Cascade Brewery: Tasmania’s glorious beer
The Brewery Tour at the Cascade Brewery, in South Hobart, begins at the Cascade Visitors Centre, with Denver introducing himself as our guide for this afternoon’s tour. I put on the required health and safety attire, goggles and a beautiful fluorescent yellow hi-vis jacket, listening and agreeing to the occupational health and safety talk given by the guide.
I am about to enter an operational brewery. Channeling my inner Homer Simpson, “Mmm…beer”.
Denver, speaking enthusiastically and quickly, is running through the early history of the brewery, checking point by point off his fingers. He begins with Peter Degraves raising the funds to move his family and his saw milling equipment to Van Diemen’s Land from England, and his consequent legal issues upon arrival in the new colony.
Mister Degraves, his family, and his brother-in-law Major Hugh Macintosh arrive in 1824, and begin work (with convict sweat and tears of course) on constructing their sawmill at the foot of Mt Wellington, in the suburb of South Hobart. These days it is about an 8 minute drive from the Hobart CBD.
Denver portrays Peter Degraves as a business man and a thinker.
Even though Degraves was on the other side of the world, a legal problem in London caught up with him and he was gaoled for 5 years for fraud. He had sold 43 tickets for passage to Van Diemen’s Land and left without the paid-up passengers.
While in gaol Degraves busied himself with submitting a redesign of the gaol, designing and planning to build a brewery, and making business and political connections. While the redesign was rejected it was symbolic of Degraves entrepreneurial behaviour.
I cross the road with the group, over from the visitors centre and its picturesque green gardens to outside the front door of the brewery beneath the famous façade. Denver continues with the history of Cascade Brewery after Degraves was released from gaol, where Major Macintosh had made the preparations for the brewery to commence operations as Cascade Brewery Co.
The Beginnings of Cascade Brewery
Denver’s talk concentrates on Degraves’ family and the passing of his brother-in-law and business partner Major Macintosh in 1834. Degraves managed to “acquire” Macintosh’s holding in the company, either from Macintosh or Macintosh’s son.
Peter Degraves died in 1852. Degraves was an important and influential figure in Ol’ Hobart Town. He also founded the Hobart Theatre Royal in 1837; which was also the first theatre in Australia. It still operates today. To be responsible for two of Hobart’s longest standing and well-known institutions is a quality achievement.
There are two barrels at the front, a bell, and a Tasmanian Tiger. Denver tells us that a horse and beer cart entered through the same width that trucks/lorries do today. Just about to the centimetre. The barrels bear the names of Peter Degraves and his sons C & J Degraves.
Denver informs us both Charles and John were alcoholics and preferred the Hobart social life to the responsibility of running a brewery.
The brewery offered end of working week drinks to its employees and invited the public to have a free glass of beer to those who made the trek up Cascade Road to receive it. The ringing of the bell signified “beer time”. The size of the glass was not stipulated… you can imagine what public did…
In 1882, after both Degraves’ sons had died without heirs, John Syme acquired the business.
The partnership John Wemyss Syme, Charles William Chapman & James Aikman inherited Degraves’ vision and thirst for hard work. Cascade Brewery was floated as a public company in 1883. The group acquired more breweries and later formed the Tasmanian Brewing Company.
In 1922 Cascade acquired the manufacturing interest in their longtime northern rival J. Boag & Son. Unbeknownst to Cascade at the time, this move would later play a crucial role during the disastrous fires of 1967.
The façade that now fronts the Cascade Brewery and four extra floors were added in 1927 to accommodate new state of the art vats from Switzerland. This explains why there are two dates (1824 & 1927) on the front of the building.
On 7 February 1967, Australia’s first rip-top cans were being filled at Cascade Brewery. The same day the brewery was all but burned to the ground by the Black Tuesday bushfires. Most of southern Tasmania was impacted by the ’67 bushfires. My dear Nan and Pop lost most of their farm and their beautiful homestead that day.
Only two items at the brewery survived the fires: the famous façade and a 25000 litre tank containing beer that was below in a cellar.
General Manager H.J. Gray began rebuilding while the ashes were still smouldering. He proclaimed that production would return in 12 short weeks. But Gray was wrong. He was off by one day!
