“I had Larry Pale Ale on tap in the beginning and I toyed with taking it off, and I swear to God somebody said they’d slash my tyres.”
Given the popularity of Your Mates in their Queensland backyard, as evidenced by Larry Pale Ale making it to number four in the most recent GABS Hottest 100, it’s a quote that could conceivably come from a range of craft beer bars in Queensland.
From a bar inside a golf club in Toowoomba, though?
More than two years ago, we wrote about clubs across the country switching their beer offering to decidedly more crafty options and finding success. Roll forward to today, and not only are those clubs remaining committed to their crafty offerings but they've embraced craft beer even further. Tap takeovers featuring the likes of Cloudwater and Garage Project have been enjoyed by Novocastrians at the Carrington Bowlo and, provided Melbourne’s lockdown ends in time, visitors to Coburg RSL on Father’s Day will get to enjoy honky-tonk tunes and a tap takeover by Dainton Beer.
Those community-minded clubs are far from alone, however, with others having used the pandemic era to invest in the future.
Walk into City Golf Club in Toowoomba and not only will you find Larry looking back at you across The Ambrose Bar – you'll be met by many other craft options spread across the dozen taps. Responsibility for that – and the quote above – lies with Fiona Williams; after initially turning some of their taps to smaller producers, she says they decided to use their renovations as an opportunity to make craft beer and spirits a serious focus.
“A few years ago, we started toying with the idea of bringing some craft into the bar,” she told The Crafty Pint. “When we came out of COVID last year and saw the data of what was selling, we knew we had to get onto it.
“All of these renovations we’ve done are just adding to our business and hopefully ensuring our success for the next 20 years.”
Thus, as part of the club’s $3 million renovations, The Ambrose Bar was born, opening in Easter and, according to Fiona, quickly tapping into a new audience in Toowoomba.
“In a town like Toowoomba, people are seeking it out – that point of difference and that quality,” she says.
“We’ve got an incredibly active homebrew group that are incredibly passionate and serious beer nerds. Then we’ve got Volcanic Brewing and some bars that have had incredible success with craft beer.”
Although the taps in the rest of City Golf Club are contracted to Lion and CUB, Fiona says in The Ambrose Bar she likes to keep the tap lineup as fresh as she can – Larry aside, of course – and works to tap beers many locals would be unlikely to have tried.
“Being winter, dark ales and stouts have been absolutely flying off; I’ve got three on at the moment and they just walk out the door, they just sell themselves,” she says.
The bar sits within a multifaceted venue that includes the golf course, a sporting bar, pokies and a restaurant.
“But," Fiona says, "with the gaming room, the restaurant and Ambrose Bar on a completely different side of the venue, it is easy to separate the two.”
While the average age of their 20,000-odd members is late 50s or 60s, and includes some who might be resistant to anything that isn’t XXXX or Great Northern, they’ve found putting new beers on has given them a point of difference. And it’s some of the clubs more rusted-on members are among those to have embraced the new flavours – and they're not just sitting on Larry either.
“We now got new regulars,” she says. “There’s a lovely young couple – probably in their late 20s or 30s – who come in every Monday for dinner and a couple of pints like clockwork. They come in and say, 'What have you got that’s new? What’s going on?’
“But it’s also some of the older blokes, ‘What have you got that’s new? What’s going on?'.”
Working closely with beer reps has led to some of her ideas taking shape: thoughts of doing something for Oktoberfest quickly expanded into a ticketed event featuring a dozen pop-up bars in City Golf's largest function room.
With close to a hundred members and no gaming machines, Corinda Bowls Club is far smaller than the City Golf Course, but they're no less committed to craft beer. The small community club in Brisbane's southwest boasts 14 taps of craft beer, and first made the switch in September last year thanks to the support of Black Hops and Mighty Craft, with beers from their Brisbane-based brands Ballistic and Slipstream on tap.
Bar manager Karen Baldwin says they started switched the way they operated, putting on social events like barefoot bowls, in order to survive. Promoting local craft beer is part of that, and both the bowlers who are members and the local community have come along for the ride.
“They’ve really embraced the change we’ve made here," she says. "We’re trying to be really family-orientated so mum and dad can have a beer and kids can run around.
“We’ve found that the way a lot of people are coming in now is through word of mouth.”
As well as pouring Black Hops, Ballistic and Slipstream, local breweries including Aether, Revel and Helios are regular sights at the club; the last of those launched their double IPA Icarus at the venue, while Karen says she has a lot of freedom when it comes to working with reps.
“We’re still putting the feelers out to see what people are going to drink," she says. "Personally, I love IPAs but a lot of people are coming in for pale ales."