From Carlisle to Collingwood…

International Brew Ha Ha

Wild & Vaughan were brewers in Collingwood, an inner suburb of Melbourne. The brewery, known as the Collingwood Brewery, was founded in 1840 just a few years after Melbourne’s settlement. Along with many breweries in Victoria it served the growing economy of the next generation which was powered in part by resource exploitation.

Indeed, the miner was a stock Australian figure in the international imagination until well into the 1900s.

Edward Wild was a kind of marketing genius. One way he showed it was to bring journalists into the brewery – always apt subjects for a beer session –  to help decide on a new beer. The news report in the Leader, from 1864, is full of interest.

The party tasted both running (fresh) and stock (aged) ales and noted the difference in taste. They didn’t seem to like the old beer while allowing it was better after two or three tries. How many times have you heard that about any unusual food or drink?

In the visitors’ words:

There was very little difference between the several samples, except in the matter of age, which, of course, greatly affected the taste and strength. The sample labelled No. 1, and which was only about a fortnight old, was very much admired because of its lightness and the strong flavor of hops which it possessed. No. 2, which was of the same strength but had less hops, was also highly praised; but, although it was a month old, No. 1 was preferred to it. No. 3 was a matured ale, being about eighteen months old, but still in bulk. It was a little heavier in saccharine qualities than either of the other two samples, and had a rich vinous taste which it has acquired solely from age. This peculiarity of taste seemed, of course, strange at first, but after a second or third trial it was found to be extremely palatable. The body of this ale, though only similar to that of light English ale, was considered as somewhat too heavy for summer use. After due deliberation, tho judges determined in favor of No. 1, which they considered, if another fortnight older, would provide one of the best summer beverages that could be desired. Mr. Wild then announced his intention of abiding by the decision of the gentlemen who had favored him with their opinion, and to supply ale of the same description as had been approved of for summer use, under the designation of Wild’s No. 3 pale ale.

It’s much like a group of friends or colleagues would do at a tasting today – compare and contrast, except 150 years ago.

In contemporary agricultural exhibitions and advertisements for the Victoria colony this brewery touted its “a la Carlisle ale”, “a la Edinburgh ale”, and “a la Dublin stout”. The unusual formulations meant, ostensibly anyway, that the beers were in the style of beers from those cities but were brewed in Collingwood, Victoria.

Why Cumbrian beer attracted interest in Melbourne is hard to say. It’s probably one of those accidents of international business that can’t be deciphered at this late date. Carlisle beer had no special reputation in the 1800s yet it achieved repute in far-away Victoria. Anyhow, it satisfied Melbourne’s thirsts and Wild clearly wanted to trade off that.

As sometimes happens in such cases, he was sued. And he lost. You can read about it in this informative report (1870). It states that at least in the year mentioned Wild’s take on Cumberland’s best tasted sour. The real Carlisle stuff did not, one of the factors noted by the court.

Wild’s labels had the a la in very small script which hurt his case as well. His argument was that Carlisle ale was a type, as Bath is for the Bath Bun, say, and he had as much a right to use it as the importer who sued him. But the judge didn’t go along.

An amusing satirical “exchange in the Melbourne Punch (1872) shows Wild continued to get publicity out of  the debacle –  perhaps one of his objects.

Looking at it today one has a certain sympathy for him. A stablemate product was a la Edinburgh ale. Well, “Scotch” ale is sold today around the world, i.e., under that name. The story of pilsner beer is only too well-known. Carlisle wasn’t a major player in brewing, nothing like Britain’s famous Bass or Allsopp from Burton-on-Trent, but still it had a market in Victoria. The court wasn’t going to let even a notable local citizen trade off that.

Which Carlisle brewer sent beer to Australia? I think it was probably the Carlisle Old Brewery, founded in 1756 and long-associated in the 19th century with Sir Richard Hodgson.

The town had about a dozen breweries c. 1870, but Carlisle Old Brewery was listed in a trade and export directory for its East India Pale Ale, amongst other exported brands. It was not the sole brewer listed, but I’d guess the beer sent to Melbourne was Sir Richard’s (the source is not explained in the court report).

Carlisle Old Brewery survived into the First World War, it was one of four breweries remaining in operation in 1914. It was purchased by the government under the Carlisle State Management Scheme to supply beer, at a controlled alcohol level, to pubs also purchased, a unique experiment that was thought to suit wartime conditions. The government had taken the brewery over because Carlisle was a centre of munitions manufacture. The mandarins wanted to control drinking to minimize accidents and perhaps the suborning of workers for sabotage.

Goverment ownership lasted until Theakston in the next county bought the old place under a privatization scheme in the early 1970s.

Theakston ran the place for some years but finally closed it in 1987. A surviving part of the structure was later turned into apartments for Northumberland University students. This use ended last year, and the building will now be converted to private housing.

As it happens Collingwood, unlike many other parts of Australia, has many structures that survive from the 1800s. One appears above, the Yarra Hotel, seen in its mid-1800s pomp. It seems likely beer made in the first image was consumed in establishments shown in the second, or in nearby buildings, maybe alongside Wild’s a la Carlisle ale while it was still on the market.

To ponder that is “some good oil”, we reckon.