Queensland: Sunshine State of mind
Richard Croasdale heads down under, to discover the hidden beery gem of Queensland
Wednesday 01 July 2020
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We’ve been all over the world in search of great beers and amazing experiences, to most of the iconic beer destinations on the planet, but the greatest pleasure comes from discovering vibrant local scenes and knock-out breweries in less obvious locations. Queensland in north-eastern Australia is one such destination; not only does it have some stellar breweries and buzzing beer culture, but also an abundance of breath-taking landscapes to explore, from ancient rainforest to lush countryside, and from rugged outback to the magical reefs, islands and beaches of the Coral Sea (including a little thing called The Great Barrier Reef).
Of course, you can sit back and enjoy the view, but adventure and exploration have always been part of Queensland culture, and every new location offers some fresh way to get your kicks. Ever fancied mountain biking in the rainforest? They’ve got you covered. Or how about snorkelling among vibrant, living coral? Paddle this way…
“Queensland has many iconic views and experiences,” comments Joslyn Erickson of Hop On Beer Tours. “Each region highlights unique reasons to visit their location, with the food and beverage scene becoming a hot focus.”
For the beer lover, there really is no better way to explore this natural and cultural diversity than a state-wide beer odyssey. In most countries, this would mostly involve visiting a lot of industrial estates, but Queensland manages rather better; it seems that something in the beer culture here means that breweries are expected to base themselves in areas of spectacular natural beauty. So whether you’re hanging out at Eco Brewing Co in the Noosa Everglades National Park, or swimming with Humpback whales in Mooloolaba before visiting 10 Toes Brewery, beer is a golden ticket to adventure in the sunshine state.
But probably the greatest draw are the people themselves – open and welcoming, they genuinely treat visitors like family, and their informal, adventurous spirit can be infectious. Whether you’re in a quirky outback town or a vibrant coastal city, Queenslanders are proud of where they live, and keen to share their history and culture.
This is particularly true among the craft beer community, where there’s an unspoken understanding that a rising tide lifts all ships, so the culture is supportive and collaborative, whether it’s working with other breweries or giving local homebrewers the chance to hone their skills on professional kit. The overwhelming sense is that of an industry on the rise, and a collective desire to constantly improve.
“The Queensland beer scene is an incredible environment to work in and we are so fortunate to be a part of it,” continues Joslyn. “Filled with creative, fun, hard-working, passionate individuals… there is an underlying energy and excitement due to Queensland’s relative ‘newness’ on the Australian beer scene.”
David Kitchen, commander in chief of Ballistic Brewing agrees, adding: “Queensland, currently, is a hot-bed of craft brewing in Australia, with breweries winning Champion Small, Medium and Large breweries regularly over the last two years. Stretching from the Gold Coast, through Brisbane and up the Sunshine Coast as well as other prime tourist spots like Bundaberg, Townsville and Cairns, there are breweries wherever you want to travel in Queensland.”
In the coming articles, we’ll take a tour through some of the state’s very best craft breweries, enjoying the astonishing landscapes, flora, fauna and culture along the way. We’ll also discover why Queensland has become one of the go-to destinations for beer and food pairing.
If you like a splash of adventure with your brew, just follow your thirst around Queensland’s world-class breweries, for the beer quest of a lifetime.
Balter was started by seven childhood friends on the Gold Coast in March 2016. The team had a simple mission of delivering “good beer, with enjoyment”. Since then, it has become one of the most awarded craft breweries in Australia, recognised for its quality beer, honest approach and fun outlook. Part owned by renowned surfer Mick Fanning, Balter is famed along the Gold Coast, and is the perfect place to kick back after a day’s surfing against the Miami-like skyline.
“Of all the awards we’ve won, the People’s Choice awards have always meant the most to us, because the belief that ‘good beer is for everyone’, is at the core of everything they do, and to get the thumbs up from ‘everyone’ is the greatest compliment,” says the brewery’s Stirling Howland.
Ballistic Beer Co. is one of the largest independent craft breweries in Queensland. Based in Brisbane and operating since 2017, Ballistic has grown to three venues with a fourth off-site sour project soon to open. The brewery has bagged trophies two years in succession for its Oaked XPA and gold medals for every one of its core beers, and it recently took the Champion Large Brewery trophy at the QLD Beer Awards.
The brewery itself has a fascinating history, and its name is – as well as being testament to the quality of its beers – a reference to the building’s former role as a top-secret munitions factory, supplying Australian troops during WWII. See vibrant Brisbane by bicycle, dropping in at Ballistic, Felons, and the city’s other great breweries, before dinner on the waterfront. Not to be missed.
Hemingway’s Brewery is an independent craft brewery with two brewpubs situated in tropical Far North Queensland. It offers award-winning beers, paired with food sourced from the local region that complement its locally-inspired ales. The setting’s not too shabby either; both brewpubs have beautiful waterfront locations in the marina at Port Douglas and in a heritage-listed building on Cairns Wharf, and offer a relaxed vibe where you can share tales from your days’ adventures on the reef.
With possibly the most ostentatiously lovely location for any brewery in the world, Eco Brewing Co sits in the heart of the Noosa Everglades National Park – one of only two Everglades in the world. Stay in the Habitat Noosa Everglades camp – awarded Australia’s best new tourism business 2020 – and enjoy a cold beer and great food, after a day exploring this unique ecology. Eco Brewing Co, even draws from the great sandy mass aquifer, whose waters are filtered through sand and gravel for 75 years before reaching the brewery; combined with the best malt, yeast and hops from around the world, Eco Brewing Co is still worth visiting for the beers alone.
