A city of contrasts, Toowoomba sits at the crown of the Great Dividing Range, 700 metres above sea level overlooking the Lockyer Valley. From the interactive museums to the 150-plus parks and gardens, it's a city that attracts all walks of life.
In recent years, it has become home to a growing number of crafty operations too as well as the annual Brewoomba festival, a touring affair that brings breweries to town and shuttles attendees between participating venues.
Ahead of the fifth running of the festival on August 3, Matt Aitken took a tour of its best beery spots.
Monty Brewing Co
Monty’s is a nano-style production brewery located in Highfields, just outside Toowoomba. Head brewer Nathan Semmens launched the brewery in January 2019 after rising to prominence through local homebrewing circles; he was Queensland Amateur Champion in 2014 and 2015. He designed the digital brewing setup from scratch and is rather proud of his homegrown business.
“We prefer customers to visit the brewery to explain the brewing process," Nathan says. "Some spend ten minutes, some spend hours. We offer the craft beer experience right at the source.”
With a fondness for German style beers, Nathan has developed an impressive range and does his own canning too. He has plans to create a 500 litre brewery/microbrewery system in a hotel – one he hopes will be operational mid-2020 – while still maintaining the existing setup for experimental batches.
The name comes from a large python that used to live in his storage shed. The logo itself is a snake around a glass similar to the Rod of Asclepius used in many health organisation logos where the serpent is instead entwined with a staff as Nathan’s wife is a doctor.
Monty’s current location is 12 Sportsman Drive, Kleinton.
Volcanic have been running for seven months, with Peter and Toni Burton opening their doors to the public on Fridays and Saturdays and dedicating the rest of the week to brewing.
“We started developing fresh wort for the homebrew shop about five years ago. Then we decided to go further, obtain a license and sell some beer,” Peter says.
In addition to providing beer to their loyal customer base, Volcanic have also enjoyed success supplying local events like the Hampton Festival and are looking forward to making their debut at the 2019 Brewoomba, where they're joining other local brewers at the Blank Space precinct and pouring special release My Name is Earl, a Brut rye pale Ale created by the winner of Volcanic’s homebrewing competition.
It's just one example of their community-minded approach, as they're also hosting the finish of the V2V Run for Beer to raise funds for the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, for which the entry fee includes a free Volcanic brew.
Volcanic Brewing is located at 2/161 James Street, Toowoomba, sharing the building with Toowoomba Home Brewers.
4 Brothers Brewing
We first caught up with Adrian Cubit of 4 Brothers in June 2018, as he was launching Toowoomba Lager. Now in operation for two years, the erstwhile barman and train driver who named the brewery in the hope his three brothers would get involved, has expansion in mind.
It will see him releasing more beers in cans in addition to the Lager and, possibly, move to a larger complex closer to the CBD in order to meet the growing demand for craft beer.
“Toowoomba is a fairly large town with a population around 140 to 150,000 and the main service centre for the Darling Downs and Lockyer Valley," Adrian says. "It has a large potential market for locally made beer.”
Four Brothers resides at 73/57 Brook Street, North Toowoomba.
Mackenzie Row Cellars
With three breweries and its own beer festival, it's clear there's enough demand in Toowoomba for someone to dedicate space in their bottleshop to craft beer and that's just what Mackenzie Row Cellarbrations manager Andrew Smith does, stocking a wide range of Australian and international varieties.
“We’re looking to diversify as much as possible," he says. "Give a reason for people to come into the store. Give access to products locals haven’t seen before.”
From perennial Gold Coast favourites Balter through the likes of Brisbane's Slipstream and Green Beacon to the Glasshouse Hinterland operation Brouhaha, Cellarbrations has a strong focus on the surrounding regions.
“Toowoomba is a growing area for craft beer in general," Andrew says. "Lots of craft beer on tap, but not a lot of options in the retail market. Once the brewers see the range, they are happy to get on board.”
Mackenzie Row Cellarbrations is located at 36 Campbell Street, Toowoomba.
The Tapestry Bar is located inside Toowoomba’s famous Fitzy’s Hotel and is fast becoming the new home for craft beer in Toowoomba. The Fitzgibbon family have owned Fitzy’s for more than 18 years, taking over the former Irish bar and embarking on several facelifts over the years. The current incarnation features the revitalised Tapestry, which features ever-changing taps of Australian craft beer.
Marketing manager Anita Armanasco says: “Sometimes we can put a keg on and it can be gone within a night. You need to listen to your patrons. Sometimes they sell, sometimes they don’t. We like to give as much variety as possible.”
It's is a family-run business, with Anita a fifth-generation publican and a new wave set to become the sixth. And it's one that's proving good at securing rarities too: at the time of my visit, they had the just-released Balter/Modern Times collaboration 7000 Smiles pouring.
When Brewoomba rolls around, Tapestry takes a leading role in festivities, opening the car park next door and hosting a mini street festival.
“It’s great to see the locals supporting where they live," says Anita of the festivities. "It’s the biggest day of the year for most of the local bars.”
The Tapestry Bar can be found inside Fitzy’s at 153 Margaret Street, Toowoomba.
Bar Wunder is a recent arrival on the Toowoomba bar scene, opening in the second half of 2018. Owners Mark and Fiona Davis were on the lookout for a restaurant to house their successful German sausage truck when they stumbled upon their current location. After been shown the property, they saw potential for more than just a restaurant.
“We liked The Scratch Bar in Brisbane and wanted somewhere similar that we would like to go in Toowoomba.” Mark says.
The couple are big dog fans and envisioned a place where it was OK to bring your canine friends while having a drink. Bar Wunder is also set to be Brewoomba’s recovery venue in 2019 with a Hair of the Dog brunch on Sunday morning, where they'll be mixing up some Mary’s alongside their food. Dogs are, of course, welcome.
Outside of the festival, call in and you'll be able to pick from a number of taps, including some dedicated to local independent breweries.
Bar Wunder can be found at 424 Ruthven Street, Toowoomba.
The Spotted Cow
The Spotted Cow is the original home of craft beer in Toowoomba – Slipstream's head brewer Ian Watson was operating as a beer sommelier there before most Australians were aware there was more to beer than lager – with manager Phil Coorey one of the founders of Brewoomba.
He says the venue, which is as well known for hosting touring bands as brewers, is stepping it up a notch in 2019 with an emphasis on local.
“The Spotted Cow will take on a more hands-on approach this year and make sure the punters are having a good time and learning about craft beer," Phil says. "We're excited to have the local breweries involved this year. I think that’s a really important step for the Toowoomba craft beer market and Brewoomba.”
The tap offering leans heavily on craft offerings from the bigger brewing companies – the likes of 4 Pines, Pirate Life and Little Creatures, while Phil says the plan for the future is to look at "reaffirming our focus on craft beer, good food and supporting the locals that support us.”
The Spotted Cow is located at 296 Ruthven Street, Toowoomba.
If you're reading this in time, Brewoomba 2019 takes place on August 3 – details here.
NB "Crafty Crawl" is our catch-all title for suburb, area or PT line guides to good beer around Australia and we're not suggesting you take any of them on in one go unless, of course, they're approached sensibly.