May 18, 2014

Van Diemen's Land brewed IPA

The other day I posted about the imported IPA that was available in Tasmania during the 19th century. While it might not have been the most popular drink in the colony, it was certainly readily available from the 1830s through to Federation.

This time I want to explore the evidence for local breweries trying their hand at the style. As far as I could find there is only evidence in the newspaper archives for two Tasmanian breweries producing IPA, Walker's in Hobart and Ditcham, Button & Co. in Launceston. The difficult thing with this kind of search is that it's only possible to find positive evidence and finding that evidence depends on whether the brewery advertised or not. It looks like only the bigger of the local breweries spent much money advertising their beer and ale.

The first example I've been able to find comes from a puzzling ad for walkers XXX Ale. I'm no expert on brewery abbreviations but I thought that the ‘X’ labelled beers referred to milds. While the milds of the 19th century were very different to those of the 20th century, I was surprised to see the XXX label used interchangeably with India pale ale. I'm sure there's precedence for this that I'm just ignorant about though.

Colonial Times (Hobart), 13 August, 1852

Whatever the story with the XXX/IPA, Walker's brewery seems to have been highly regarded through the mid to late 19th century. Below is a snippet from a report on a Hobart regatta. It includes a nice little reference Peter Dudgeon (who was in the last months of his life at that stage) and the author sharing a glass of Walker’s ale. Also see how important it is to Tasmanians even in the 1850s to compare their produce to the rest of the world.

Colonial Times (Hobart), 6 December, 1850

The other point that is worth noting is that it was made expressly for bottling rather than for cask sales. This seems to be a trend with both imported and locally made IPA.

Walker’s continued to produce an IPA at least up to the 1880s. It also seems to have been the more expensive of their ales based on the ad below.

The Mercury, 27 February, 1879 

In Launceston, Ditcham, Button & Co. were also producing an IPA by the late 1870s if not earlier. Charles Button was an member from an important family in the North. His father was William Stammers Button - what a great name - the first mayor of Launceston and a brewer himself. He ran the Launceston Brewery in partnership with Waddell after William Barnes retired. Charles brewed with his father in the early days, spent some time in New Zealand and then returned to Launceston, overseeing the brewery operations for Ditcham, Button & Co.

Launceston Examiner, 16 October, 1877

Ditcham, Button & Co. produced an East India Pale Ale and a No. 3 strong ale, a lineup which sounds very similar to the Younger and Bass brews that were being advertised in the colony at the time. The IPA was bottled and have a blue label and seems to have been known by that mark. As far as is possible to tell they seem to have been quite successful in imitating the well-known imports.

While there isn't a huge amount of information about local breweries producing IPAs, I think that what we’ve got here is the tip of the iceberg. Walker's Brewery was producing IPA for at least 30 years yet there are only a couple of mentions of it in advertising. This raises the question of how many other breweries with producing IPA (and other styles for that matter) but weren't advertising in the newspapers. The existence of their IPA is just assumed in that 1879 ad. Hopefully I'll be able to discover a bit more over time.

While the full extent is difficult to work out with the available information, at least a couple of Tasmanian breweries jumped on the original IPA bandwagon and seem to have produced quality versions of the style. However, as with so many other aspects of the brewing industry in colonial times, imitation rather than creation seems to have been the main concern.

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