Cairns could well be one of the most mispronounced cities in Australia. It's named after William Wellington Cairns, Governor of Queensland from 1875 to 1877.
Most Australians and international visitors tend to focus on the “air” when saying Cairns. But, believe it or not, it’s pronounced “cans” – just ask a local (thanks, Elle, for pointing this out!) – and that sounds very appropriate when you are on a mission to find out what’s happening in the local craft beer scene.
A lot happens in the craft beer world in a week, let alone a year, and it appears that Cairns (that’s “cans”, remember) in Far North Queensland (FNQ) is no exception. After being somewhat of a slow adopter on all things crafty, the pace has picked up rapidly.
The Crafty Pint last checked-out the FNQ beer scene in October 2017 and, with word out of at least one new major development, we thought it timely to take another look at what has been happening with local breweries and venues in Australia’s tropical paradise – whether they are serving beer on tap, in bottles or … in cans.
What we found is a massive new Hemingway’s brewpub in a brilliant location on the Cairns waterfront and most of the major players expanding their facilities and beer offerings. A common theme among brewery owners was that the beer loving public of FNQ had increased its appetite for craft beer significantly and the industry is booming as a result. It appears as though craft beer is enjoying its moment in the tropical sun – and long may it last.
As was the case in 2017, this Crawl starts in central Cairns, heads out through the northern suburbs and then to Port Douglas via one of the most scenic coastal drives in Australia. It’s 70 kilometres – yes, it’s a haul for a crawl – but with a designated driver you’ll have even more opportunity to enjoy roadies (in cans) while traveling through cane fields, tropical rainforests and past beautiful white sandy beaches.
STOP ONE: HEMINGWAY'S BREWERY CAIRNS WHARF
First stop is the new kid on the block … well kind of. Hemingway’s already has a strong profile in FNQ thanks to its stunningly positioned brewpub in Port Douglas. However, its new Cairns Wharf venture on Trinity Inlet takes the Hemingway’s gastro brewpub model to a whole new level.
Located in a heritage-listed early 1900s warehouse at the Cairns Cruise Liner Terminal, the first thing that strikes you about Hemingway’s Brewery Cairns Wharf is its size … it is vast. Occupying 1400 square metres – a space that's accentuated by high ceilings and exposed timber beams – it is Queensland’s largest craft brewery north of Brisbane and one of Australia’s biggest brewpubs.
The main bar extends over 19 metres and the venue has a total of 50 taps serving 20 different beers. There are ten core beers in the Hemingway’s range (up from six in 2017). That means 50 percent of the brews on tap are from other Australian or international craft breweries.
Hemingway’s has duplicated its successful Port Douglas food offering for the Cairns venue with an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients in a menu comprising gourmet pizzas, burgers, tapas and barbecue-style food. There's also a providore showcasing some of the region’s craft food produce as well as local and international spirits.
The brewpub is open from 10am to midnight daily and brewery tours are held on Saturdays from 12pm to 4pm (call 07 4099 6663 to book).
Hemingway’s Brewery Cairns Wharf, 4 Wharf Street, Cairns.
STOP TWO: BARRIER REEF BREWING CO
Barrier Reef Brewing may be dwarfed by the size of Hemingway’s but it too has expanded to meet strong demand from customers – both individual and commercial.
Owners Cameron McPherson and Caroline Passingham originally concentrated on packaged beer sales to local venues with an emphasis on the upper end of the hospitality sector. While that still accounts for 90 percent of business – the distinctive “hopturtle” logo that adorns every bottle can be found in about 50 local venues – they have now started delivering kegs as many clients were after Barrier Reef beers on tap.
That led to a taproom being established at the brewery in Stratford (a 15 minute drive north of Cairns CBD) in March 2018 and an expanded offering to their loyal customers.
The brewery now has extended opening hours (Thursday and Friday 5pm to 7pm and Saturday 2pm to 6pm), a broader beer range and a food vendor out the front on Friday nights. It is also set to double production capacity.
Barrier Reef Brewing Co is at 2/17 Johnston Street, Stratford, Cairns.
STOP THREE: MACALISTER BREWING COMPANY
Macalister Brewing had only been open six months when owners Rob and Rachel (Hoppy) Callin knew they had to expand, such was the demand from locals. Just before Christmas 2017 they leased the industrial unit next door, expanding the bar area from 45 to 160 square metres.
