Science and Craft in Collude in Cairns

As an update of our post on mid-century brewing in Cairns, Queensland, a press story of December 1930 described a neat marketing gambit of the brewery.

Northern Australian Brewery had an exhibit that year at the local “Townsville show”, an agricultural and commercial exhibition still running. The Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), held every August in Toronto at the waterfront, is our equivalent here.

Brewery managers hit on the idea to place the exhibit in the show window of a local hotel before moving it to the fair. Hide’s Hotel was selected, still a major attraction in Cairns. The handsome, galleried building, built in 1928, is now a listed heritage property. For good history on the hotel and bar, see here.

The story starts by noting the tendency of Queenslanders to prefer the imported product to local, but expressed the hope the brewery would reverse that trend. Imported here meant, from other states in Australia, particularly New South Wales and Victoria.

The lure of the import is ever powerful. The craft brewing and winery resurgence of the last 40 years has done much to modify – not eliminate – that trend.

Also from the account:

At one end of the array is a bowl of pure Cairns water, which is offset by another of pure malt extract which, although having been in the window for several days, retains its bright clear color. Bowls of Australian golden malt alongside that of crushed malt denote the purity of that particular process. To obviate the necessity for using artificial coloring in the Cairns stout the malt undergoes a process of roasting and although of a very dark hue the bowl of “stout” malt is attractive.

A skilled journalist knows how to make the workaday sound pleasant, even inviting. Not “pale” malt, golden malt you see. What resembles a bowl of ground coffee is suddenly “attractive”. And the drumbeat of purity. Perhaps the writer was a maven of malt liquor, but we suspect good journalism explains more the matter.

The malt extract was probably not the concentrated wort used as an adjunct in some brewing, but likely a sample of (unfermented) brewery wort. There is a good description of pure yeast culture practice and other aspects of brewing as well.

A full range of the beers was also exhibited. Unfortunately no photo accompanied, but clearly the display was the type seen in many craft breweries today.

It is unlikely similar exhibits were shown in the 1930s in the U.S., Canada, and probably Britain – or if they were, to report on them in this fashion. Until quite recently, public affairs in these places displayed a jaundiced attitude to alcohol, induced by generations of anti-saloon and later public health campaigning.

Australia always carved its own path in such matters, and the press published stories on beer from earliest days quite unselfconsciously. By this I mean, things that would interest consumers, not just business stories as such.

(I must state though, to the credit of our CNE, that in the seeming dark days of 1949 it put on display a traditional English pub. Oyster stout and honey ale – yes – from an English brewery accompanied, all avidly drunk up by thousands of good Torontonians. See my account, here).

Modernity was not quite relentlessly emphasized in the 1930 account. It described with pride carved wood bowls holding the ingredients of brewing, from a local timber firm.

Craft and the latest science were vaunted together as a Queensland twain. We saw something similar in the 1951 account by the Jane column, again relating to the wood of Antipodes.

Note re images: the first image was sourced in Wikipedia account on Hide’s Hotel linked in the text. The second was sourced from a Queensland government website, here. All intellectual property in such images belongs solely to the lawful owner. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


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