Captain Bligh’s Brewery is situated at 64 Warwick Street Hobart. It brews out of the building often referred to as the Tasmanian Brewery Building and is renowned for its fascinating history. That’s because brewing beer has been happening on this very site for many, many years.
Brewing commenced here back in the nineteenth century, at the rear corner of the current building. It was originally known as Punshon’s Brewery. Built in the 1849 by the charismatic and eccentric brewer William Punshon, he made his fame from a previous venture in nearby Patrick Street where he sold HOME BREW’S ALE. According to publicity, it was “strongly recommended by the Faculty [the hospital] to Patients recovering from sickness.” William left the brewery in 1855 when he was ‘removed’ to the New Norfolk Asylum where he died twenty years later. At the Asylum he was known as ‘The Lion’ and was grateful for his numerous visitors for whom he would “put on a good show”, explaining he was the second coming of Christ.
Some things haven’t changed much in the brewing fraternity, with many saying you would need to be crazy or grandiose to enter the trade. Maybe William was both?
The landlord of the site, William James, added to the existing structure by building James’s Tasmanian Pale Ale Brewing in 1862. This was a much larger building that extended all the way to Elizabeth Street. With its ‘1200 gallon tank with vertical boiler’, 10 horsepower engine, and a mash tun of ‘23 hogsheads’, and using locally built ‘powerful hop press and malt crusher’ James produced ‘Tasmanian Porter’ and Ale proudly using ‘only Tasmania Hops and Malt’.
One hundred and fifty bushels of grain were malted at a time via their patented screen for cleaning grain. The building was cooled using ‘lime and water’. Brewing wound up in 1883 due to Cascade buying out and then closing the building as part of the reconciling of numerous breweries. Before that, by the 1850s, Tasmania had up to 70 breweries.
By the early 1900’s Cascade had firm control of the brewing industry and many of the hotels. George Adams of Tattersalls fame was one of the few who could afford to compete with Cascade and built the huge extension that took the building to the corner of Elizabeth and Warwick Streets. What was now the most beautiful and modern brewery in Tasmania made quite the splash in 1902, much to the joy of local drinkers. Then came the crash in 1904. George Adams died without a will, and the building was mysteriously sold by the Trustees to Cascade brewery in 1905 who then forbade the brewery ever being used for that purpose again. To enforce this, the streets were cut off and infrastructure was destroyed in front of the local media, making it clear Cascade was in charge! Equipment was torn out and sent to Cairns.
During the late 1920’s frustration by hoteliers led to the forming of the Co-Operative Breweries of Tasmania. The owners were a consortium of hotel owners seeking a fairer and better beer than they could get in the increasingly hostile beer environment. Partnering with mainland brewers, the Co-Op lasted until 1931 using the original Punshon and James sites. The brewery was closed amid great controversy. The brewery had been sabotaged, with ‘large lumps of soap’ being flung into the equipment. Many believe it was the brew staff acting at the behest of Cascade inducements. While no one was ever convicted, the always-funny local drinkers sung ditties referencing Co-Op lager and how ‘Cascade (was) Bitter’ at its success. Regardless of blame, the owners went bust and the brewers moved on, some with apparent heavier pockets.
Captain Bligh’s started in this very same building in 2011. Originally, it was a cidery owned and operated by the Osbourne brothers. A small endeavour amongst an eclectic mix of businesses, it wasn’t until 2014 that the business reverted back to being a brewery when Steve and Karen Brooks bought the business and installed a small brewery. The name Captain Bligh remained as a homage to the influence Captain Bligh had on early Colonial History. He planted the first apple trees in Australia in 1788, hence the initial idea to make cider. Back in his time, Bligh had a botanist evaluate Tasmania’s climate and soil for productive crops and reported to London that Tasmania “would become the Devon of apples and the Kent of Hops” – a very interesting and serendipitous link to beer and another good reason to keep the name.
For several years, Captain Bligh’s operated as a small but successful brewery, producing tasty colonial and other ales. But after a while, the urge to create spirits beckoned.
This is where Bligh’s infamous role in the NSW Rum Rebellion couldn’t be ignored. In 2018, a distillery was installed, and Steve and Karen’s son, Adam, joined as Captain Bligh’s distiller. Since then, Captain Bligh’s and has been producing, amongst other delicious drinks, whisky and rum.
Captain Bligh’s beer making continues to follow the path of the first brewer, James, almost two hundred years ago, proudly using only Tasmania grown grain and hops. Captain Bligh’s continues to produce not only historically significant beer styles but maintains a portfolio that includes the latest trends in beer as well as some unique and always flavourful and rich spirits.