Craft beer wears the crown in Brisbane’s clash of beer cultures

Newstead Brewing Company // Photo courtesy of Newstead Brewing

Newstead Brewing Company // Photo courtesy of Newstead Brewing

Two types of beer were historically acceptable in Australia—cold and very cold. Given more than one-third of the world’s sixth largest country by area is effectively desert, it’s unsurprising light and easy lager was most common to quench the nation’s thirst.

But Australians, whose reputation for enjoying a few icy beers around a barbecue is well-known, are falling out of love with the beer they are used to drinking. Domestic consumption of alcohol has fallen to a 55-year low and is unlikely to recover.

At the same time, however, craft brewing has arrived and drinkers can’t get enough of it. Within as little as five years, the craft beer industry has exploded. It is worth roughly $270 million and is estimated to grow anywhere from five to 10 percent in the next five years. In a market where big corporations rule the taps, craft beer is now estimated to make up five percent of all beer sales.

Brisbane, Australia’s third biggest city and capital of the vast state of Queensland, has enjoyed an unlikely evolution into a beer town. Once seen as an oversized country town, the city almost halfway up the country’s east coast has become a vibrant and cosmopolitan place of more than two million, without losing its laid-back charm.

Mug of beer at Brisbane Brewing // Photo courtesy of Brisbane Brewing

Mug of beer at Brisbane Brewing // Photo courtesy of Brisbane Brewing

With subtropical summers and year-round sunshine, beer in Brisbane is often served near-freezing in a ‘pot’ (10 fluid ounces) or ‘schooner’ (15 fluid ounces), to ensure it doesn’t warm up in the glass. And while the old favorites remain on tap at many pubs, punters now have numerous options to sample a local craft brew, sometimes even in a pint glass.

Teneriffe and Newstead, the riverside neighborhoods just outside downtown, are hotspots of the city’s craft brewing development. They are home to what locals nicknamed the “beermuda triangle”—presumably because you could lose yourself in the offerings of the three beer bars within stumbling distance of one another. Though one of the trio, Tippler’s Tap, has moved to a more central location, the two with on-site microbreweries remain popular hangouts with excellent beer.

Green Beacon is housed in a warehouse with industrial fans hanging off high ceilings, long tables, and a chilled-out vibe. Its food selection is small so the brewery teams up with food trucks, serving everything from pizza to soul food. In addition to a core selection of seven beers, including the bold but beautiful Windjammer IPA, the team produces seasonal and special releases.

A few streets away is Newstead Brewing Company. Also in a former warehouse, it has a similar feel to Green Beacon, with shiny brewing tanks on display and a simple but hearty menu focused on food best eaten with one of the 12 beers on tap. They include the fruity, 3.4 percent 3 Quarter Time session ale, a thoughtful and flavorful addition designed for those with an early start.

Newstead Brewing brewhouse // Photo courtesy of Newstead Brewing

Newstead Brewing brewhouse // Photo courtesy of Newstead Brewing

Over the river from the city center is the cultural precinct of South Bank, which includes a manmade, urban beach. With Brisbane making a play to be Australia’s craft beer capital, a few bars have sprung up, including the aforementioned Tippler’s. They rotate the taps regularly but are probably as equally renowned for their giant baskets of chicken wings.

From South Bank it is a short walk to West End, a lively and multicultural area with vintage clothing stores, independent book sellers, and any type of cuisine you can imagine. It also has a couple of cracking beer options in boutique brewery Brisbane Brewing Co. and Archive Beer Boutique, a beer bar and bistro. Brisbane Brewing Co. has 10 beers to sample and any visitor must surely try the Brisbane Pale Ale, featuring Australian “New World” hops and the city’s iconic Story Bridge on its label.

Brisbane’s clash of beer culture between craft and macro lagers is epitomized in inner-city Milton, home to the Castlemaine Perkins brewery. The creator of the hugely popular XXXX beer brand has stood there since 1878, and the mid-strength XXXX Gold remains the beer of choice for many Queenslanders. But Brisbane’s beer past is being challenged by the influx of craft beer, including The Scratch Bar, which has nine taps and cheekily claims to be located in the “shadow of the XXXX behemoth.” Aether Brewing has also set up pumps in the suburb and Newstead Brewing Company is planning to expand there.

Old habits die hard and there are still more than a few degrees of separation between Aussie beer drinkers and their British cousins. The idea of real ale, or “warm beer,” still takes some explaining. But the days of lifeless lager being the only option are over and Brisbane, like the rest of the country, has embraced a taste for craft beer that will endure far into the future.

Curious to learn more about craft beer’s impact around the world? Follow The Growler as we globe-trot in search of craft beer in 7 Continents of Beer.


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