They also doubled brewing capacity from 2,000 to 4,000 litres and upgraded equipment with a $200,000 investment. Importantly, the premises retain the unlikely vibe of a traditional English pub (Rob hails from Yorkshire) set in an industrial warehouse.
The venue has a spectacular rural outlook over cane fields to the Macalister Range and an “it’s our local” feel. The view is something Rob and Hoppy have had to fight for with a proposed development threatening to foil their operation early in 2018. That stirred the locals into action and more than 2,000 submissions were submitted to council objecting to the development.
You will find between six and eight beers on tap and, before too long, that will be out to ten or more. Session beers are very much the emphasis here and the core range includes the popular Latitude 17 (a tropical blonde) and School Day IPA (a tropical mid-strength ale). There are usually one or two specialty beers on tap and, at time of writing, that included a German style Kolsch and an imperial amber ale.
Located in Smithfield, the brewery is open Wednesday to Sunday from midday with food trucks operating from Thursday to Sunday.
Macalister Brewing Company is at 6 Danbulan Street, Smithfield, Cairns.
STOP FOUR: HEMINGWAY’S BREWERY PORT DOUGLAS
If you started at Hemingway’s Brewery you may as well finish there. The picturesque drive up the Captain Cook Highway from Cairns to Port Douglas (just over an hour) is worth it alone and when you arrive you will experience a magnificent setting in which to enjoy another Hemingway’s beer, with their northern outpost located within the renamed Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina and is open from 8am daily.
The Port Douglas brew kit has now been cast into the role of new product development for Hemingway’s, with large volume production being handled at Cairns Wharf. However, all of the Hemingway’s core range is on tap here along with a variety of Australian and international craft beers on rotation. With a CANimal machine behind the bar, staff can provide one-litre cans filled with fresh beer from the tap and there are also two-litre growlers available.
The venue has a strong events calendar with live music, innovative cuisine and guest beers a regular feature. And the setting couldn’t be more idyllic – a large boardwalk overlooking the superyacht marina is the perfect place to sit with (yet another) cold beer after enjoying a crafty crawl FNQ style.
Hemingway’s Brewery Port Douglas, Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina, 44 Wharf Street, Port Douglas.
Coral Sea Brewing
It’s no longer possible to drop into Coral Sea Brewing as tasting sessions are on hold; however, that may change so check the brewery's website if you are in town. Head brewer Morgan Hind has been so busy filling orders from local venues (including a relationship with a backpacker chain that's installed tap systems) he no longer has time to open up his own place. You will, however, find Coral Sea beers at quite a few venues in town and with an emphasis on tropical flavours they suit the climate perfectly. They will soon be available in cans as well.
Tucked down Red Brick Laneway at 32 Abbott Street in Cairns is Three Wolves. Open from 4pm daily, it offers the type of small bar experience you’d typically associate with Melbourne or Sydney, including a fine selection of spirits, cocktails, wine and beer. Three Wolves owners are serious about beer – they are behind a new microbrewery in Gosford called Bay Rd Brewing – and at least two taps pour craft beer with a good selection of packaged brews.
Cairns Esplanade, northern beaches and bottleshops
The Esplanade is the main tourist strip in Cairns and, if you're out for a stroll, drop into the The Bavarian Beerhouse or The Courtyard (pictured above). Both have a selection of Australian craft beer on offer, while The Bavarian Beerhouse can satisfy a craving for imported German brews too.
There are plenty of other venues in Cairns with at least one tap dedicated to craft beer and, if you head to the northern beaches, you’ll find a growing number of venues that have either craft on tap or a range of packaged offerings. These include The Bluewater at Trinity Park, Chill Café and Underground at Palm Cove, Ellis Beach Bar & Grill and Blue Moon Grill at Trinity Beach.
If your thirst still isn't quenched, there are a few bottleshops in Cairns that have an extensive craft offering. Bottlemart stores at 35 Shields Street and 30 Abbott Street offer a good range of Australian and international craft beer as does the drive-through at The Bungalow Hotel in Westcourt, three kilometres from central Cairns.
You can find other entries in our Crafty Crawls series here or download the Crafty Pint app for free and find hundreds of good beer venues all over Australia.
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.