Chuck Hahn looks back on 50 years of brewing

After being thwarted twice by COVID-19, Chuck Hahn finally celebrated his 50th year in brewing at Sydney’s Squire’s Landing this week.

It was incredible to see so many brewers and identities from throughout the industry gather in one room to raise a schooner to the legendary Hahn, who has been crafting beer in Australia for 40 years, after spending 10 years with Coors in the US, where he helped develop Coors Light in 1977.

Chuck Hahn, Anthony Albanese

Guests included Labor party leader Anthony Albanese (above), Rob Greenway, Tina Panoutsos, Dr Tim Cooper and several of James Squire’s direct descendents. Squire was Australia’s first brewer coming across on the First Fleet as a convict in 1788.

There were also mates from craft breweries including Wayward, Batch, Young Henry’s, Bridge Road and Bentspoke, just to name a few.

James Brindley

After a heartfelt speech from Lion MD James Brindley (above), who has worked with Chuck Hahn since 1993, the brewing legend took to the stage to rousing applause. He went on to name the many friends and colleagues who have been a significant part of his journey, noting later that the main points he hoped to achieve with his speech “were to recognise all those people that helped us achieve all this along the way over the years”. 

“It has been an interesting 50 years in the beer business,” he said. “The main point that is that all my accomplishments have been real team efforts. I haven’t been sitting behind a desk directing the efforts, but rather very much involved tasting, training, being disruptive at times, but leading the pack with ideas. However, it is the people that I have trained and worked with over the years that have really performed and supported me. And many of those people are here this evening.”

Hahn mused on his early years in brewing, after graduating from college with a PhD in Chemical Engineering and joining the Adolph Coors Brewery in Colorado.

“I remember in the late 70’s, Bill Coors came through with a very simplistic mission statement for Coors – MAKE GOOD BEER,” he said. “Just do your best – by design, by recipe, by process, etc to MAKE GOOD BEER. MAKING GOOD BEER has always
been my mission.”

Hahn said the second 10 years in his career was a “time of disruption, relocation to two new countries, and real
personal and professional challenges”.

“I arrived in Australia in June 1981 to join Tooths & Resch’s as General Manager – Brewing, not knowing anyone in Australia,” he recalled.

When Tooth’s was sold in late 1983 to CUB, Hahn headed to New Zealand and in 1985 helped Lion win Best Bottled Lager in the World with Steinlager at the Brewing International Awards.

He returned to Sydney in late 1987 to finish building the Hahn Brewery in Camperdown.

“We launched Hahn Premium Lager in March 1988, as a German-style lager brewed locally so it was fresh,” he said. “There were only 35 breweries in Australia back then. Both Powers brewery and Eumundi brewery were also launched that year. Other craft breweries (we called them boutique at the time) included the Lord Nelson brewery hotel in the Rocks and the Matilda Bay Brewery in Western Australia.”

Hahn admitted his third 10 years in brewing were “also very challenging”.

“Times were tough for small breweries and businesses at that time, due to extra taxes and high interest rates,” he said. “Very tough times for small breweries in this recession we had to have. We were flat out in 1991/92, barely breaking even.”

Lion Nathan bought Hahn Brewing in early 1993 and Hahn became Chief Brewer for the Australian/NZ brewing group. In late 1998, moves were underway to close the original Hahn Brewery as a cost cutting drive across the company, as most of the larger volumes of Hahn were being produced at Tooheys.

“I felt the need to maintain this small craft brewery and I felt there was a niche for a distinctive English-style brown ale in Sydney,” Hahn said. “I produced a business plan for the rebirthed ‘CAMPERDOWN COLONIAL BREWERY’ and presented it to Gordon Cairns, the Lion CEO, at the time. He gave permission for this independent venture.

“We set up to operate initially as a separate company, and we soon discovered the James Squire story as Australia’s first brewer coming across on the First Fleet as a convict in 1788. I contacted Jim Donohoe, one of Squires direct descendants
and a spokesman for the group, in order to get approvals from the family to brew a beer in his honour.”

In 1999, we renamed the Hahn Brewery the Malt Shovel Brewery after James Squire’s first brewery. From our Original Amber Ale, the portfolio of brands was increased over the years. Numerous limited releases, rum-barrel porters, wheat ales all kept
the portfolio interesting. Our 150 Lashes Pale Ale, launched in 2011, still remains the biggest single craft brand in Australia.

“Hahn Super Dry and Hahn Super Dry 3.5 were launched in the early 2000’s, and Hahn Super Dry remains a huge volume
brand for Lion even after 20 years. I remember as we were formulating, I kept saying – more hops.

“These were full time years as we were all involved with the Personal Selling of the beer and the development of that craft beer society and beer culture. Our craft beer ambassadors became a very important part of our marketing and consumer
engagement programs.

“I stepped back a bit from the operations in 2010, and we shifted a lot of the marketing/sales expertise back to Lion Corporate. One needs the innovators and the disrupters to get things going and established in the start-up craft phases, but good structured marketing with a wider corporate reach is needed for the longer term growth of a beer brand. There needs to be a balance.

“Craft breweries have doubled over the last 10 years, from 300 in 2010 to over 700 breweries now.”

Hahn said his last 10 years in brewing have been less stressful.

“Kosciuszko brewery has grown to be a real acceptable refreshing pale ale with annual volumes pushing the four million litres mark. Eumundi Brewery at the Imperial Hotel in Eumundi was rebirthed back into business a few years back and business continues to grow. With new a 12HL brewhouse, some great brands are being developed. The key is to develop an authentic brand at the local level, gradually expanding it, and then start brewing at a larger scale at our larger more efficient breweries.

“Tiny Mountain Brewery in Townsville is already making a name for itself and Lord Howe Island brewery is yet another authentic brewery work in progress. We are assisting the locals – Mike and Tim Maxwell in getting their brewery up and running. Very exotic – very sustainable.

Chuck Hahn

As for the future, Hahn says he plans to move back more from the business and partially retire next year.

“At a ripe old age of 75, I want to be able to travel more with my wife before we forget where and why,” he joked. “Now a big cheers to all the old and new brewers in tonight’s celebrations and a real big cheers to James Brindley who has helped it all happen over the last 20 years.”

Cheers to you Chuck Hahn, what an amazing career in brewing!

Here are some photos from the event:

James Squire releases zero-alcohol beer

Success! You're on the list.

Categories: News