If one was seeking a single example of how far the Australian beer scene has developed over the past decade, there’s none better than Brisbane. On January 1, 2010, uttering a phrase along the lines of “vibrant craft beer scene” about the city would have been enough for people to ask what hour of the morning you’d started drinking and just where were you hiding that bottle of meths.
Archive only opened in May 2010, with The Scratch launched in 2011 and the OG Tippler’s Tap the following year. When Green Beacon opened their Mountain Goat like Teneriffe brewpub in January 2013, it felt almost like a curio.
But, as Phil Collins sang in Against All Odds: “Take a look at me now.”
Not only does the city – and the wider South East Queensland region – have a vibrant craft beer scene, it has one that’s very much its own: madcap and magnificent in equal measure.
There are great breweries, quirky brewpubs, sleek bars and dive bars, a beer festival where you could join 14,000 watching The Smith Street Band while drinking their beer and a beer week where anything goes.
If there's one reason above all it’s such a great scene, it's down to the people. If anyone gets around to carrying out a “legends per capita” study of Australian city's beer communities, I’m putting my money on Brewsvegas. And, in a way, this entry in our Advent Calendar is a tribute to all those wonderful people that have created the Brisbane miracle.
You could mount powerful arguments for the likes of Ben Nichols, co-founder of The Scratch and Netherworld and the initiator of Brewsvegas, or Matt Emmerson of Brewski, or Mark Howes at Newstead, among others. Yet we're going with Gillian Letham – AKA Gill from The Mill AKA Gill formerly from The Mill. She might have joined the scene later than some but has imprinted her personality all through it and become one of its most enthusiastic advocates, as recognised with The Special Achievement Award she shared with Ben at this year's Beeries.
Day to day, she runs two suburban beer venues – the Oxford Tap House in Bulimba and The Woods in Mitchelton – although most know her from The Mill on Constance, which closed earlier this year over lease issues with the landlord. While she'd worked in pubs in Scotland and The Rocks, Sydney, prior to moving to Brisbane, her arrival in Queensland's capital was as a cider drinker and buyer for Lorna Jane. It was only when her partner, Gerard Harnett, asked her to help out at The Mill soon after he and mate Lorcan McCarthy had left the construction industry to run a venue, that she had her first real contact with craft beer. And it's one she embraced wholeheartedly.
The Brisbane beer scene was still small then and when Ben walked in one day chatting about getting Brewsvegas off the ground, she offered to help out; two years later she was running it with him. It's become a microcosm of all that's wonderful about the city's beer scene – and there's plenty that's wonderful about it.
So, here's to Gill formerly of The Mill, to Brisbane, its vibrant beer scene, and all who make it such a happy place.
What's been your highlight of the past decade?
To pick a single moment or highlight is no easy feat. We've gone from strength to strength with our venues, getting a grasp on the ebbs and flows of the industry, but also witnessing the ever growing evolution of a once tiny culture.
If there was one highlight, it would be the flux of our regular customers: the ones that have followed us from bar to bar, city to suburb. It never ceases to amaze me when I see a familiar face from the other side of town, ordering their usual and reminding us of how much they love our venues. It's humbling to say the least.
What's surprised you the most about the Aussie beer scene?
The capacity which it can hold. So many times we've sat back and said: "Surely people feel overwhelmed by now" – but we've yet to see any break.
I am constantly surprised that people are just getting to independent beers – sometimes we feel like it's been around forever – and we're always taken aback when someone in their mid 30s utters: "I've just gotten into good beer." Wild.
What are your thoughts on the health of the beer industry as we approach the end of a remarkable decade?
There is a fear that some people see it as a burgeoning industry, in the sense that it has a high turnover. That there is a formula that can be applied to become a successful small brewery, gain popularity, and cash out. Business is business, no matter what industry we find ourselves in, but with one so tightly woven together we find there's a big rift caused by groups seeking to make a quick dollar.
However, one can find that this is pretty clear and only seeks to strengthen those who contribute their entire livelihoods to the passion and culture on which we've built in the past ten years: fast-growing, inclusive and full of nothing but love for those who want to be a part of good beer.
What's your number one goal for the next decade?
In all seriousness? I could say to expand our operations, to grow the culture and break down barriers on the overall perception of the independent beer industry. But I really just want to be able to do a 360 spin on my rollerskates. WOOOOO!
And, if you had one Christmas wish for beer in Australia, what would it be?
That your beers be cold, your feet be up, your pools be wet and your body in absolute tatters from laughter, fun and the night before.
We're opening a door on Crafty's Advent Calendar every morning up until Christmas Day and you'll be able to find them all here.