In an historic New South Wales brewery, James Lane has his thirst quenched.

Like much of the NSW Southern Tablelands last summer, the small town of Goulburn was in the grip of the big dry - but tucked away in a grange, designed by Francis Greenway, real ale flowed to cool parched lips.

Goulburn Brewery, Australia's oldest surviving brewery, is one of the town's tourism treasures, a veritable time capsule that has been making beer since 1836.

Today, the brewery produces several quality beers inside a building that Greenway - the father of Australian colonial architecture - built for pastoralist William Bradley and his wife Emily Elizabeth.

The term "real ale" might sound more like a boast but it actually refers to a brewing process that excludes the use of artificial preservatives, carbonation or additives, and is not filtered.


This method is much like Germany's famed 1516 Reinheitsgebot (German Purity Law), which states that only barley, hops and water be used for brewing.

As brewery spokesman Father Michael O'Halloran explained, while I sampled one of his ales, the most important feature of a real ale is that the yeast remains in the brew.

He says retaining the yeast helps keep a person's liver healthy while reducing the chance of a hangover.

Of three ales available, the standout is The Goulburn Stout, a lovely, food-friendly black with a smoky aroma and savoury notes. This stout would be a great companion for a meat stew or casserole during the winter months.

Also available is a full-bodied Fine Sparkling Ale and the very hoppy Goulburn Gold, featuring a distinctive Merino sheep label - a symbol of the town's former prosperity and its history as Australia's top wool-growing region.

Ironically, while Goulburn's water supply is often parlous, the brewery has no such problem, using its own water tanks to produce ales brewed in traditional, open-top fermentation vessels.

Apart from sampling the beer, it's well worth spending time browsing the Bradley Grange buildings, which include a flour mill, tobacco curing kiln, malthouse and cooperage. Guided tours can be arranged by appointment or you can enjoy an ale while admiring the rustic surrounds of the brewery, stables and mews.

It's thirsty work.

Getting there
Qantas flies daily between Auckland and Sydney, with Economy-Class return fares starting from $541.

Goulburn is a two-hour drive from Sydney.

The Goulburn Brewery is at 23 Bungonia Rd. Open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10am. Accommodation is also available in the mews and workers' cottages.

Goulburn Brewery