A personal account of Cascade First Harvest's origins

Over the weekend I ran a story about Cascade’s First Harvest Ale. It’s a beer I love the idea of possibly more than I even enjoy the beer itself.

When I run stories like this, some of the best conversations around them take place offline. Sometimes I get phone calls and emails sometimes congratulating me for them, but just as often taking me to task for the comments or filling in the gaps. The worst part of this is it is almost always prefaced with the words, “Don’t quote me on this”. Every now and then my request to be allowed to publish is accepted, as has happened today.

Dermot O’Donnell is a senior and significant figure in modern brewing with a wealth of knowledge about brewing and contemporary beer history. I hope to encourage him to share more recollections, if he can.

Anyway, though no longer with CUB, he emailed the following (which I print with his kind permission), explaining some of the origins of Cascade First Harvest, as well as what happened with the seasonal range that I mentioned and which may also be getting revived.

Dermot mentions PR guy David Park. David now works for a large PR consultancy, but has spent time in the trenches at both CUB and Lion. He always maintains a blog called Beerlines, which is a good read as well. David has also shared some recollections.

I share these now as it is this sort of personal history that, when not recorded, gets lost. In an era when ‘brand’ comes to matter more than brewers and beer, when we forget history we end up with things like The Legend of Crown Lager.

I was aware of parts of this story, especially that recently retired brewer Max Burslem had to actually modify the Cascade brew house to make the fresh hopping possible. I wasn’t aware there had been a pilot brew made the year before, or the inspiration for the beer. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that fascinating. I hope you do too.

Thanks to both Dermot and David for sharing…

Dermot’s recollections

Max Burslem hops the 2009 brew...

Max Burslem hops the 2008 brew…

Hi Matt, I was in charge of NPD at CUB when we did Cascade First Harvest and the seasonals. In fact we did a version of 1st harvest the year before in the small ( 15 HL ) BDU Pilot brewery and this was successfully showcased at a function in Sydney at the CBD Hotel. The idea had been based on Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale.

This gained some traction because Group PR guy David Park and Cascade PR guy , Richard Gerarthy, had been talking about getting something going for Cascade and the idea of a beer nouveau race from Hobart to Melbourne along the lines of the beaujolais nouveau race to Paris . It was brewed at Cascade to build up Cascade’s brewing reputation and purity credentials and Willie Simpson, Peter Manders and I were at the brewing . Max Burslem modified the plant so we could use the lauter tun as a hop back. I accompanied Australian Hop Marketers staff to Gunn’s plains where we stuffed the hops (Willamettes) into the back of a station wagon and drove directly to Hobart for the brewing . Peter Lalor wrote a feature on it using my photographs*.

Since then it has been an annual event used for evaluating new hop varieties through Michael Jontef at CUB .

The 4 Seasons range kicked off shortly thereafter with the Marketing Director’s (Paul Kennedy) endorsement. The Brand Manager was Shala Ahmed, ably supported by Jess McQueen who promptly christened us brewers “ rock stars “ (which I anyway enjoyed immensely) as we did a lot of Beer and food matchings with famous chefs.

The beers were deliberately moderate in their alcohol content and did well in the market place . Autumn Amber won a Gold at the World Beer Cup beating other luminary beers such as Sam Adams Boston lager in its chosen category .

Cascade Blonde is still the same formula as Summer Blonde to my knowledge and is nothing like the current range of Blondes .

The main problem was the beers tended to overflow from one season to the next as over supply based on optimistic sales forecasts were as usual the norm.
David’s recollections

Fresh hops on the boil...

Fresh hops on the boil…

That’s pretty much as it was. I went to the original event in Sydney where Peter Manders featured the first fresh hop brew [this was the pilot brewed beer – Ed]. We all stayed and finished the keg it was so delicious. This brew planted the thought at a time when I was working with Cascade on brand/corporate PR initiatives. For a while we worked with the idea of a ‘bière nouveau’. The whole focus was on freshness and getting a super fresh beer to Melbourne like the Beaujolais run but it was logistically too hard. But the idea remained and morphed into a beer which was fresh in all its ingredients – hence First Harvest. Cascade Brewer Max Burslem played a key role in developing this festbeer over the next few years. While I’m not a brewer I understand that to capture the fresh hop flavours was a real timing issue: too hot and they went up the chimney, too cool and they didn’t develop. Took some time to get that timing right.

Good to see some brand development energy being put back into Cascade.
*I dove into the archives and managed to find Peter Lalor’s original story on this…portions reproduced below (without permission, sorry). It is interesting to read about the then Masthead Alpha Ale, and Peter’s suggestion that “that Calton & United is starting to take notice of the microbrewers.” Had that only been true! I get the sense they are still only just getting their heads around it.

Cascade hops to it and creates magic – BEER
by Peter Lalor (Daily Telegraph – 17/4/02)

In the world of wine the Beaujolais Nouveau is a keenly sought drop that is best drunk as fresh as possible. The same goes for beers but a new brew, Cascade First Harvest Ale 2002, takes this concepta step further.

The brewers down in Tassie have whipped up a microbrewery-styled genuine ale using specialty hops picked at the farm only hours before they were thrown into the kettle.

Most beers use a dried and pelletised or even a liquid hop, but using the fresh flower imparts brave new dimensions of flavour.

Microbrewers such as Little Creatures use the whole flower in their beers, but this is the first time I remember anyone in Australia using them before they are dried, let alone on the day of harvest.The end result is a resiny and herbaceous fullbodied beer that is out of the ordinary.

Head brewer Max Burslem used Willamette flowers for bittering and the tasty Cascade as an aromatic hop.

Readers of Beer will have tried the prototype of the beer a few years ago at the launch of The Daily Telegraph’s Autumn Ale. That night at Hotel CBD, the gurus at Carlton & United Breweries slippeda special keg of Project X on tap. It went down a treat. Two years later it’s popped in its commercial guise as Cascade First Harvest Ale 2002.

Burslem, who is responsible for the quality Cascade beers, has only made 20,000 litres of the new beer, so it is only available in limited quantities.

The beer, along with the underplayed Masthead Alpha Ale is proof thatCarlton& United is starting to take notice of the microbrewers.

Alpha is now only available at the Greengate Hotel but should be around town a bit more soon. It’s made up at the tiny Masthead Brewery in Queensland. It is one of the best new beers on the marketand a sign of great things to come: just because you are a big brewer doesn’t mean you have to make beers with mass market appeal, after all if Penfolds took that approach they’d never have made a Grange Hermitage.
Don’t forget you have a chance to be there for the harvest and hopping of this year’s First Harvest. Enter here.

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