Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Cascade Brewery

Cascade started from an unlikely place - the Old Hobart Gaol. Serving time for not paying his debts to England, Peter Degraves felt there was something more to the Cascade streams, something great. It was there, in his cell, that he drew up the designs for the Cascade brewery. Once freed, he rolled up his sleeves and made his vision come to life. It can be said that remarkable men are capable of remarkable things. Peter Degraves was exactly that. Landing in Hobart on his ship "Hope" in 1824, Degraves instantly felt the opportunity that lay before him. So he rolled up his sleeves and got to work. In 28 short years, De Graves would go on to build the Cascade Brewery, finance and build the Theatre Royal, establish sawmilling in Australia and develop a profitable shipbuilding business. But it wasn't all smooth sailing. Degraves was twice imprisoned in the Hobart Town Gaol. But that didn't interrupt his drive.

While sitting in his cell, Degraves designed the Cascade Brewery and redesigned the Gaol. The man was never without a vision. He might have been an Englishman by birth, but Degraves embodied the Tassie spirit of hard work, dedication and ambition. It was said that upon landing in Hobart, he made a promise to produce "genuine beer… beer that cannot be excelled in this colony." And in true Tassie fashion, he achieved what he said he would, and much more. The brewery business was booming. By 1850, 48 breweries in Tasmania were eyeing the market share.  So Degraves and his team put their heads down and got to work.

Soon, word on Cascade's quality started spreading. The result? The brew from Hobart, Tasmania, was being sold in Sydney and Melbourne. Cascade was now at the top looking down. The design and corporate logo began with William Piguenit. He was a Tasmanian, the first ever Australian-born landscape painter and a draughtsman by profession. On his time off, Piguenit took great pleasure in capturing the varying moods of Mount Wellington and the brewery's surroundings. His mind's eye was astonished and delighted at the "lofty and rugged mountain ranges, deep ravines, great valleys, more or less precipitous and covered for the greater part with dense forests and impenetrable scrub." (Mike Bingham - Cascade: A Taste of History). It inspired him. So it was only natural that in 1870, he drew an advertisement for C. & J. Degraves. His work was ornamented by sketches of the brewery along with the Tasmanian tiger (also know as a thylacine) and that's how Cascade's association with the thylacine started. To this day, it remains one of the company's prominent symbols and continues to live on the Cascade Premium and Premium Light labels. The tiger now triumphantly stands on a carved barrel above the entrance to the company's head office in Hobart, sculpted in the 1870s by Edward Martin Richards.

Peter Degraves led a remarkable life. Yet all good things must come to an end, and at the age of 74 he passed away. 30 years later, a new era was ushered in when the brewery was purchased from his sons by Messrs. John Wemyss Syme, Charles William Chapman & James Aikman. Inheriting Degraves' vision and thirst for hard work, the group acquired another Hobart brewery and floated Cascade Brewery Limited as a public company on May 26th, 1883.

Fatty Appleton was one colorful brewery worker. He worked down on the docks loading and unloading Cascade barrels from the ships in Hobart. Short, stocky and stout, Fatty was well known for carrying a firkin barrel under each arm. This skill would later prove handy for "crowd control" down at the local whenever things got out of hand. On March 1st 1922, Cascade acquired the manufacturing interest of J. Boag and Son in Launceston, who continued to produce its unique beer for the North. Unbeknownst to Cascade at the time, this move would later play a crucial role during the disastrous fire of 1967.
Five short years later, major extensions took place. And while things looked different from outside with three new floors and a new brewing plant, Cascade's defining identity remained the same - quality. Bushfires and Southern Tasmania were no strangers. The hills around the brewery were thickly wooded and had called upon the fire hoses many a times. But what was about to happen was like nothing Southern Tasmania had seen before.

On the morning of Tuesday, February 7, 1967, the front page headline of the Hobart Mercury read: "Bushfires menacing the State: Danger could be critical." They weren't kidding. By 10 a.m., the temperature was 33.5°C and by 12 p.m., it was 39°C. The peak came at 1:30 p.m. with 40°C and winds gusting at 65 knots. Just like that, Southern Tasmania exploded. 1300 homes destroyed. 500,000 acres burned. The height of the blaze was so powerful that looking back, experts figure that the energy released by the fires exceeded that of several atomic explosions. It was a fiery inferno that could be seen from just about anywhere. It's been said that a Japanese trawler skipper heading for Hobart quickly headed back for the open sea when his eyes took in the burning coastline. He was convinced that nothing could survive it.

However, while all this was going on, the brewery remained isolated from the sweeping disaster. Workers went about their usual business. In fact, at the time, that Tuesday was historic for a very different reason. In the bottling cellar, the new rip-top cans were being filled for the first time ever in Australia. But that all changed at 2pm, crisis descending on the brewery in the form of a wall of fire. Within 15 minutes, the whole building was burning fiercely. Workers ran home to check on their families before returning to valiantly fight off the flames but to no avail. They were losing everything by the minute. And while they kept fighting until there was nothing left, the real battle for Cascade's future was just about to begin. Not everything was smooth sailing. A large part of the building was wiped out.

Armed with the same drive that defined Cascade, General Manager H.J. Gray began rebuilding while the ashes were still smouldering. He then proclaimed that production would return in 12 short weeks. But Gray was wrong. He would be off by one day. In the meantime, Gray couldn't let Hobart's beer supply run dry. So he arranged alternative supplies, first with beer from the only undamaged tank, then from Boags along with Carlton and United Breweries. Hobart continued to have cold beer flowing even while the ashes were still hot.

By 1983, Cascade had grown beyond Degraves' wildest expectations. It now employed over 600 people, and indirectly thousands more. Cascade had also grown past beer with cider, soft drinks, vinegar, black currant and apple juices under its name. One century after breaking ground in Hobart, Cascade is a name synonymous with Tasmania.

Text & Information sourced from the Cascades brewery website.