It’s the 1820s: Four convicts from Sydney are the first westerners to stumble upon the Brisbane River after bad weather seriously messes with their navigation.
Fast forward more than a century to the 1930s: The Howard Smith Wharves and the Story Bridge are constructed to provide relief work during the Depression years.
Take another leap in time to 2018: Felons Brewing Co opens in the Howard Smith Wharves precinct under the Story Bridge, named for the quartet that found themselves on the river almost two centuries earlier.
Whether you care for the nod to history or not, it’s hard to be anything other than wowed by Felons. Their stated goal is to become part of Brisbane's culture – “a brewery for the people of the local community to call their own” – and the spot in which they're brewing beers set to make their way across the city and its festivals then further afield through 2019 certainly helps.
Drinking beer fresh from the source is always special, but the location here pushes the experience to a new high: the sparkle and ripple of the river; the criss-crossed girders of the Story Bridge reaching overhead; the monumental rocky cliffs watching over the buildings; the skyscrapers of Brisbane silhouetted against the sky.
The heritage-listed Howard Smith Wharves, which lay abandoned for so many years, is now an entertainment and dining precinct that can hold its own on the world stage. And at the heart of it all? The Felons brewery, which takes centre stage within a 1000m² venue offering an array of drinking and dining experiences all on its own.
When it comes to the beer, the Felons team has an attractive philosophy infusing what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.
Head brewer Tom Champion, one a few team members with Little Creatures pedigree on his CV, says his goal is to make “beautiful, balanced beers and cider of no fuss.” Good for people who might not have visited an independent brewery before. Good for people who appreciate high quality beer. Good for anyone in the Queensland climate.
As for the wider Felons experience, perhaps the most obvious is out on the deck: looking out over the Brown Snake with a Crisp Lager and a burger... can you get more Brisbane than that?
Or you might choose to sit inside, beneath the wooden trusses of the original wharf structure. Sip on an IPA that was poured from one of the four serving tanks behind the bar (named Pamphlett, Parsons, Finnegan, and Thompson after the four felons themselves) and order yourself a pizza. When the kitchen has two wood-fired pizza ovens, kept at different temperatures for different bases, you know they’re dishing up the good stuff.
To get the full brewery experience, you can wander right up to the brewing tanks, cold Middy in hand, and chat with the brewers about the 25hL four-vessel system and the brewing process. There’s also the option to go on one of the daily brewery tours, wander the labyrinth of stainless steel tanks, and watch the bottles whizz past on the packaging line.
The courtyard out the back is the ideal spot for a sparkling Sonny Cider paired with chargrilled broccolini and whipped cod roe. When you’re sitting out there on a wooden bench, among the flagstones, bougainvillea and olive trees, you’d swear you were in the Mediterranean.
Head next door to the Felons Barrel Hall, opened in October 2020, to get a look into Felons’ barrel-ageing and blending program. Gaze upon ex-wine barrels stacked high, all full of beers being conditioned for future enjoyment. Of course, this Bavarian-style beer hall isn’t just for those wanting to explore the fancier end of the beer spectrum. It’s also a place you can feast on Asian-inspired dishes, play ping pong, and listen to live music by emerging artists every weekend, all while swinging a half-litre or litre stein of fresh beer.
And you can always return to Australia by popping back to the open parkland. Sit on the grass, savour an Australian Pale Ale in the sun, and rip into a bucket of prawns or some fish and chips wrapped in paper.
It’s always refreshing to see people making beer without taking themselves too seriously, and that’s Felons in a nutshell. As general manager Ash Cranston says: “Beer’s fun. We want to be out there showing people that beer is a lot of fun.” One way to do that has been to convert a firetruck into a beer truck and nickname it 'Boss'. Because why not?
Felons hasn’t wasted any time becoming an iconic Brisbane experience. From celebrating Brisbane history to celebrating Brisbane art (just wait til you see the old wooden trawler that’s become a canvas for Anthony Lister). From being a destination for visitors to our city to a local watering hole for all kinds of Brisbanites. From serving beer all around the venues (just try to count all the taps), to serving beer from a firetruck.
Whether you’re drinking a lager or an IPA; whether you’re eating a Grilled Angus Short Rib at a table inside or fish and chips on the grass; whether you’re looking at a river, a firetruck, an olive tree, an old boat, a stack of barrels, or a line of stainless steel brewing tanks…
Welcome to Felons. It’s kind of a big deal.