James Squire Beer
James Squire Beer is the oldest brewed wonder in Australia. Over the next month we will feature three of their beers, to start things off we have a look at the story of James Squire.
As the man who first successfully cultivated hops in Australia way back in the early 19th century, James Squire has achieved legendary status. Chuck Hahn is a man after James Squire’s heart, a passionate brewer who has made a significant impact on the beer-drinking landscape.
Here at James Squire we’ve been crafting beers in honour of Australia’s first brewer since 1998 and we remain ever-curious about where our flavour journey will take us next.
The bar has been raised a bit since James Squire’s day, but some things never change – like brewing smaller batches in traditional copper kettles to deliver the highest quality every time. We only brew the beers we like and we aim to open up a more flavourful world for everyone.
Chuck Hahn, Malt Shovel Brewmaster
FROM ONE LEGEND TO ANOTHER
In 1988, Chuck Hahn converted a former furniture factory into the Hahn Brewery. Ten years later, the brewery was renamed The Malt Shovel Brewery, which takes its name from James Squire’s original brewing tavern ‘The Malt Shovel’. We think it’s safe to say that James Squire would approve.
THE HOME OF QUALITY CRAFT BEER
Located in Sydney’s inner-city suburb of Camperdown, The Malt Shovel Brewery is home to a small team of expert brewers who, relying on minimal automation, experiment with hand-crafted, innovative brews. Together they’ve created instant classics for the James Squire range like One Fifty Lashes Pale Ale, The Chancer Golden Ale, Four Wives Pilsener, Stowaway IPA, Jack of Spades Porter and Hop Thief American-style Pale Ale.
You can almost taste the rich history and intense passion in each flavoursome drop. You can expect more outstanding craft beers in years to come from the team at The Malt Shovel Brewery who, just like James Squire before them, have an insatiable appetite to taste it all.
The story of how James Squire became Australia’s first brewer is a cracking yarn and one we’re always keen (and proud) to share. He led a life that would make any man envious. It was a journey full of thievery, dishonesty and above all flavour. Indeed, James Squire had an appetite to taste it all.
From being a convict on the First Fleet, Squire turned his life around and rose to become one of the governor’s guards, the father of 11 children and, perhaps most significantly, the colony’s first and most sought-after brewer. An impressive resume by anyone’s standards, he lived enough life for several men.1754
DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDREL
James Squire was born in 1754 in Kingston-on-Thames. A risk taker at heart, it wasn’t long before he turned to crime as a way of life. It’s true to say that if you don’t risk it, you’ll never win, but his winning streak was off to a slow start when, at the age of just 20, he was arrested for highway robbery. In a rather unfortunate turn of events, he fled straight into the long arm of the law. Though sentenced to be transported to America for seven years for such youthful folly, James instead elected to serve in the army – the first of many shrewd decisions to come – and so was able to return to Kingston just two years later.
A romantic at heart, in 1776, he married his childhood sweetheart, Martha Quinton, and had three children. At the time he managed a hotel frequented by highway robbers and smugglers in the rather aptly named Heathen Street.
Perhaps he was unduly influenced by his customers, because at the age of 30, James stole five hens and four cocks from his neighbour’s yard – and yet again he was caught by the local constabulary. If stealing is an art, it is one James was yet to master because on 11 April, 1785, the British government chose to include him in the transported convict program. He was sentenced to two years in Southwark Gaol, and was then to join the First Fleet to Australia.
An unlucky break for him, but exceptionally lucky for us…
THE MAN OF 150 LASHES
And so it was in April 1787 that James Squire found himself sailing into an uncertain future and the British penal colony of New South Wales. He didn’t know it yet but his luck was going to change in this mysterious great southern land.
But first…just a year after his arrival in Port Jackson, Squire was hauled before the magistrate charged with stealing ‘medicines’ from the hospital stores where he was working. Before you judge his crime too harshly, these medicines were a pound of pepper and horehound – a herb that imitates the tangy flavour of hops. Though James claimed the stolen herb was for his pregnant girlfriend, he later revealed that he had been brewing beer since arriving in Australia. A crime for the greater good then, we’d even call it a selfless act.
James’ beer was already proving popular with the British officers and no doubt his cunning and charm resulted in a relatively lenient subsequent sentence. Rather than facing execution, he was fined five pounds and sentenced to receive 300 lashes: ‘One hundred and fifty now, and the remainder when able to bear it’, according to the order of 14 November, 1789. The power of a well-crafted beer cannot be underestimated.
In 1791, James, who loved the ladies almost as much as he loved brewing beer, began another relationship – this time with Elizabeth Mason and together they had seven children. You have to wonder, when did he find time to sleep?
FORTUNE FAVOURS AN ENTERPRISING ROGUE
On 22 July 1795, James, by now a free man, was granted a 30-acre plot. But noticing that other emancipists had not claimed the nearby land entitled to them, the enterprising rogue claimed their land grants, purchasing each property for just one shilling apiece. Thanks to such crafty opportunism, James had built up an estate of 1000 acres by 1806. He now had the land he needed to grow Australia’s first hops and brew his delicious beers. Well played Mr Squire.
At the start of the 19th century, the revelation that the British army was trafficking in rum created uproar in the fledgling colony. Governor Philip King was concerned about the level of corruption, so he began to officially endorse the brewing of beer. English hops and brewing equipment were regularly transported on convict ships at the government’s expense. In fact, HMS Porpoise delivered an entire cargo of hops to plant on James’ farm. James Squire’s risk-taking ways were starting to deliver great rewards.
In 1805, James successfully grew the first Australian hop plants. The following summer, he attended Government House with two vines of hops. Governor King was so impressed with their flavour and quality, he ordered that a ‘cow be given to Mr Squire from the government herd’. More significantly, this meant James Squire could officially be called Australia’s first – and finest – brewer.
A reception room in Government House was a world away from the overcrowded hull of a First Fleet ship but James wasn’t done just yet.
FROM CONVICT TO CONSTABLE
It was in 1806 that James’ brewery was built on the shore of Parramatta River at Kissing Point. He opened the Malting Shovel Tavern almost halfway between Sydney Town and Parramatta – the ideal spot to entice thirsty passengers from their vessels along the busy river thoroughfare.
Ryde historian Philip Greeves wrote at the time: “Sailors of many nations who were vague about the locations of Nineveh or Babylon could find their way to Squire’s in a thick fog. This would come as no surprise to anyone who has savoured one of James Squire’s delicious beers”.
In a delightfully ironic contrast to his convict past, James became a district constable. And far from stealing from his neighbours, he now acted as a banker and philanthropist to his poorer acquaintances. Noted colonial artist Joseph Lycett explained: ‘Had he not been so generous, James Squire would have been a much wealthier man.’ Hats off to him, the convict turned brewer never turned his back on his humble beginnings.
THE ENDURING LEGACY OF A LEGEND
On 16 May, 1822, at the age of 67, James died. His passing was marked with the biggest funeral ever held in the colony. Not bad for a man who started his career on the wrong side of the law. He was buried in Sydney’s Devonshire Street Cemetery (now the site of Central Station). But we like to think he’d have enjoyed a simple epitaph found in St John’s Cemetery, Parramatta, near his Kissing Point estate: Ye who wish to lie here, drink Squire’s beer.
Today, well over 150 years later, the James Squire name, and spirit, lives on with the James Squire craft beer and cider range. With the same dedication to quality and desire to pioneer the best of flavours, we hope James Squire would be proud of the beers and ciders that carry his name.
So raise a glass of your favourite James Squire beer or cider and drink to the man – the legend – and his refreshingly delectable range.