Old Goulburn Brewery


Ride back in time

A priceless insight into 19th century brewing. Oh, and a chance to have a real ale

Back in the 1960s some time, a school inspector went to the Catholic primary school in Goulburn. Keep in mind that Catholic schools got absolutely no support from the government, state or federal. The government education system had begun when the Anglican church handed over its schools but the Catholics never did that, so they had to find the cash to run the schools themselves. As a result, many of them, including the one in Goulburn, ran on what can only be described as a “limited budget”.

Despite not supplying any funding, the education department controlled “standards” at Catholic as well as government schools. In this case, the inspector decided that there weren’t enough toilets for the kids. He issued an ultimatum: build another toilet block or we’ll close you down. Err… wrong.

Not being a Catholic himself, he had not counted on the nuns who ran the school. They didn’t have the money for any kind of building, so they called his bluff and simply closed the school themselves.

Then they sent all the kids across to the government primary school to enrol there. Predictably enough, it couldn’t handle double the number of students. There was uproar in Goulburn.

Very shortly afterwards, state aid to non-government schools was born. It was (and still is) a lot cheaper than trying to accommodate all of Australia’s kids in government schools.

This was not the first time the good folk of Goulburn had simply jacked up when outsiders tried to bully them. Back in the 1930s, the big breweries in Sydney raised their prices for country deliveries.

This is where we get to the point (sorry it took a while). Goulburn then, as now, had Australia’s oldest surviving original brewery – and the locals boycotted Sydney beer and just drank the local stuff until the big end of town in Sydney capitulated, even though it cost more to make and therefore to buy. Nice work if you can get it, and of course you can only get it if you have your own local brewery.

Today the Goulburn Brewery, just outside town by the racecourse, is part of the oldest working industrial complex in Australia. The buildings, usually known as Bradley Grange, date back to about 1836. They were designed by famous convict architect Francis Greenway for Jonas, Thomas and William Bradley.

Bradley Grange is the only brewery established before 1840 whose original colonial buildings survive in identifiable shape. Many of the structures date back to the 1830s and 1840s. The really interesting thing is that because of this, you can see where and how all of the various activities associated with brewing took place. Among them are malting, milling, coopering, smithing and stabling for the horses as well as the actual brewing.
The host, Michael O’Halloran, will give you a well-informed and detailed tour that will show you stuff you probably never knew about brewing.

There have been three separate brewing operations over the years. The first was a steam powered brewhouse based on Egyptian cubits (ask Michael about this – it’s really fascinating). About a century ago, an electrically powered facility was built to increase efficiency and output, and the plant in use today is made from stainless steel designed to create a sterile environment. It was built in the 1980s to meet modern hygiene requirements. Guided tours are run at 11am and 3pm on Sundays (no booking required) or by appointment. We got ours just by asking and you can also go on a self-guided tour.

Michael will show you not only the old plant, you can also see how ales are made today using traditional methods. The brewery continues to produce ales in the time-honoured traditional way with top fermentation in open-top vessels.

You can then (and how good is this!) taste real ales made to the same recipes used when the brewery first opened. We sampled them with a meal in the brewery’s dining room.

And on top of that you can spend the night there – which was just as well for us, after extensive sampling of the traditional ales. We certainly wouldn’t have wanted to ride away over the gravel driveway in the happy state we’d reached.

Fortunately I had booked one of the original former workers’ quarters, complete with rickety wooden floor and lime-washed walls. Each suite has a double bed in one room and one or two single beds in the other, with a basic but perfectly adequate little bathroom. I’m not sure if we slept well because we were exhausted from a day of riding in the rain, or because of the ale, or because it was so peaceful – but sleep well we did. In the morning we trooped across to the main building for a continental breakfast.

We had a good time; the facilities are fairly basic and the food is inventive but not outstanding – but the whole package is well worth it. The combination of a good-natured history lesson, terrific ales and a good night’s sleep makes the place a very attractive destination.

And so the Old Goulburn Brewery survives. So does the Catholic primary school.