There's a new pretender to the crown of Australian craft beer capital, writes Jessica Wynne Lockhart
It's Saturday afternoon, and Your Mates Brewing Co. is absolutely humming — or, as the Sunshine Coast brewery likes to put it, "frothing".
From its nondescript warehouse exterior, I would have never guessed that the inside would be so light and airy, or so packed to the rafters with locals enjoying a leisurely Saturday session.
I'm here because I'm meeting someone for the first time; Your Mates' good pal, Larry. It's a bit of a blind date situation. I'm told to expect a laid-back guy, who loves wearing party shirts and going to barbecues on the beach. He's waiting for me at my table when I arrive.
Larry, it turns out, is a beer.
Personally, I find the idea of consuming my mates a bit alarming. But here we are. Each of Your Mates' beers is named for a character and Larry is, disputably, a refreshing fellow. He's also incredibly popular. After being birthed on the Sunshine Coast, the pale ale was voted the third most popular beer in the country (out of 2200) in the 2021 GABS Hottest 100 Craft Beer rankings. The demand for his company is so popular that Your Mates recently invested an additional $9 million to increase its production from one million to five million litres of beer.
This success story isn't unusual on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, where award-winning beers aren't hard to come by. Likely owing to the fact that cold drinks pair well with endless sunny days, in the last five years, the region's microbrewery scene has exploded, swelling to 23 taprooms for a population of just 350,000 people. With the most breweries per capita, it's emerged as the unlikely capital of craft brewing in Australia — although that's somewhat in contention.
"We're currently in a fight with Melbourne to see who's the craft brewing capital of Australia," says Zoe, a tour guide with Sunshine Coast Craft Beer Tours, when she picks me up for the afternoon.
But unlike Melbourne, the breweries here aren't hidden down hip alleyways. Council zoning means that most of the Sunshine Coast's taprooms are spread across the coast in unassuming warehouses, often just off major motorways.
For example, Moffatt Beach Brewing's production facility — which was named Champion Small Australian Brewery in the 2022 Independent Brewers Association Awards — is nowhere near the beach. Instead, its cavernous taproom effortlessly fit a large food truck in its interior.
Then there's Sunshine Coast Brewery — the state's oldest-running microbrewery — which has the unfortunate luck of being located near the wastewater treatment facility. Fortunately, the smell entirely abates once inside the cosy space, which is reminiscent of a Kiwi rugby club. (Not surprisingly, I later learn that "brewministrator" Daryle Cook grew up in rural New Zealand and is an All Blacks supporter.)
That doesn't mean that the Sunshine Coast's breweries lack in character — or in provenance for their surroundings.
I drive inland through lush rainforest and sweeping cow paddocks until I reach Maleny, home to Brouhaha Brewery in the Sunshine Coast Hinterlands. Its bestselling strawberry rhubarb sour is a love letter to its surroundings; it's made with locally grown strawberries and uses Maleny Dairies' natural yoghurt as its souring culture. In a fully circular economy model, any spent grain from beer production is fed to local wagyu cattle — whose beef is then served in Brouhaha's restaurant.
It's this emphasis on locality that truly defines the Sunshine Coast's brewery scene, says Josh Donohoe, founder of Sunshine Coast Craft Beer Tours.
"You've got a bunch of breweries who are supportive of each other and they're supportive of the region. They also love referring you to go visit another brewery. The collaborative spirit is quite strong here," says Donohoe.
But he also says that it's not just the sheer number of breweries, but the diversity of them that makes this a must-visit destination for craft beer enthusiasts.
"All the breweries offer something different, from their size, to their food, to music, and whether they're dog- or kid-friendly," he says. "You can choose the brewery that suits what kind of experience or atmosphere you want — that's what I love about the Sunny Coast."
DETAILS: SUNSHINE COAST
Fly to Brisbane or Gold Coast and drive to the Sunshine Coast from there.
WHERE TO STAY
Walking distance (or stumbling distance, depending on how many beers you plan on sampling) from Brouhaha Brewery, you'll find Maleny Lodge. Originally built in 1905, the historic Queenslander was fully restored to its turn-of-the-century glory earlier this year, with carefully sourced vintage furniture and décor. Rooms start from AUD$220 ($245).
TRANSPORT AND DRIVER SERVICES
Most of the Sunshine Coast's breweries are spread out, so someone needs to drive. If no one wants to put their hand up, Sunshine Coast Craft Beer Tours offers three different brewery-hopping itineraries throughout the region, alongside hinterland "farm to fork" experiences where you have the opportunity to meet local producers. Its Coastal Hop tour—which includes behind-the-scenes visits to four breweries and lunch—starts from AUD$175 ($195).
visitsunshinecoast.com for more itineraries and inspiration.