However you look at it, 150 years is a long time for a hotel to be open. Certainly, it’s longer than most of us have been alive.
Given the Pineapple Hotel opened in 1864, making it the fifth oldest license in Queensland, it’s been a watering hole in the fair city of Brisbane for longer than you could call it a city. In that time, the Pineapple has been an ever-changing character in the Brisbane narrative, thanks to various extensions, renovations, the opening of new bars, changes of ownership... always taking into account the shifting nature of the surrounding landscape and culture.
For lovers of good beer, however, the most exciting change at the Pineapple Hotel is the one that came about in late 2017: the opening of Helsby’s Ale House.
In keeping with its parent venue, when you step into Helsby’s, you don’t feel like you’ve stepped into a new bar, you feel like you’ve stepped into the past. The aesthetics are largely a restoration to the golden era of the Pineapple Hotel’s history. The walls are rustic, exposed brick interrupted with leadlight windows. Polished timber floors stretch between the wooden bar front and wood paneling. The seating includes retro booths and leather armchairs to sink into. From these vantage points, drinkers can check out the vintage ads on the walls, as well as oil paintings of historical figures with pineapples (yes, they’re as cool as they sound). It very much has the air of an old pub – or “public bar” if we want to get fancy.
Once you look at the tap list, though, you see this is not the pub of yesteryear when it comes to beer options. Watching over the patrons is a blackboard listing the 16 taps with not a macro lager in sight. The list is perpetually headed by Helsby’s House Lager, brewed in collaboration with Fortitude Brewing at Mt Tamborine. Apart from the occasional visit from one of the overseas greats, the rest of the tap list is all Australian and constantly rotating, with about half of the list made up of Queensland beers at any given time.
This is no accident – general manager and general beer legend Les Riddell is the man overseeing Helsby’s. Les has been a cornerstone of the Brisbane good beer scene for years and one of his guiding principles is to champion local breweries and the great wares they have to offer.
“What I’m really interested in is offering good beer,” says Les, “and really focusing on the local beers, because there’s so much great beer being brewed in South East Queensland.”
Helsby’s hosts a brewery showcase once a month, bringing in a brewer from one of the local operations to share the story and background of the brewery and to take the participants through a range of their beers. And when there’s an abundance of fresh, high quality beer (as well as the people who make it) to be found within 100km of Helsby’s, why wouldn’t you make the most of it?
While Helsby’s Ale House is young, it’s part of an old piece of Brisbane’s history. The Pineapple Hotel has always been proud of its heritage (it’s still named for the pineapple plantations that were sprawled across Kangaroo Point a century ago), and the family that has owned it for the past 30 years remains mindful of hanging onto its memories and preserving its former glory. One of the portraits in the Ale House is of Joseph Helsby, the bar’s namesake, who lived in the hotel for 50 years. When Helsby’s was still in the planning stages, Les remarked: “Why don’t we name it after Joe? He lived here for a long time, and he was part of the furniture.”
That’s the distinctive touch of Helsby’s: a traditional pub that’s keen to honour the past, but isn’t restricted by it. Instead, it takes the strengths of the past (we all love dark timber and big armchairs, right?), and brings them firmly into the present, so that we can appreciate the best parts of both.
May Helsby’s serve good beer to thirsty Brisbanites for generations to come.