understand how the beer performs in the market before planning their own brewery.
“It would be amazing if that is a longer-term outcome but would only be considered if it was commercially viable based on how strongly beer drinkers embrace the family brewing story and enjoy our family’s beers,” James said.
Find out more about the Breheny Brothers and their role in the growth of the Australian brewing industry in this retrospective by Dr. Brett Stubbs.