It was as recently as October 2013 that The Crafty Pint accompanied Mountain Goat to Cairns for the punny launch of their Summer Ale cans. It's fair to say the cases they took to the bowling alley for the launch party were pretty much the only crafty offerings to be found in the wider region; the crew ended up at the Bavarian Beerhouse drinking imported Schneider Weisse later that evening as a result.
Thankfully, it's a situation that's changing rapidly with four new breweries opening their doors for the first time in 2016 and 2017 and a number of venues in Cairns adding craft beers to their offerings. There's more to come too, with Port Douglas based Hemingway’s set to open a massive brewpub in a 1400 square metre heritage listed space at the Cairns Cruise Liner Terminal in 2018.
So, what better time to join us on a tour through Far North Queensland, or FNQ, on a Crafty Crawl that winds its way past cane fields, tropical rainforests and kilometre after kilometre of stunning beaches.
It’s a crawl that starts in central Cairns, ventures out through the northern suburbs and then embarks on one of the most scenic coastal drives in Australia en route to Port Douglas. With some of the breweries having limited opening times, parts of this crawl can only be done on a Thursday or Friday – and, if you’re not keen on bus travel, then a designated driver will prove very handy.
STOP ONE: CORAL SEA BREWING CO
Thanks to its "Welcome to the Tropics" slogan, the first stop on this crawl has to be Coral Sea Brewing. The brewery, which launched in mid 2017, is found in the heart of Cairns at the back of Palm Court in Lake Street. You'll know you've found it when you see the image of a large coral trout on the window in front of two bright copper kettles.
The site is the former home of Blue Sky Brewing, which closed its doors in 2014. Head brewer Morgan Hind, who spent a couple of years at both Gage Roads and Stone & Wood, welcomes craft beer fans on Thursday and Friday between 3pm and 7pm.
There are no pretences here, just handcrafted beer poured by the brewer amongst the fermenters. The focus is very much on tropical flavours with the core offerings the Coral Sea Tropic Ale, Tropic Lager (their biggest seller) and Tropic Session (a mid-strength beer at 3.5 per cent ABV). Morgan has also been doing a few specialty brews including a wheat beer that has proved popular with the locals and a rye IPA.
If you can’t get to the brewery during tasting times don’t worry, you will find Coral Sea beers on tap at quite a few venues in town.
You'll find Coral Sea Brewing in Palm Court, 40 Lake Street, Cairns City.
STOP TWO: THREE WOLVES
Less than five minutes walk from Coral Sea Brewing, tucked down a red brick laneway off Abbott Street, is Three Wolves.
Co-owned by Darren Barber, Sam Kennis and Grant Buckham, Three Wolves opened its doors in September 2016 and has been offering locals and tourists the sort of small bar experience you'd more typically associate with a night out in Melbourne or Sydney, complete with a stunning mural by local artist Caroline Mudge depicting three very dapper looking wolves and a big (rather than little) Red Riding Hood.
It has a fine selection of spirits, cocktails, wine and beer plus a tapas menu based on American street food. The two taps at Three Wolves both pour craft beer and there's a good selection of packaged brews too. When The Crafty Pint called in, Young Henrys Newtowner was on tap alongside Coral Sea's Tropic Lager. The packaged offerings included beers from Barrier Reef, Feral, Gage Roads, Stone & Wood, Newstead and Pirate Life.
You'll find Three Wolves in Red Brick Laneway, 32 Abbott Street, Cairns City (from 4pm daily).
STOP THREE: BARRIER REEF BREWING CO
A 15 minute drive from central Cairns up the Captain Cook Highway will bring you to Barrier Reef Brewing – look out for the large turtle sign on the front of the building. Brewer and co-owner Cameron McPherson opens his brewery for tasting and cellar door sales on Thursdays (5pm to 7pm) and Fridays (4pm to 6pm).
There are four core beers in the range – the flagship Two Turtles Pale Ale, Arlington Amber Ale, the colourfully named Prawn Star Pilsner and, for something different, the Double Shot Coffee Amber, infused with cold brewed coffee sourced from neighbours Sipping Duck Coffee Roasters. All Barrier Reef beers are packaged in bottles and they can be found in many of the local restaurants and bars if you can’t make it to the brewery during tasting times.