This social enterprise beer company is all about harnessing the power of great beer (and good times) to help good causes, with 10% of the income from every beer sold going to charity partners. In particular, its flagship Great Barrier beer – a 4.5% ABV Australian lager, brewed with all-Aussie ingredients – raises money for the Australian Marine Conservation Society, and its vital work protecting the unique habitats of the Great Barrier Reef. So sip a beer, then explore the two World Heritage sites that meet here: the blues of the Reef, and the greens of the Daintree Rainforest.
Matt Jancauskas opened Brouhaha Brewery in 2016, in the Sunshine Coast hinterland town of Maleny, 80 minutes north of Brisbane. Hidden in a medical complex, Brouhaha is a hip industrial brewpub, offering light, bright and airy dining and a seasonal menu full of local produce, including beef from Maleny Wagyu fed on the brewery’s spent mash. The bar boasts 10 taps to tempt drinkers on a journey through craft brewing, from the brewery’s approachable Maleny Lager to its punchy and fresh Strawberry Rhubarb Sour.
“The Queensland craft beer scene is full of passion, no matter what side of the brew kit you are on,” says the brewery’s Toby Stodart. “From brewers to bartenders and punters, those who are championing Queensland craft beer do it with pride. We get people travelling from all over Queensland to enjoy a beer from our Maleny brewpub. While the industry is still growing in Queensland, the breweries that we are lucky to have are producing some world-class beer!”
With so much sunshine and an abundance of great, fresh ingredients, it’s no wonder that Queensland has developed such a thriving and distinctive foodie culture. Even as a hardened beer lover, the impulse to seek out the next amazing brew is quickly matched by the hunger for new culinary experiences. Fortunately, it’s easy enough here to scratch both itches wherever you go.
If one had to define a quintessential Queensland dining experience, it would almost definitely be alfresco, where a relaxed vibe and fusion style is paired with fine dining quality and a fierce love of localism.
The unique regional flavours tell the stories of the landscape, the lifestyle and the people behind them, whether you’re eating meltingly tender Waygu beef in Maleny on the Sunshine Coast, ‘fossicking’ for sweet and savoury macadamia nuts outside Brisbane, or slurping impossibly sweet frozen mango in Bowen in the Whitsunday region.
This is one part of Queensland you won’t want to pass by. The Whitsundays are home to the excellent Whitsundays Island Brewing, giving you the perfect excuse to join a tour to Whitehaven beach and explore this spectacular group of islands, accessible only by boat. At the end of the day, Fish D’vine in Airlie Beach is a well-known foodie highlight, serving up copious, fresh-from-the-ocean mud crab, oysters and prawns.
“We are passionate about food provenance: the best produce is right on our doorstep with the fertile lands and Great Barrier Reef,” says the restaurant’s Rachel Vare. “Our seafood partners ensure that we support local fisherman and offer the best quality at the best price, for our guests. A fresh catch, along with signature experiences such as our Seafood Indulgence, paired with our unique mojito, leaves you wanting to come back time and time again.”
Many of the state’s breweries also offer their own excellent food options, including Hemingway’s in Tropical North Queensland. The Port Douglas brewpub is the perfect staging post for your North Queensland adventures. As a gastro-pub, Hemingway’s offers uncomplicated grub to go with their selection of beers. Each brew has a unique story about a local character who inspired its creation. From the Prospector pilsner, to the Hard Yards’ dark lager, every drop pays homage to the people of Port Douglas.
Heading south, Copperhead is a great craft brewery with a restaurant attached… Or is it a high-end restaurant with its own brewery? Such is the quality of both the beer and the food that’s it’s rather hard to say. Whether you’re in the mood for fish or meat though, the options will have you agonising over your menu for at least 30 minutes. Don’t worry – you literally can’t make a bad choice here.
Continue down the M1 highway and you’ll quickly reach the state capital of Brisbane (or “Brissie”, to the locals) which in recent years has vigorously shaken off its reputation as a sleepy country town, exploding with a vibrant and dynamic culture of food, drink, shopping and outdoor adventure. As well as a host of great craft breweries, including Felon’s, Ballistic, Green Beacon and local favourite Range Brewing, you’ll find a flourishing culinary scene, where fresh local ingredients meet in an exciting fusion of cooking traditions.
Multi-award-winning Stokehouse Q, perched on the banks of the Brisbane River and nestled amongst the mangroves, is a bona-fide institution, and for good reason. Drawing on Mediterranean and Asian cuisine, expect elegant dishes like miso-glazed barramundi belly, saltbush and labneh dumplings, and rosella sorbet. In South Brisbane, Gauge has morphed from a buzzy daytime brunch spot to a fully-fledged restaurant, known for its big, bold and wildly inventive dishes, with a distinct leaning toward seafood. If you’re looking for something intensely personal, Joy on Bakery Lane is a 10-cover restaurant, in which the two chef-owners, who live on-site, dish up plates of delicate and exquisitely crafted food from a tiny galley kitchen. Booking ahead is, of course, advised.
On the road again, we head south to the Gold Coast, to Rick Shores in Burleigh Heads, an alfresco, beach-front delight, where the surf is practically lapping at your toes. Come for the vista, stay for the food. The Asian influence is clear in Rick’s assured, creative but un-fussy menu, with each dish given a signature twist. Everyone orders the fried bug roll with lettuce and sriracha, but there’s no shame in following the pack in this instance. Or, if you’d prefer to keep it simple, grab a bag of prawns from Peter’s Fish Market on Main Beach, then on to The Broadwater, for fish, chips and a pint of something cold.
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