Australia, convicts, beer — three words that potentially summarise our culture for many people, and three words that summarise the James Squire empire.

It’s a truism that Aussies like a cold beer on a hot day. And apparently it has been so since the First Fleet when the eponymous James Squire landed in Botany Bay. Squire is credited with being Australia’s first beer brewer, and since then we have developed a reputation for making good ones. Pity the ones we export are those we are probably least likely to drink here. The Charming Squire on Grey Street opened in September and is the sixth and largest of the Squire Company’s offerings.

Lucky for the beer world, James Squire was not a very good criminal. Transported to Australia for highway robbery and other crimes, once here he proved that he was more successful as a businessman. Though his methods might be questionable (he stole material for his first brews), his history reveals the type of larrikin whose trespasses we forgive (from a distance of 230 years). He was the sort of man Australia needed and the sort of man that needed Australia: hard working, innovative and generous. (Constable and farmer too but they are not very alliterative). When awarded free land (as all convicts were) — he cultivated hops. Soon he opened a tavern halfway between Sydney and Parramatta — an ideal location for thirsty travellers. He befriended Bennelong, and the venerable Aboriginal was buried on his property. Over his lifetime, Squire was a butcher, a baker, a banker and a brewer. His beer was so well respected, it was deemed “excellent” in his obituary.

The Charming Squire is a gleaming temple of stainless steel and copper. Beer such as the galaxy ale, Going Once, is brewed on site. In all, Squires brews 10 styles of beer. Order the four-beer sampler to find which ones you prefer. Then try some of the yummy pub food: larger burgers, cones of chips and the usual fare that offers a mix of salt and burgers, things that go well with beer.

For something more substantial, the restaurant offers a full menu. Share plates include huge oysters, crispy duck and seared scallops. For meat lovers, beef, lamb and pork are slow roasted over an ironbark coal pit. Seafood aficionados can select from bugs, fish and a paella that is large enough to share. Vegetarians might opt for a meal of zucchini flowers stuffed with goat’s cheese. Desserts are just as tempting: the fresh caramel waffles are crunchy and satisfying.

James Squire was quite the charmer, he married twice, had at least two mistresses and his generosity endeared him to fellow colonists. Today, the venues bearing his name embody his spirit.

Words by Toni Johnson-Woods.

Images by Colin Bushell.