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James Squire Amber Ale

He was some character. James Squire, of Kingston, near London, was a highwayman, convicted of robbery with menace in 1785. Although he had stolen nothing more than chickens, he was sentenced to be transported to the British penal colony in Botany Bay, Australia. The convict ships also brought hops, and Squire seems to have been the first person to grow them successfully in the new colony and to brew beer there commercially. He eventually owned extensive hop gardens and a brewery and pub called the Malt Shovel, at Kissing Point, near Sydney. The romantic-sounding location seems to have been appropriate; in the course of his life, Squire had at least four wives or long-term mistresses and begat a dozen children.

Today's revived Malt Shovel brewery in Sydney is in a former furniture factory dating from 1900. This brewery was established in 1988 by an American, Chuck Hahn, who once worked for Coors. He left the United States when he was headhunted for a senior post with one of the major Australian brewers.

Hahn had worked in Colorado in the early days of the microbrewery movement, and has since done much to encourage the production of more flavourful beers in Australia, which is better known for light-tasting, sweetish, lagers. He operates his brewery under the ownership of the Australasian group Lion Nathan.

The main entrance to Hahn's brewery is through the brewhouse, with brass handrails and traditional copper kettles. They were acquired second-hand, but are in beautiful condition. They were in the midst of being polished by the crew when I first visited the brewery in 1992. At the time, the brewery's flagship beer was the hoppy Hahn Premium. This is now made at the larger Toohey's brewery, also in Sydney and owned by the same group. I returned in 1999, to be a judge at the Australian International Beer Awards. The beer chosen Best Australian Lager and Grand Champion turned out to be Hahn Premium.

On that visit, I also revisited Chuck's brewery, which was in the process of being relaunched under the name Malt Shovel (having been known before as the Hahn Brewery). A guest bar, open to the office, had been installed, and the whole place reminded me somewhat of Anchor Steam, in San Francisco. I tasted from the tank a maltier, spicier lager called James Squire Original Pilsener. I would later be sent a fresh, orangey-tasting, Belgian-style Summer Wheat Beer, brewed as a special. But the toast of the day was the newly launched James Squire Original Amber Ale, which was being served cask-conditioned in the brewery bar. This distinctive brew is made from three malts (pale, crystal and Carapils) and three additions of hops (using Tasmanian Pride of Ringwood and Willamette) and a top-fermenting yeast that has been used in Australia for 125 years.

James Squire himself has been gone for 180 years, but his story is kept alive by the beer. A series of back-labels charts his progress . . . from thief to brewer, constable, banker and eventually magistrate. His headstone said that he "lived respected and died lamented."

PS: In the 2000 awards, the brewery received medals for the Pilsener, the Amber Ale and the new James Squire Porter, which I have yet to taste.

TASTING NOTE: The designation Amber Ale is to be taken seriously. This brew has a full, amber-red colour. It also has a full flavour, though it is restrained and soft in body. It has an attractive, cinnamon-like hop character in both the initial aroma and the balancing dryness of finish, but in the middle the emphasis is more toward a malty creaminess and a melony, marmaladey, fruitiness. Very refreshing.

FOOD PAIRINGS: A fruity, full-flavoured ales goes best with red meat. Chuck Hahn, a keen promoter of beer-and-food pairings, suggests kangaroo. Having myself eaten this meat many times in Australia, I agree. If your neighborhood food market does not run to kangaroos, try lamb.

Published: OCT 1, 2000
In: Beer Hunter Online

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