Beyond XXXX: Brisbane for craft beer lovers
It took some time to convince the world that most Australians had never even tasted Foster’s Lager, promoted by Crocodile Dundee star Paul Hogan as ‘Australian for beer’ in the 1980s. The long-held view that XXXX (pronounced four ex) larger is synonymous with Queensland beer, however, has been more difficult to shake – despite the state’s capital having one of the most vibrant craft beer scenes in the country.
‘Brisbane’s craft beer scene has just exploded during the past few years and if you look at the results of top beer competitions, Queensland beers have been doing incredibly well,’ says craft beer expert Joslyn Erickson, who launched Hop On Brewery Tours in southeast Queensland with her partner Matt Farrelly in 2016.
With more than 20 craft breweries you can visit, Brisbane is the heartland of Queensland’s craft beer scene. Hop On’s Brisbane tours offer an excellent deep-dive into the scene with exclusive access and tastings, but it’s easy enough to stage your own inner city brewery crawl on foot, with a little help from public transport. Here’s the lowdown on all the craft breweries within two train stops of Central Station.
Best for a taste of Brisbane history: Newstead Brewing Co, Newstead
There’s a fascinating story behind every beer at this industrial-styled brewery located in a former 1940s bus depot, from the Mayne Thing Golden Larger named for murderous colonial Brisbane butcher Patrick Mayne, to the Two to the Valley IPA, which references the ‘polite’ way of saying ‘up yours’ in WWII-era Brisbane.
The raised bar area overlooks the tanks, so you can watch the brewers at work while you work your own way through their wares (go on, order the tasting paddle). There’s another location in Milton, though small-batch experimental brews (seaweed beer, anyone?) are still made here at the original site.
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Best for a cosy drink: Aether Brewing, Milton
Nestled in the shadow of the hulking XXXX Brewery (which has a tasting room and tours), wood-panelled Aether Brewing is tiny, but for what it lacks in floor space it makes up for in inventive limited release brews like the Dryad Pèt-Nat, a dangerously quaffable wine-beer hybrid, and Creature of the Night Peanut Butter Stout, a super-rich choc-peanut dessert beer. With the brewery now struggling to produce enough suds to meet demand (just three years since it opened), Aether is due to open its second location in Northgate in late 2019.
Best for a big night: Sea Legs Brewing Co, Kangaroo Point
Opened in late 2018 by five engineering mates, this enormous, bright, industrial-styled brewery tucked alongside the Story Bridge (one stop on the free CityHopper ferry from Eagle St Pier) offers an accessible range of beers, from light summer-style lagers to hop-heavy IPAs. But there’s also cocktails, a solid wine list, and a few taps of local guest beers, making it a great place for a night out with friends who don’t all drink craft suds. Apparently named for one of the owners’ wonky stance after putting away a few beers, this is a good-times kind of place, where its mostly-North American owners embrace any reason to celebrate.
Best for local character: The Catchment, West End
A refreshing diversion from the huge, industrial-style spaces that dominate Brisbane’s brewery scene, this hip small brewery in South Brisbane housed in a restored art-deco home is all exposed brick walls and colourful murals. You can taste The Catchment’s three core brews on tap (bright ale, pale ale, and an IPA), along with at least one special release, and with the tucker a cut above your standard pub grub, it’s worth staying on for dinner.
Best for craft beer nerds: Range Brewing, Newstead
While most of Brisbane’s craft breweries have at least one experimental brew on tap alongside their core range, Range Brewing doesn’t even have a core range, its owners having decided to experiment with different ingredients from batch to batch instead. The good news is that you’ll try some seriously interesting beers in this Scandi-inspired former warehouse, from peach sour ales to a warming cookie dough marshmallow imperial stout. The bad news? You might never have an opportunity to try them again.
Best for a warm-up beer: Soapbox Beer, Fortitude Valley
The first brewpub to open in Brisbane’s entertainment district (in December 2018), Soapbox Beer is a top spot to start the night before catching a gig at local live music venue like the recently reopened Fortitude Music Hall. The brewing equipment runs along the back wall of this dark, 100-seat space, where you can try five core beers (mid-strength dark ale, kolsch, American amber ale, IPA and pale ale) on tap alongside a few rotationals and a guest cider. Beer lovers will also dig the food menu, from the beer-brined Korean-style chicken wings to the Wagyu rump with porter-onion gravy.
Best for taking visitors from out of town: Felons Brewing Co, City
Tucked under the Story Bridge in the Howard Smith Wharves complex, Brisbane’s newest entertainment and lifestyle precinct, Felons Brewing Co is named for a quartet of convicts who found themselves shipwrecked on Moreton Island in 1823, and went on to become the first Europeans to discover the Brisbane River. Occupying a huge corrugated iron shed with a covered veranda overlooking the river, the brewery boasts epic views toward the glittering lights of the CBD, and there’s something for everyone among its easy-drinking range of brews (and extensive wine list). Mop up the booze with a wood-fired pizza.
Best for food truck eats: Green Beacon, Teneriffe
Following its sale to Japanese beer behemoth Asahi in August 2019, the jury is out as to whether Green Beacon can still be considered a craft brewery. But this industrial-styled brewbar named for a safe anchoring marker off Moreton Island remains a firm favourite. If you love a fruity beer, be sure to try the refreshingly tart 7 Bells Passionfruit Gose (pronounced ‘goes-uh’). With a food truck rolling in every evening, there’s always a tasty grub option to line the stomach – just keep an eye on your plate because Green Beacon is also dog-friendly.
Best for kicking back in a beer garden: Brisbane Brewing Co, West End
Grant and Michelle Clark started producing beers as Brisbane Brewing Co in 2005 from the Brewhouse Brisbane in Albert St in the CBD, but it wasn’t until 2014 that they opened this great little microbrewery in South Brisbane’s West End. You can sample up to 10 brews on tap here, best enjoyed in the alleyway beer garden on a hot summer’s day. The great sharing options on the food menu (from design-your-own charcuterie boards to brioche slider boards) make this place a particularly good option for hungry groups.
Best for interstate brews: Stone & Wood, Fortitude Valley
There has been plenty of buzz about the new outpost of the famous Byron Bay brewery – known for its focus on making (delicious) beer as a force for good – set to open in a heritage-listed Valley building in late 2019. The question is: can Stone & Wood’s craft brews hold their own against Brisbane’s ever-increasing supply?
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