In the meantime, Gray couldn’t let Hobart’s beer supply run dry. So he arranged alternative supplies, first with beer from the only undamaged tank, then from J. Boag & Son in Launceston, and Carlton and United Breweries in Melbourne. Hobart continued to have cold beer flowing even while the ashes were still hot!
Denver points out the intricacies of the entrance, and the false windows on the building’s façade.
I never knew that many of windows were just there for superficial reasons, to preserve the integrity of the façade since the 1967 bushfire.
We finally go inside the brewery and stop soon after to take note of the keg distributor, “Kenny the Kawasaki”. With its big robotic arm it moves the kegs around ready to be picked up and taken to local hotels.
We follow Denver upstairs, through narrow corridors and pass the very tank that Denver explained survived the 1967 bushfires. The tank is above ground and empty these days, but luckily was full at a very important time in the brewery’s story, enabling the brewery to continue operating.
Making the Beer
Entering a pre-designed tour display area, Denver talks us through the ingredients of Cascade beer. There are only 4 ingredients in beer:
Using prearranged story board of pictures, Denver explains the step-by-step process of making the beer.
We tasted different grains to get an understanding of how these grains change the taste of the malt in a beer depending on how long they are cooked in the kiln.
I learnt the preparation of grains is so pivotal to the outcome of beer. As much as I like beer, and thought I knew the basics of how it was made, my understanding still came back to dropping a magic ingredient into a cauldron and “Kazaam! Beer!”.
We walk up the clanging wireframe stairs to the 4th level to the two 75000L vats. Denver indicates that one to his right is an ale, to his left is lager. Effectively, one is for stout and the other is for the lager products.
This is where the differences in the beer are made. It comes down to time and the fermentation method. These vats are enormous. Like space rockets.
We retreat down the metal labyrinth of stairs and overprotective warning signs in the inner workings of Cascade Brewery, until we exit the front door and reach the sunshine. Denver states we are heading to the bottling area. This takes us around the back of the brewery past four now empty concrete silos that would not be out of place in Chernobyl. The silos used to store the barley but now Cascade Brewery outsource that responsibility to the farmers who grow the barley.
An interesting, if not questionable tale recalled by our guide is how Cascade Brewery employees would once upon a time gauge the quality of water from each of the two rivulets that the brewery sits at the junction of, would be by the amount of platypus they could spot in each rivulet.
Reaching the bottling area, we again don the goggles. The room is awash with activity from sterilising to filling, to applying labels to packing all do within this one room. Conveyer belt to conveyer belt, down different chutes and packed in plastic or cardboard boxes ready for distribution. A symphony soundtrack is required for onlookers to appreciate its grandeur.
Now there’s an idea Cascade Brewery Tours!
This was the conclusion of the tour. Now was the time everybody had been waiting for – BEER TASTING!!!
We marched with intent back to the visitors centre bar which was quite a splendid sight itself. The bar has 6 large copper pipes as a centrepiece.
Denver is talking extra fast now as he talks through the range of Cascade beers and ciders. I can imagine he is pretty thirsty! He distributes tokens for four standard drinks to each of the group. This was a lot better deal than just a tasting! Almost the value of the tour itself.
The Cascade Brewery Range
Only three of the Cascade range (Premium Light, Sparkling Pale Ale, Stout) are available outside of Tasmania, so for visitors to the state, this is a good opportunity to try out Cascade products. Another quirk, is that the Sparkling Pale Ale, is not an ale, but a lager by today’s standards. Don’t let that worry you, because it won’t be changing the name it has had for 186 years.
I’m going to settle in at the bar and enjoy my beers. I might see you when you get here!
Book your tour for a week day, not on a Saturday or Sunday, or a public holiday, as there is no production and the brewery is empty and you won’t get to see the bottling and packing process.
The brewery tour was 50 minutes in length plus additional time enjoying the beers.
Also, don’t book the last tour of the day if you want to enjoy your tastings or even have a meal and any extra drinks as the bar and restaurant/café close at 5pm.
If you do plan on tasting some beers, be over 18 years of age and arrange appropriate transport. Do not drink and drive. That’d be stupid.
Dress sensibly, flat shoes, minimal jewellery and wear socks. Lockers are provided to keep possessions in.
There are quite a few stairs to climb up and down on the tour. Handrails are provided.
Watch out for Cascade labelled soft drinks in shops. These are actually Coca-Cola products and not affiliated with Cascade Brewery Co in any way.