Where to Drink in Brisbane, Australia

Destinations by | Oct 2018 | Issue #133

Once among the loudest and proudest beer-drinking nations, Australia lost its taste for the amber nectar in recent years, with consumption of beer—and alcohol in general—falling to historic lows. But craft brewing is flowing in the opposite direction, now accounting for about 5 percent of all beer sales.

This growing popularity, and changing tastes, meant the latest alcohol consumption figures are up for the first time in nearly a decade. Not bad for a place where a beer’s quality was conventionally less important than how cold it stayed in the glass.

Nowhere has the shift been more apparent than Brisbane, Australia’s third largest city (population 2.3 million), on the subtropical east coast of the vast country-continent. Craft breweries have sprung up in the city where the previous claim to beer fame was the iconic, 140-year-old Castlemaine Perkins brewery, makers of the ubiquitous XXXX brand and now owned by the Australasian beverage conglomerate Lion.

The sudden popularity of craft brewing in Brisbane reflects the national trend. The Australian beer industry now has 420 independent brewers, up from 30 in 2006. In Queensland, the state of which Brisbane is capital, there are more than 80 brewers, with 17 opening in the past 12 months.

Brisbane’s first brewery district was the twin riverside suburbs of Newstead and Teneriffe. Once industrial areas, they have transformed into vibrant inner-city hubs with cafés, restaurants, and bars alongside trendy apartments converted from old wool sheds. Though urban areas like this host the majority of craft bars, the beer boom has spread further afield with small brewers like Ballistic Beer and Slipstream Brewing opening in the suburbs.

The city’s Howard Smith Wharves redevelopment, an A$110 million project to transform the 90-year-old wharves into an entertainment precinct, will add to Brisbane’s beer offering. Felons Brewing Co., the latest newcomer, will open a riverside 500-seat brewery and brewpub within the precinct in October, with four beers ready at launch. And Scottish brewer BrewDog cemented the city’s international beer status when it announced plans to open its Australian brewery in the Queensland capital. The $30 million brewery and restaurant site, located on the riverfront in Murarrie, will open in early 2019.

As the beer scene has grown in Brisbane, so have its beer-focused events. BrewsVegas, a multiday festival held in March each year, has doubled in size since it started in 2013, while music and beer festival Beer InCider, held in September, is an annual highlight on the event calendar.

Brisbane beer writer and educator Matt Kirkegaard says craft brewing in the city has “really exploded” in recent years. “It’s a reaction to a generation without much beer choice at all. There is an element of fad and fashion about it … but the quality of the beer coming out of the city is adding substance to the style,” he says.

Old habits die hard, and while many pubs now offer alternatives to ice-cold lager, most still ask bewildered visitors if they want a “pot” (10 fluid ounces) or a “schooner” (15 fluid ounces), rather than a pint or a half. Tastes have changed but temperature is non-negotiable—you won’t find a warm beer anywhere in Brisbane.

Top craft beer drinking spots in Brisbane, Australia

Illustration by Sam Brewster

Housed in a steel warehouse from the 1940s, Newstead Brewing Co. embraces the history of its surroundings. As well as high ceilings, wooden floors, and gleaming brewing tanks, it has 12 beers on tap—six of its own, plus rotating guests. At 3.4 percent ABV, the 3 Quarter Time Session Ale is a tasty mid-strength to get things started. Newstead also serves pub grub designed to pair with beer, including pizzas and a cheese and antipasto plate. Due to its popularity, in 2017 Newstead opened a second location in Milton.

A few streets away, Green Beacon Brewing Co. is another that can claim credit for kicking off Brisbane’s beer awakening—it launched in 2013. Behind a large roller door on a suburban street, Green Beacon is a cavernous brewpub with long shared tables and an unfussy atmosphere. Dogs are welcome; hipsters, too, (some come for the beard oil made with IPA) and every evening a different food truck rolls up—from chicken wings to BBQ. The eight core brews include the tart 7 Bells Passionfruit Gose, and the bold but very drinkable Windjammer IPA.

A short stroll along the river walk brings you to New Farm, a neighboring suburb home to Bitter Suite. A restaurant and bar in a corner of New Farm, it taps Australian beers and ciders from Brisbane and the rest of the country, as well as changing options from overseas. The braised lamb shank is a classic Australian dish and hard for the hungry to pass up. Pair it with a session IPA from Adelaide’s Mismatch Brewing Company.

Tippler’s Tap was initially part of an area known as the “beermuda triangle” surrounding Newstead Brewing and Green Beacon, but moved upriver to South Bank in 2016, just south of the central business district. They opened a second Tippler’s on James Street, near their original home, in June 2018. Visiting the South Bank branch means a trip on the speedy CityCat, a public transport catamaran that travels along the river offering great views of the urban landscape. Tippler’s has a gloomy-cool charm, 13 rotating beers on tap (try Moon Dog Craft Brewery’s Big Truffle in Little Porter, a salted truffle Porter, or Modus Operandi’s Mosaic Pale Ale) and its famously tasty chicken wings by the basket.

Down the street, The Charming Squire is an airy, popular bar which sells the James Squire brand, named for the convict thief sent to Australia who became the country’s first brewer to use hops. James Squire is owned by Lion and is known for its flagship Pale Ale, One Fifty Lashes. At The Charming Squire, an on-site brewery produces small-batch limited releases alongside the year-round taps. Hop Thief, an American Pale Ale with eight different types of hops, is full of flavor, and The Swindler tropical Pale Ale, made with Galaxy and El Dorado, is the perfect quencher after a walk in the sun. Stay for the farm-fresh food (think freshly shucked oysters and slow-cooked meats) and live music.

Fish Lane is the latest addition to Brisbane’s burgeoning “laneway culture,” an attempt to revitalize disused alleys around the city as pedestrian-friendly pathways connecting hip shops, bars, and eateries. Among Fish Lane’s diverse restaurants and cocktail bars, Saccharomyces Beer Cafe offers 10 rotating taps and a well-stocked fridge of Australian and international beers. While the bar’s named after a “single-celled organism that is the unsung hero of fermentation,” a.k.a. yeast, there is no pretension inside with a beer-hall environment and the latest selection written on a chalkboard. Friendly staff promise to find a drink for every palate, from Bridge Road Brewers Chestnut Pilsner to Wrong Side Brewing Raspberry Pale Ale.

A short walk from South Bank, West End is a lively area with restaurants offering every cuisine imaginable interspersed with independent bookshops and vintage clothing stores. Now home to a few craft bars, too, Archive Beer Boutique was the first. Established in 2011, it maintains a loyal following thanks to 22 rotating draft beers and more than 400 ready-to-drink bottles. Archive runs the Next Door Cellars bottle shop adjacent to the bar, offering an even wider selection of ales and lagers to take home, and hosts the annual Armakeggon beer festival, usually held in August or September.

Run by a husband-and-wife team, Brisbane Brewing Co. is proudly local. Punters come to the laid-back bar and beer garden for four house-brewed beers from its own 10-barrel brewery, where visitors are welcome to watch the brewing process or chat with the head brewer. Try the Brisbane Pale Ale, made with new world Australian Galaxy hops.

Down the road from Brisbane Brewing, The Catchment Brewing Company is another cozy, casual spot dreamt up by four West End locals. The bar and brewery offers two Pale Ales, an IPA, and a rotating beer brewed on site alongside several guest beers and ciders in a restored Art Deco building. The food menu is designed to celebrate and complement a cold beer or two, including pork belly arancini with crackling and slow braised beef cheek with creamy polenta. Call it the taste of progress.