Both Cameron and his partner, Caroline Passingham, have a background in veterinary medicine and their passion for wildlife comes through in many aspects of the brewery. For starters, there is the omnipresent turtle logo and, with every bottle of pale ale sold, a donation is made to the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre. If, by chance, you're in need of an excuse to knock back a Barrier Reef pale ale helping save marine wildlife might just be it.
Find Barrier Reef Brewing Co at 2/17 Johnston Street, Stratford, Cairns.
STOP FOUR: MACALISTER BREWING COMPANY
Is it possible to create the homely vibe of a traditional English pub in a shed in suburban Cairns? Rob and Rachel (Hoppy) Callin believe so, hence opening their microbrewery at Smithfield, about 15 kilometres north of the CBD.
Hailing from Yorkshire, the pair has taken a simple industrial warehouse and turned it into something special with a small bar, a great outlook over cane fields to the Macalister Range and an “It’s our local” atmosphere.
Since Macalister Brewing opened in May 2017, there has been a steady stream of regulars coming through the door to enjoy a freshly poured beer, chat with Rob and Hoppy, fill their growlers and grab something to eat from the food vendor parked out the front.
An industrial chemist by trade, Rob is busy brewing on Monday and Tuesday before throwing the large roller doors open from midday Wednesday to Sunday. The brewery offers an ever-changing selection of handcrafted beers, including the interestingly named and popular School Day IPA – a tropical mid-strength ale referencing Rob’s time as a high school chemistry teacher.
With a large hardware store just around the corner, “I’m just popping down to Bunnings” has taken on a whole new meaning for the beer-loving folk of Smithfield and surrounding areas.
Call in on Rob and Hoppy at 6 Danbulan Street, Smithfield, Cairns.
STOP FIVE: HEMINGWAY’S BREWERY
The last stop (and not one to miss) is Hemingway's Brewery, located at the stunning Reef Marina (pictured at top of the article) in Port Douglas, just over an hour drive up the Captain Cook Highway from Cairns (yes, we realise this is stretching the concept of a "crawl" somewhat, but bear with us!). A large gastro brewpub, Hemingway’s is the first of its kind in FNQ – and is open from 8am daily for those who like to get an early start.
As you might imagine, a pub called Hemingway’s has a few stories to tell. In fact, every ale has its own tale. The stories describe an element of the region’s colourful past or the trailblazers who were part of it. There is Pitchfork Betty’s Pale Ale, inspired by a publican known to wield a pitchfork at rowdy patrons. Prospector Pilsner tells the yarn of James Venture Mulligan, who first found gold in FNQ’s Palmer River, and Doug’s Courage IPA celebrates the spirited nature and fortitude of the Port Douglas pioneers.
There are six core beers in Hemingway’s lineup and a wide variety of Australian and international craft beers on rotation. Bar staff will happily fill a two-litre growler for you or can provide one-litre cans filled and sealed right before your eyes. Hemingway’s offers a menu of gourmet pizzas, burgers, tapas and BBQ-style food. It also has a strong events calendar with live music, innovative cuisine and guest beers a regular feature.
The setting couldn’t be more idyllic – a large boardwalk overlooking the marina is the perfect place to sit with a cold beer and ponder your own short story.
Hemingway's is located in The Reef Marina, 44 Wharf Street, Port Douglas.
Strolling along the Esplanade appears to be a ritual for tourists in Cairns. And there's a couple of places where you can quench your thirst with a tasty beer while watching the parade of backpackers, international visitors, Aussie “southerners” and perhaps even one or two locals stream by.
- The Bavarian Beerhouse – As you would expect, imported German brews dominate here, with more than 20 on offer. There's also a selection of Australian craft beer to wash down the hearty German cuisine. Find it at 77 Esplanade, Cairns City.
- The Courtyard – Another relatively new venue at time of writing, The Courtyard has one of the city’s more expansive craft beer ranges on tap, including their special "gnome brew" of the month. It's a short stroll away at 91 Esplanade, Cairns City.
About the author: Philip Goslin is a Melbourne-based writer who likes watching football, playing guitar and fly-fishing — the common thread in these passions is always beer.