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Beer scene in Sydney. Part I

by Roger Protz, 06/10

You can tell the Australian beer scene is changing fast when you're shown the bottling line in the Malt Shovel brewery. Thousands of bottles of James Squire Porter go clanking round on a roller-coaster of conveyors as they're filled and capped.

Porter? In Australia? Doesn't everyone drink Foster's here? Not anymore. You'll struggle to find a single tap for the Amber Nectar, which is now an export brand only. But you will find dozens of small craft breweries producing lagers and ales of the highest quality.

And there's no better place to start the search for craft beer in Australia than the Malt Shovel in the Camperdown district of Sydney. It's run by Dr Charles Hahn (right), better known simply as Chuck Hahn, an American who brewed with Coors in Colorado for 10 years before being headhunted by the Sydney brewer, Tooths.

From Sydney, he moved to Lion Breweries in Auckland, New Zealand for three years - "I brewed a lot of Steinlager" -- before returning to Australia to launch his own company, Hahn. He achieved great success with Hahn Lager but he was badly hit by the Australian recession in the early 1990s and was forced to sell to the Lion Nathan group. Lion Nathan originates in New Zealand but became an Australasian group when it bought Tooheys and Castlemaine Perkins. The entire group is now owned by Kirin of Japan.

Chuck became chief brewer for the group but concentrates on the Malt Shovel and four brewpubs under the James Squire name. Squire was a convict, transported from England to Botany Bay in 1785 for the heinous crime of stealing chickens in Kingston, Surrey. While still a convict, he started to make ale for the governor of New South Wales. On his release, he was encouraged to brew commercially to counteract the illicit importing of rum. By 1805 Squire had successfully grown the first hops in the country and a year later he opened a brewery on the shores of the Parramatta River at Kissing Point. He followed this by building the Malt Shovel Tavern in Camperdown on the outskirts of Sydney, home today to Chuck Hahn's brewery.

Squire and Hahn are a good fit, the former called the Father of Australian Brewing, the latter the Father of Australian Craft Brewing. Chuck Hahn doesn't steal chickens, though. He concentrates on producing an impressive range of beers in a spacious brewery, a range that includes Golden Ale, Amber Ale, Sundown Lager, Porter, Pilsener and IPA. Malt Shovel supplies beers for the four James Squire brewpubs - two in Melbourne, one in Sydney and the fourth in Perth. The brewpubs produce small-run beers while the bigger volume brands such as Golden Ale and Amber Ale are supplied by Malt Shovel. It may be micro brewing in a vast country dominated by Victoria Bitter and Carlton Draught, but the entire Malt Shovel/James Squire business turns over A$3 million a month.

    You enter Malt Shovel up a flight of steps, with the brewing equipment on the right. Ahead lies a spacious room with a powerful colonial air - hammer head roof beams, partly tiled floor and, to the left, a heavy wood bar dispensing draught versions of the James Squire beers.

Tours and tastings are held here, including beer and food matching.

The compact brewhouse features wood-clad vessels with stainless steel interiors. The kit was built by Steinecker in Germany with a mash mixer doubling as the boiling kettle. When wort or sugary extract has been produced in the mash mixer, it's filtered in a lauter tun and then returns to the first vessel for the boil with hops.

Depending on the recipe, Chuck can pick from pale, wheat, crystal, chocolate and cara malts. He sources hops from all over the world, including Amarillo and Willamette from his native America and Fuggles for an English-style IPA. The local water is soft (ideal for his lagers) but he adds sulphates to "Burtonise" the liquor for his ales. There's a new brew every four hours while a pilot plant allows Chuck to experiment with new beers, producing 5,000 litres at a time.   

the beers

The regular James Squire beers are Golden Ale (4.5%) with a citrus fruit note from Amarillo hops; Amber Ale (5%), with a spicy Willamette character, Sundown Lager (4.4%), soft and malty but with a good underpinning of floral hops; Porter (5%), brewed with pale, black and wheat malts that produce a complex black beer with coffee and liquorice notes; Pilsener (5%), with pale and Munich malts and hopped with Saaz, quenching with a delightful floral hop character; and IPA (5.6%), with a spicy and earthy Fuggles note balancing biscuity malt and tart fruit.

Chuck has added a special beer called Ten20. There's an obvious cricket allusion here but the name celebrates 10 years of brewing at Malt Shovel and 20 years of Hahn brewing. The 7.9% commemoration ale is brewed with pale, Munich and carapils malts. Four hop varieties create a stunning 60 units of bitterness.

The brewery stands in part of old stables, with thick sandstone walls. Chuck Hahn plans to build a Beer Heritage Centre here overlooking the Parramatta River that will commemorate the role played by James Squire in developing brewing in Australia and will also underscore the rise of craft brewing in the country.

Malt Shovel Brewery
99-101 Pyrmont Bridge Road
Camperdown, NSW
Tel: (02) 9519 3579



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