Apr 27, 2014

Hobart vs Launceston: beer quality in 1826

The Hobart vs Launceston rivalry is a Tasmanian tradition. I assume it goes all the way back to an insignificant incident around the time of the founding of Launceston in 1804. It's pretty ridiculous really, the smaller the population, the more important the dividing lines seem to be. There's a great little article in the Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser that suggests this rivalry was in play by 1826 at least. It keeps things polite though, the main purpose is to be comment on the resumption of work at the local breweries and distilleries though it moves from there to talk about the quality of the beer as well.

This excerpt and the ones that follow are from:
Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser,
December 15, 1826

The article gives no explanation for the cessation of brewing, presumably it's well enough known in the colony to not be worth mentioning. My hunch is that it's related to a lack of ingredients, I can't think of another reason why they'd actually stop brewing beer and distilling spirits. Even then though, it's surprising given the extensive use of various sugars among NSW and even some Tasmanian breweries at the time. I'll try to find out more about it another time.

Quick! Someone in Launceston start a faux craft brewery
built around the history of Barnes!

The comparison between the North and South is fascinating (I'm using that word way too much in these history posts). Actually, it's really a comparison between two breweries, the Derwent Brewery under the management of Dudgeon and Bell and the Port Dalrymple Brewery under the management of Barnes. There were several other breweries in Hobart at least but the article hints that these two are the only ones to have resumed operations at that stage. The good news is that in contrast to beer brewed in NSW at the time, both breweries were producing high quality brews.

Very good but not the best. C'mon Hobart, lift
your game!

To the enduring shame of my people the Launceston beer is said to be superior to the Hobart ale. The main factor seems to be the alcohol content and age of the beer, the punters preferring something with a bit more strength than the Derwent Brewery was providing. I've come across a number of references that seem to connect strength and quality and sometimes even treat them as synonymous. That puts the 19th century beer drinking public in a similar place to the Ratebeer top 50 list which features DIPAs, strong Belgians and imperial stouts prominently. Despite a vocal session beer contingent strength and quality still seem to be pretty tightly connected in the minds of most.

The Port Dalrymple beer is so good that the author says people in Launceston and the surrounding area are mostly drinking the beer produced by Barnes. They're even choosing his beer over London porter! I wonder if that's a factor in the absence of Barclay Perkins from Launceston until the 1840s?

A useful little detail in the mix is a comparison of the price of the Derwent beer to that of the London porters. At less than a third of the cost of London porter, it's not hard to see why people would be drinking it if the quality was there. The author praises the customer service of the Derwent Brewery as well as their provision of cheap but good table beer, an important social issue at the time. He'd just like them to brew something a bit stronger as well.

While Barnes was focussed on supplying the North of the state, Dudgeon and Bell were exporting their Derwent ales to NSW. It's pretty early on for that kind of thing to be happening but given the struggles they were having in Sydney to brew palatable beer, I guess it made sense for the Tasmanian breweries with enough capacity to be exporting. I've found a few other references to Tasmanian beer being exported but that's for another post.

So Launceston won the battle but the big thing to note is that the overall beer quality in Tasmania, even in the early days of the colony, was very high. Chalk that up to the favourable climate. The other thing worth comment is that the resumption of brewing and distilling in the state was news worth reporting. Newspapers from the time are such good resources and we get little insights into the scene like this one because alcohol was such an important issue at the time. Without this, the beer history of 19th century Australia would be virtually non-existent. Granted that's not quite on par with the burning of the Library of Alexandria, but it'd be a shame to be missing these fun little stories.

All this ties in nicely with our new homebrew club. We're planning on having a state competition and because of our state rivalry, having a North-South derby incorporated into the comp. Maybe the competition should be for the 'Dudgeon-Barnes Trophy'?

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