Sydneysiders, on the whole, like a drink. A frosty beer after a hard day’s work or a cold KB on the hill at Henson Park watching the Jets is a good thing. But where in Sydney do these beers come from? Well in terms of brewing, not many places anymore.
This was not always the case of course. Sydney has a long history of brewing beer with the first brewer, James Squire starting in 1793. Squire was a convict who was allowed to brew beer to supplement the colonial rum rations.
Beer was considered a good alternative to the hard liquor. Squire was soon followed by John Boston who opened in 1795. However unlike Squire who lasted in the business until 1830, Boston was out within a year. But the taste was there and breweries began to open all over Sydney. A Government run brewery, Australia’s first and only opened in 1804 at Parramatta (closed 1805) and by 1810 there were nine in total.
By 1828 there were 10 operating but another ten had been and gone. Brewing was a tough business, with lots of competition and a scarcity of fresh ingredients to make a good product. Alcohol content often compensated for quality. One such was the beer of Burton Brewery at Parramatta (1822-1835). The Sydney Gazette described their brew as being of ‘such strength that many who drank of it…soon betrayed that reason was dethroned and madness and folly reigned instead’. Still the breweries tried and by 1884 Sydney had its most breweries with 23, however three large players soon took control of the market.
Tooth & Co’s Kent Brewery began in 1835 and built itself into an industrial and trade powerhouse. Its eventual rival, Toohey’s began in 1865 and the third player, Reschs arrived in 1890. These three made brewing an industrial process, building and buying hotels to sell their product (tied hotels) and merging with their rivals to knock out competition. Tooth & Co’s main brewery was located on Broadway and between 1920 and 1978 they took over eleven breweries across NSW and Victoria. The biggest scalp was the Reschs Waverly Brewery which removed a major competitor but also gave Tooth’s a big, established brewery to use. Reschs continued to be made by Tooth’s at the old brewery on South Dowling Street until they closed it in 1978. It is now apartments and the Kent Brewery was recently demolished.
Toohey’s established their Standard Brewery in Albion Street near Central Station. Within viewing distance of their main rival Tooths, Tooheys also built an empire by opening Standard Breweries across NSW, buying out only three competitors.
One of Toohey’s buys was Miller’s Brewery. Miller’s was one of the few medium scale Sydney brewers in the twentieth century to successfully take on Toohey’s and Tooth & Co. With their brewery located on Parramatta Road at Petersham, Millers operated a number of hotels and brewed beer from 1951 until 1975, when Toohey’s, who had purchased the brewery in 1967, closed it. Some of the brewery buildings still stand on Taverner’s Hill at Petersham, now bright orange and ironically a Miller’s (no relation) storage.
Now in Sydney most breweries are pub based boutique breweries such as The Lord Nelson or the Macquarie. The only brewery of any size is the Malt Shovel in Annandale, which in coming full circle brews James Squire.
If you want to read more about Sydney Breweries you can have a look at Keith Deutsher’s The Breweries of Australia: A History (Lothian Books 1999), where much of the above came from.