The Cascade Brewery was built by Peter Degraves, who originally founded the estate as a saw milling operation. Degraves arrived in Hobart Town in 1824 and spent five of his first seven years in the colony in prison for debt. Nevertheless, his beer became the most popular in Tasmania and the Cascade Brewery is the oldest in Australia.
Cascade was not the first brewery in Van Diemen’s Land. Brewing began in the very early days of the colony but was banned in 1806 to conserve grain. As a result, those who wanted to drink consumed strong spirits – rum or ‘grog’ – which were imported from India or the West Indies.
Many saw the promotion of brewing as a solution to the problems of drunkenness. The Hobart Town Gazette, in 1816, wrote:
How much more delicious to the parched and thirsty labourer in the field in Harvest season, would be the cheering and sparkling cup of Ale to the draught of grog? What sums of money would be left in the Colony, or applied to other uses, was Ale and Beer the general beverage ? What excises would be avoided, and Crimes less likely to be committed? It would be to the benefit of every Settler to Endeavour to have a Barrel of good Ale in his house instead of Gallons of Rum.
(The Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter, Saturday 22 June 1816)
The same article declared that the local climate was ideal for brewing, saying that “…it is in only a certain medium of Heat that the process of fermentation can go on favourably which medium of Heat the Climate of Van Diemen’s Land enjoys the greatest part of the year.”
The ban was lifted and by 1820 there were five commercial breweries in Hobart, growing to more than 40 by 1850. The increase in brewery numbers led to regulation. In 1844, the Lieutenant Governor, Sir John Eardley-Wilmot introduced the Brewer’s Act ruling that every brewer needed to be licensed and only brew with approved ingredients.
The founder of the Cascade Brewery, Peter Degraves, was a dubious character, who spent years in and out of prison for debt. Despite this, he successfully operated a sawmill, bakery, the brewery and, eventually, a shipyard. He had 20 children with his wife Sophia.
Cascade beer owed its quality to the pure mountain water that flowed through the land grant Degraves secured. This caused a great deal of wrangling with the colony’s administration, as the water that passed through his brewery and into his reservoir then flowed into the town’s rivulet. He made several proposals to develop a piped water supply for Hobart, one of which was accepted in 1844. However, the contract was later broken and Degraves was reviled for putting his own interests ahead of those of the town.
Degraves died in 1852 but Cascade Brewery continued, eventually buying out many of its competitors. It is now Australia’s oldest brewery.