Felons Barrel Hall shares some characteristics with the Felons Brewing venue next door, some characteristics with the beer halls of Germany, and some characteristics with other local breweries’ barrel venues. And yet it’s distinctly unlike all of them.
Where else can you get a Munich-style Helles conditioned in Australian whisky barrels? Where else can you get a crispy pork knuckle served up with Vietnamese nahm jim chilli sauce? Where else can you find a 1200-person capacity live music venue where, instead of drinking a commercial beer from a plastic cup, you’re drinking a stein of lager brewed on site, a delicate barrel-aged sour, or an Aussie natural wine?
When the Felons crew started work on their barrel program, they wanted to explore “the art of the blend” – but they decided to let that philosophy reach further than just the beer, and to shape the Barrel Hall itself. So, while it’s part of the same Howard Smith Wharves precinct as the Felons brewing operation, the Barrel Hall has its own unique personality.
“Felons as a brand is clean and minimal,” says brand director Dean Romeo. “For the Barrel Hall, we thought, ‘Let’s turn our cap backwards and get a bit creative.’.”
The huge space – formerly a function venue called Howard’s Hall – is laid out like a Munich beer hall, with rows of picnic table style seating stretching the length of the main area, under high ceilings and with a couple of glass walls inviting sunlight in to fill the space. When live music isn’t flowing from the main stage, three custom ping pong tables and a few pinball machines are there to keep you entertained as you sip from your heavy-handled one litre stein.
At night, the venue takes on the edge of Berlin nightclub as the neon lights and disco ball fill the darkness with their party energy. You’re never going to forget you’re in Brisbane, though; you’re either looking out at the Brisbane River through one of the glass walls, or you’re heading to the alfresco area to sit right over the water.
Whatever time of day you’re there, however, you can’t miss the racks of oak barrels lining the wall; the Felons crew had amassed more than 150 barrels at time of writing. And this is where the real party is happening.
Barrel conditioning beers is a partnership between the expertise of the brew team and the mysteries that live in the darkness inside the barrels. At any given time, the brewers are either working on their next masterpiece or waiting patiently for time and oak to work their magic on the liquid: for the crisp lager to pick up vanilla and hay notes; for the sours to develop and take up the subtleties of red and white wine flavours; for the imperial stouts to soften and complexify.
As the months tick over, different barrel-aged beauties will ripen in their own time before appearing on tap and in tall champagne bottles for you to experience the nuances of the barrel and the blend. Look out for the first releases landing in autumn 2022.
If you’re after more straightforward beers, never fear as there are always other options to choose from, including the Crisp Lager, Australian Pale Ale, Natural Ale and IPA pouring directly from 6,800 litre stainless steel tanks looming over the main bar. And, with 88 taps spread across all areas of the Barrel Hall, you’re never far away from a freshly filled glass. (There’s also seltzer, cider, kombucha, spirits, cocktails, and plenty of low intervention Aussie wines alongside a few traditional French drops if you can’t find a beer to sate your needs.)
When it comes to the food to pair with your beer, the “art of the blend” philosophy strikes again. While the OG brewery venue serves the more predictable wood-fired pizza, the food menu at the Barrel Hall is a bit more weird. But good weird.
“We love the thought of cracking this 36-month barrel-aged beer, and we asked ourselves, ‘What kind of food would we want to eat with something like that? Something that has so much story, and so much flavour…’ and we settled on some pretty rock and roll flavours.”
The main combo is the refreshing flavours of South East Asian food meets German beer hall vibes. Think Wagyu short rib with coconut and herbs, or Angus rump with chilli tamarind dressing, or crispy pork knuckle with nahm jim. Think burgers stuffed with Kung Pao fried chicken or Vietnamese prawn katsu or coconut glazed portobello mushroom. Think red curry with braised Angus brisket, or coral trout and mushroom jungle curry. But you’re also on the river, so you can get your Aussie seafood hit with Sydney rock oysters or a Moreton Bay bug slider if you’d prefer.
Of course, in a space like this, there’s more on offer than just laid-back eating and drinking. There’s also live music by local artists every week, Sunday sessions with activities for the whole family, movie nights and trivia and festivals and feasts… everything you’d expect from a pumping beer hall, and plenty you didn’t expect. The Felons team know they’re on prime real estate, so they see it as their duty and privilege to be a cultural and creative hub in whatever ways they can be.
They also take their responsibility to be socially and environmentally conscious seriously. Part of this is achieved by minimising their footprint and diverting a whopping 96 percent of all Felons waste from landfill through a mix of composting and recycling programs. Part of it is done by giving a platform to local talent on the music stage and local visual artists around the venue. Part of it comes from running fundraising events for non-profit organisations throughout the year.
At the end of the day, the ethos of the Felons brand is about embracing adventure and enjoying the good life that’s right in front of you, and the Barrel Hall captures that in all kinds of ways. Do you want to explore the intricacies of beer aged in French oak? Do you want to swing a stein of Munich Helles in true beer hall fashion? Do you want to pick at seafood as the sun sparkles on the Brisbane River?
The Barrel Hall beckons.