The start of next month will mark the end of an era for one of Brisbane's pioneering craft breweries, with Newstead Brewing moving out of the Doggett Street brewpub where their story began. Yet it's also the start of a new chapter for the family-owned operation as they train their focus instead on their Milton venue, which has long been the brewery's main production site, flood interruptions notwithstanding.
The decision follows three years of tumultuous challenges and changes for Newstead, and comes just shy of the tenth anniversary of the day they poured their first beers at Doggett Street. Not only have they been particularly hard hit by the COVID pandemic due to the shutout of crowds at Suncorp Stadium, which had a huge impact on revenue at their Milton venue, but they were unable to brew there for almost nine months last year due to the devastation wrought by last February's floods.
Now, with the production brewery up and running again – albeit with some equipment still to come back online and much of it bearing visible tide marks from the floods – and capacity expanded upstairs at Milton, they decided it was time to work solely on realising that site's full potential.
"It's very bittersweet," says Newstead co-founder Mark Howes. "We had talked in December last year about what we'd do for our tenth birthday party, but that won't be realised.
"That place has a very special place in my heart; it's sad but it's part of the journey."
Mark has played a crucial role in that journey too. He was one of the co-founders alongside his parents as well as the original head brewer, and while he's arguably better known to many beer lovers these days as one half of Working Title, he returned to Newstead as acting general manager in September last year as part of a new team at the helm.
The original Doggett Street chef, Peter Swatton, has returned, while the hospitality side of the business is in the hands of Michelle Thompson, who has spent the past decade working as a wine sommelier and sales rep, and points out she brings plenty of experience in hospo from her time as an actor.
"My passion is story-telling," Michelle says. "When I found out [about the opportunity at Milton], well, what's not to love? It's about the building of a legacy and storytelling."
At the helm of brewing operations is Marcus Cox, whose career in beer has taken him from Australia to the US and back again; despite joining Newstead just before the February floods and spending most of his time since then reclaiming and rebuilding the brewery while beers were brewed offsite across Australia, Mark believes "the beers coming out of Milton are the best they've ever been".
He adds: "Marcus is a great technician and has had the opportunity to redesign the processes to make the beers better. We're very excited about what he's going to achieve."
The new core range melds the familiar with some newer faces, while the limited release program continues unabated; the most recent release is the 11th from their barrel-focused Zoo program, a tempranillo barrel-aged red IPA our writer likened to "chowing down on a bowl of prunes drizzled with date caramel, followed by interspersed licks of an alcoholic toffee apple and an old leather lounge".
As for the venue, they've added another 1,000 square metres to capacity at Milton by opening up the second floor. This space is designed for functions, live music, dancing and comedy, as well as giving them more room to welcome thirsty sports fans on game day now Suncorp Stadium is back in full swing again.
"We're always talking about how Milton is great 30 days of the year," Mark says. "It's what we do with the other 330 that keeps us awake at night!"
And, while nobody would have volunteered for what they've been through since 2020, Mark says it's been a "double-edged sword", creating a pause during which they've been able to reassess just what they want to do with the beers, the business, the venues.
"It's given us an opportunity to remember who we are," Michelle says. "To go back to the authentic bones of the business. Sometimes the bigger beasts can get away from you – now we have got to harness that beast and we're really excited about the vision for it."
In tandem with a more inward focus on Milton will be a focus on being a brewery that makes and sells beers; no more of the days when it seemed barely a month would pass without Newstead announcing a new partnership in the worlds of sport, arts or travel.
"The politics of sponsorships aside," Mark adds, "it just doesn't resonate with what we want to achieve. We want to turn this into the best cellar door in Brisbane and to talk directly with our customers."
They mean this in the literal sense too: there's a chance you'll have been served by Mark or Michelle at the Newstead bar as they've stepped in for shifts during the rebuilding phase. Similarly, the challenges in the brewing side of the business aren't yet over. The machine that builds boxes for the packaging line still isn't working, for example, which means Marcus and the junior brewers with whom he's been reconstructing the beer side of the business have to dedicate a full day solely to putting boxes together beforehand.
"Pack day is pretty heinous," is how Mark describes it, adding: "It means a lot to the staff when they see people rolling up their sleeves."
As for Doggett Street, Newstead's final day there will be March 5; we'll update readers on future plans for the site once we know more. While there's sadness among the brewery's founders to be leaving it behind – it took 12 months of discussions to reach this decision – Mark says there's a silver lining.
"We're still family-owned and operated," he says. "[Newstead] is one of Brisbane's oldest, still-independent breweries, and we're still quite big, all things considered.
"There's something about that that sits right and will resonate with a lot of people."
We caught up with Marcus on a visit to Milton last year for a chat about his two decades in brewing. Look out for his Brew & A when the new era for Newstead commences next month.