Brewski To Close After A Decade Of Beers

July 5, 2024, by Mick Wust

Brewski To Close After A Decade Of Beers

After ten years of championing good beer in Brisbane, legendary beer bar Brewski will be closing its doors when the current lease ends in late August.

Owners Matt Emerson and Antoinette Pollock have seen the venue go backwards more or less since COVID began, and say they couldn’t risk another five-year commitment.

“Heartbreaking decision to make, to kill your lovechild,” Matt told The Crafty Pint. “We just can’t make the numbers add up any more.”

The couple made the hard call to not renew the lease on the Caxton Street venue, citing ever-increasing rent as a key factor.

“Compounding that four percent every year is becoming unmanageable," Matt says. "We’re paying more per square metre than half the places on Queen Street Mall. It’s the Caxton Street tax; people think it’s a goldmine. Can’t pay it anymore.”

Despite a series of meetings with their landlord, they were unable to negotiate an outcome that would work for both parties.

“[We were] still hopeful 'til the end of last week we could work something out… But we had our numbers we had to meet to make a viable future and we couldn’t get there.”

The couple also operate three My Beer Dealer bottleshops, which have been propping up Brewski for a few years.

“We opened the Eagle Junction bottleshop to give us security during the first period of COVID, then Morningside a couple of years later, to keep things on an even keel. And they did exactly that," Matt says.

“But if we hadn’t done that, I’d be on the dole right now, or cleaning The Scratch or something like that.”

Across the industry, business owners have seen drinking habits changing amid the harsh economic climate. And, while their retail stores are weathering the storm, Brewski isn’t.

“It’s just not the same business that we once had,” he says. “When you opened ten years ago, your goal was to get people having four schooners in a visit and you’d get pretty close to that every time. And they’d visit two or three times a week.

“Now those same people come out once a month, and they’ll have two schooners and go home and drink on the couch.”

 

Matt Emmerson and Antoinette Pollock call last drinks at Brewski - just a couple of months shy of the bar's 11th birthday.
Matt Emmerson and Antoinette Pollock call last drinks at Brewski - just a couple of months shy of the bar's 11th birthday.

 

Understandably, Matt and Ant say they're tired after years of fighting an uphill battle while also expanding their business; the struggle has taken its toll.

“You can’t give your hundred percent to both,” is how they put it.

The decision to close Brewski is also designed to help them regain some balance in their personal life.

“It’s the right move. It’s a load off just having made the decision. We just got to get through the next couple months, and I think it’ll be great for our mental health… having a bit less stress around or necks and enjoying the awesome industry we’re in.

“A bit of downtime in this would be lovely.”

Having said that, Matt says there may still be some hustling to be done as they prepare for what comes next.

While the Caxton Street bottleshop will close with Brewski, the plan is for the two other My Beer Dealers to continue. However, as those bottleshops have been running under Brewski’s hotel license, the couple will need to find a new license for them to operate under. One option is a joint venture with another venue, a “symbiotic relationship” in which they’d enter into an agreement to use the other venue’s hotel licence to run stores. The other option would be to open another small venue themselves.

“We’d probably do another drink-in bottleshop concept, and run the hotel licence off from that, but it wouldn’t be as Brewski,” Matt says, explaining that they’re putting the Brewski brand on ice – at least for now.

“We love it, and would certainly love to see it live on in some way. But that’s not our immediate intention.”

 

Matt's keen to give his full attention to the My Beer Dealer bottle shops.
Matt's keen to give his full attention to the My Beer Dealer bottleshops.

 

That said, they remain open to the possibility of reviving Brewski themselves if the right opportunity came up, and are also open to someone else breathing new life into it.

“If someone comes along and says, ‘Hey, I’d love to buy the Brewski brand off you,’ then that’s on the cards, too. It’s not dead and buried if something’s right for it.”

Whether they open a new small venue, stick to the two My Beer Dealer locations, or end up creating another bottleshop brand to run in parallel with MBD – “It’s a big maybe, but that’s certainly possible” – only time will tell.

He adds: “We’ll always fly the indie flag wherever we go. If we don’t, you know things have really gone to shit! That’s one hill we wanna die on. That’s always going to be our mantra.”

And, while Antoinette’s going to explore different career options post-Brewski, Matts feeling energised by the thought of giving his full attention to My Beer Dealer, at least for a time.

“Retail’s going to be my focus for the next while, and I’m really excited about that prospect.

“We’re only 80 percent of where we’d like to be with our in-store offering, our product offering, and online, so just getting steely focused on those goals and fulfilling the original Beer Dealer dream.”


The end of an era?

As Brewski's time comes to an end, Matt and Ant plan to celebrate the good times, of which there's been many.
As Brewski's time comes to an end, Matt and Ant plan to celebrate the good times, of which there's been many.


It’s inevitable that Brewski’s absence will leave a noticeable hole in the Brisbane good beer scene. And while it’s not Matt and Ant’s (or any business owner’s) responsibility to shoulder that burden, they still feel the weight of it.

"I do understand our place in Brisbane craft beer, and I guess we’re blessed to have created that and hopefully be remembered for that. So I know the weight that it might have on the industry. That always worries me a little bit. But I think it will be OK.”

Matt’s confident the Brisbane beer scene isn't crashing down, and the remaining “great players doing beer in Brissie” are carrying the torch with plenty of passion and good beer offerings. So, while the beer and hospitality industries are feeling the hurt, he’s still optimistic about it overall.

“Mighty proud that we’ve contributed to the Brisbane beer scene the way we have, but I don’t think it dies with us by any standard. There’s some great stuff going on. And it’s an evolving scene, and it’ll evolve. And look, we’ll still be a part of it – just in a different way.

"I still think there’s a good future for beer in Brissie."

As for Brewski’s last hurrah over the next month and a half?

“I think it’s gonna be a helluva lot of fun,” Matt says. "I’m expecting we’re gonna have a lot of people come in that we haven’t seen in years, and share stories and hugs and beers. One part of me dreads saying goodbye, but I’m also very excited to hopefully welcome back a heap of old friends.”

While they’re yet to settle on dates, Matt and Ant plan to throw a few more events yet; after all, there are still barleywines stashed in the cellar that need finishing.

“I’m sad, but excited for the next month and a half or so,” Matt says. “Want it to be a celebration of what we created, not a woe-is-me story.”

For all this, they know it’ll be a time of sweet sorrow as they reminisce with the regulars who made Brewski their second home.

“They’ve bought into our dream of what we’ve created. That’s been the best part of what we’ve done, I think. And we’ll definitely miss that.”

Matt and Ant started the process weeks ago, when they saw the likelihood of Brewski coming to an end, but they know the next while will bring more tears.

“I think we’ll probably go through it again – telling everybody, and feeling the love – which will be lovely but also hard.

“Means that we did something right, right?”


If you're feeling nostalgic, you can revisit our Ten Years of Brewski article.

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