“We’re passionate about propelling Brisbane forward for the better and being culturally responsible for what the visual identity of the city looks like.”

Dean Romeo

If you’d told the team behind Brisbane’s Felons Brewing five years ago, right when they were swinging open the doors to their daring brewery and venue down under The Story Bridge, that they’d get to the point, in just half a decade, of being considered the best brewpub in the country and an integral part of the cultural fabric of their home city, they’d no doubt have laughed you off and simply said “no way”.

Yet if they’d been able to see the bright side of an at-the-time crushing occurrence, they may just have got an inkling in to how these intervening years would unfold.

Back in early December 2018, and mere weeks into their tenure, they famously (or infamously, depending on which way you look at it) ran out of beer. Now, some would say that’s a good problem to have for any fledgling brewing company, but when you’ve got pride of place on the Brisbane River within the historic Howard Smith Wharves precinct, and you’ve got a foundation aim of being a brewery the local community can call their own, there’s definitely a duty of care to serve the people.

But in all the glory of hindsight, it was simply the first indication of many more to come about how much the good folk of Brisbane would take to Felons’ way of doing things and how they’d quickly become one of the city’s most desirable hospitality destinations.

“We were completely taken off guard by the community support from the outset,” Felons’ brewery director Tom Champion told us. “Running out of beer didn’t feel good at all at the time, but I guess it really solidified in us that the people of Brisbane were wanting something like this, they were desperate for it in fact. There was so much support in those early days, so many people coming down with such good positive energy.”

And as they’ve added to their arsenal, with the likes of opening the incredible Barrel Hall in late 2020 in the Howard’s Hall building adjacent to their original location, and hosted events, wholeheartedly supported the city’s arts and culture, won countless awards for a variety of styles and so much more, the people have kept coming and the beers have, thankfully, stayed pouring.

To do the latter has been no mean feat either, and not just because they’ve proved popular, but, as Tom put it, due to “the logistical nightmare of running a manufacturing facility right in the middle” of their world-class location.

But persevere they have and in turn they have become many things to many people in their five years of operation as the demographic they now serve is far from your average craft beer fan. Thanks to their location and the services they offer, they are now a go-to venue for many regardless of whether they’re partial to a beer by the river.

“It’s pretty surreal to be downstream and looking back at the punt we took of turning an events space into the Barrel Hall and that it worked out,” Felons’ brand director Dean Romeo said. “(The Barrel Hall) plays an important role in the Felons personality – the live music, the south east Asian flavours on the menu, the 26,000-plus litres of beer in barrel lining the walls.

“We’re passionate about propelling Brisbane forward for the better and being culturally responsible for what the visual identity of the city looks like.”

Walk through Felons’ sprawling offer at dusk on any warm Brisbane evening and the place will invariably be humming. People are literally scattered everywhere taking in multiple different vantage points with everything from one of their Crisp Lagers to the latest barrel aged release in hand. It’s a sight to behold and there’s little wonder why it’s rated so highly by all-comers.

But, as many of our judges attested to, it still feels a very personal, intimate environment regardless of the foot traffic and is where you will still get excellent hospitality, with a smile. And, if you want to go a touch deeper, insights into their beers and the brewing process are just an interested gesture away.

“We like to talk about the ‘tripod of success’ or the tripod that holds up a successful brewing company that has a hospitality venue attached– and those three pillars are: people, product and place,” Dean continued.

“Looking after the community and its people is super important and that includes our staff. We offer two free yoga classes a week for staff, we have a weekly run club, we do discounted food rates for our team, hold an epic annual staff party and a quarterly barbeque – just to say ‘thanks’.

“When it comes to product, we’re just constantly striving to make the best beer imaginable and to constantly innovate and push forward new tastes and different styles.

“And by focussing on those things, the local community can arrive and instantly drop their shoulders and just be themselves in the place.

“I can’t help but smile when the place is at its capacity and the music is loud and the lights are dimmed. It just feels like everybody is having a really good time. People leave their stuff at the door. That brings a great deal of pleasure.”

What the judges said:

“If you’re a city’s go-to beer destination, you’re doing something right.”

“I know how hard the team there work to give an exceptional hospitality experience that really is unrivalled given its location.”

“Sitting on the river, drinking amazing beers from the tank and barrel, can be a life changing moment!”

“Felons stands out because it delivers on every aspect of hospitality. When the beer, food, aesthetics, service and location (what a view!) are all exceptional, the experience is always going to follow suit.”

Previous winners:

*There was no winner in 2020 due to Covid-19’s impact on the hospitality industry.

You can view all of our 2023 Awards coverage here.

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