It’s not often a publican wants to show you his coldroom. Who knows what you’ll find in there. Someone’s half-eaten lunch. A skiving chef or two.
But Calvin McDonald wants to show me the coldroom. During a whistle-stop tour of Scottish brewer Brewdog’s debut Australian brewery in Murarrie, it simply feels like the next thing to see. Sure, you shrug, show me the coldroom.
Then the door rolls open and the lights come on, and it dawns on you, the scale of Brewdog’s Australian ambitions. The thing is enormous, less a coldroom and more a giant refrigerated warehouse. I ask McDonald to stand and pose for a photo, and then I have to move a few steps closer to take it.
Right now the room’s mostly empty, bar a few spent pallets and some kegs off in a far corner. But once Brewdog Australia’s 25 hectolitre brewery is up and running it will be a critical tool in its domestic distribution network.
A few locals scratched their heads when Brewdog announced it would open on the river in Murarrie. What’s there, other than a commercial estate and an on-ramp for the Gateway Motorway? But Brewdog isn’t a brewpub, it’s a facility. It’s an almighty foothold in the local craft-beer market, one designed to ensure the brewer is here for the long haul. It needs this kind of space.
This isn’t the brewery that was initially announced – not quite, anyway. In April it was revealed Brewdog was halving its initial intended Australian capacity of 50 hectolitres. The move raised a few industry eyebrows – the Queensland government had, after all, provided significant incentives to ensure Brisbane landed the brewer over interstate competitors. But what you see around you backs McDonald’s claims of a brewery very much designed for expansion.
“It’s 25 hectolitres, but that’s right now,” he says. “We want to be at capacity from day one. We don’t want to have stock sitting around. If we’re at 100 per cent capacity and the beer is going to market and turning over immediately, we’ll have the liquidity and capital to start expanding as soon as possible … it’s designed to scale up.”
The brewing facility won’t be up and running until around the turn of the year – “hopefully we’ll have beer in the keg by Christmas,” McDonald says – but what’s very much ready is Brewdog’s Dogtap taproom, a 420-seat bar and bistro with views into the brewery on one side and out across the Brisbane River and the towering Gateway Bridge on the other.
It’s a handsome, well-thought-out space, defined by rough-hewed timber, banks of blue leather booths and an enormous keg feature wall. Outside, lines of communal tables catch the long riverside sunsets before being illuminated by the gentle glow of festoon lighting at night.
“It’s about inclusivity,” McDonald says. “The booths create a communal environment. There are tonnes of games and books. It’s an experience. If you want to come and nurse a mid, there’s enough here to keep you entertained. That’s why we’ve gone with the bigger food menu.”
Brewdog’s food menu is indeed extensive. It ranges from Korean-style chicken wings and burgers right through to barramundi fritters and an 800-gram tomahawk steak. There’s also a generous plant-based section that includes burgers built from seitan and Beyond Meat proteins.
Still, it’s the beer that will pull the punters through the door when Brewdog officially opens to the public on Thursday. On tap will be 28 beers, including the brewer’s core Punk IPA, Dead Pony Club pale ale, Zombie Cake chocolate porter and Boss Lager, backed by its Hazy Jane New England IPA and Elvis Juice grapefruit IPA, and then a stack of rotationals that will change almost daily. Eight taps are given over to guest brewers, and the opening week will feature Range Brewing, Balter and Aether, among others.
Right now is a curious time to visit, given the brewery is temporarily serving beer brewed in Scotland and cold-chain shipped all the way to Brisbane. It’s probably as good as you can get it outside of the UK. “It’s 57 days on the water,” McDonald says. “The only time it sees any heat is between the car park and the coldroom.”
Otherwise, all this talk of inclusivity and the venue’s easy-going vibes make this feel like Brisbane’s love for the suburban brewpub, at scale. There’s even a cute “Desk Dog” workspace initiative, where office jockeys from the surrounding commercial estate can bring in a laptop, hand over a tenner and drink coffee all day before knocking off with a pint of Punk IPA – the public areas are littered with power points just for this purpose.
Still, behind that keenly packaged public face, Brewdog is blunt about its aspirations. “We are an eminently ambitious company,” McDonald says. “You asked about the ceiling of the craft-beer market. The ceiling for us is 100 per cent craft beer … Until all beer is craft beer we won’t feel like we’ve fulfilled our mission.”
Brewdog Dogtap Brisbane
77 Metroplex Avenue, Murarrie