Before any other bar in Brisbane offered tastings of their beers; before Queensland had more breweries than people; before your nanna realised her floral print couch was missing… there was The Scratch.
Australia was a little late to the game with the craft beer movement, and Queensland was at the tail end of that. But, in a late country and a late state, The Scratch was one of the earliest adopters.
Since opening in 2011, the bar has held the position of the weird-but-cool older cousin of the Brisbane beer scene. A huge part of that reputation has been down to their eccentric style and natural cool – a refreshing contrast among some of more straight-laced venues found in Park Road, Milton, (or, as The Scratch website calls it, “Brisbane’s best fake-euro wine ‘em and dine ‘em restaurant strip").
It’s no longer unheard of for a bar to have weathered wooden bar tables and couches that scream op shop chic. But not many other haunts have a wooden shark head and inverted army men on the ceiling, or a giant gramophone horn on the wall, or a mural of a moose and octopus dressed in tweed jackets. Bonus points if you spot the mannequin leg, the stuffed badger and the longhorn skull [under which Crafty Pot Jr was serenaded with "Happy Birthday" as he turned one – Editor].
This dimly lit, paraphernalia-filled hole-in-the-wall may give you the impression that a creepy dude in a trench coat will step out of the shadows and wheeze: “You kids wanna buy some beer?” But the staff (dubbed "Good Family Scratch" in their annual staff photos) are rather more pleasant than that, if no less colourful. They’re neither at the wanky and elitist end of the spectrum, nor the apathetic and ignorant end. Instead, they’re chilled but passionate, helping new punters understand the beer list by explaining styles and offering tastes, and talking flavour notes and limited releases with beer aficionados.
And what a beer list! The nine tap lineup is constantly rotating, but there’s always something sessionable, always something sour, and generally something dark (The Scratch is one of the few bars in Brisbane that doesn’t shy away from imperial stouts in summer).
Local lagers, approachable pale ales and fresh IPAs sit alongside three or four taps of more adventurous or outright bizarre beers, including pretty much anything by Brewtal Brewers, a Scratch family gypsy brewing outfit. There’s also an extensive and exciting bottle and can list, where most of the beers on the menu fit into one of three broad flavour categories: HOPS, MALT, or YEAST. And, if you’re after a nightcap after a few beers, a back bar of schmick whiskies and gins has got what you need.
When you get peckish (you will – you’ll be here awhile), you can grab a cheese board with dairy or vegan cheeses and the briney goodness of locally made Picklehead Pickles. But, if you’re four beers deep and need something more substantial, take advantage of the BYO food policy, the stack of takeaway menus and the kindness of the nearby restaurants who will happily deliver your food to the bar. You’ll make everyone else mighty jealous when your Indian, Thai or metre-long pizza gets delivered directly to your seat.
Just about every week there’s some event or other to give you an excuse to visit The Scratch (like you needed another one); some are purely beer-related (new beer launches or tap takeovers to showcase a brewery), while others are centred around art or pop culture (local art exhibitions, life drawing, B-Grade film nights).
But the real heroes of the calendar are their unapologetically, ridiculously themed annual summer festival and winter festival: the former – Weekend of Tartness – is a celebration of sour beers, with the whole bar decked out in funky decor and the staff in whatever glitzy costuming fits this year’s theme; the latter – Weekend of Darkness – brings to life creatures from the depths of your nightmares, along with a full lineup of crazy, hard to find, and mind-blowing dark beers; the promo videos provide some quality entertainment too.
If you’re not yet convinced that The Scratch is the centre of the universe, there's more: they have free peanuts in the shell. Form a disorderly queue.