Two mental health professionals have taken up a very different calling, and are on track to set up Easy Times Brewing Co in Brisbane this year.
David Ferguson, a UK native, and his partner Anita Boettger are launching Easy Times Brewing Co at The Gabba, in the south of the city.
”Before we decided to open a brewpub to give Brisbane locals a place to kick back, relax and have some easy times, we were both in mental health,” Ferguson explained.
But he started his career at a very different place, first as a “web monkey” at Cambridge University Press. But this wasn’t a route he wanted to follow.
“I never loved it so trained in one busy of my passions. Community work. I ended up setting up my own practice specialising in addictions and helping adult survivors of childhood trauma… but after seeing over 4,000 clients I needed a change.”
Boettger, who has her own practice, has a background in hospitality, having put herself through her psychology degree. She will be running the pub side of the brewpub.
The Easy Times team largely self funded the brewpub, but they had help from friends and family too.
“While me and Anita are the main people involved, our mates Juice and Chloe have a small stake as does my brother who is in the industry in the UK.
“His pub The Bay Horse Tavern won best pub in Manchester (UK) in 2018. I had my first ever Cloudwater Small Ale in there which convinced me that it is possible to make really tasty beer that isn’t going to make you wobble as much as my beloved big DIPAs. My lovely mum, cousin and a few other close mates have a small interest also.”
Location, location, location
As with most new breweries, finding the perfect location for your needs is both key, and one of the most challenging aspects.
“Anita and I emailed every commercial real estate agent I could find with our requirements,” explained Ferguson.
The team were focusing on the northside of Brisbane to no avail, with landlords being put off by zoning requirements, until a serendipitous phone call.
“On our budget, there weren’t too many suitable choices although we looked at over 20 potential venues. We first heard about the beautiful Gabba site via a phone call from Ben Hackett in 2018 but it was out of our price range and we knew nothing about the area.
“We weren’t even considering The Gabba until one day when I was at Range Brewing crushing a delish DDH pale ale being all whinging pom about not finding a venue yet, the marvellous Matt and Ally suggested we consider Woolloongabba.”
At this point, Ferguson and Boettger got help from their friends in the brewing industry.
“Dan Norris from Black Hops helped us out massively here by contacting his own landlord and asking him to vouch that leasing a venue for a craft brewery could have a positive influence on the value of the property. He kindly agreed. What a community.”
Incentives and proximity to The Gabba stadium made it both affordable and desirable, but Ferguson was not naive about the challenges of operating in a well-serviced market.
“It is going to be very, very hard work to establish a brewpub with so many great breweries just around the corner such as Semi Pro, Brisbane Brewing Co, Revel, Ballistic, Helios and Slipstream. The new Brewdog isn’t too far away either so it’s competitive AF.”
Getting into brewing
Like for many Brits, pubs were a part of life and Ferguson explained that’s where his love of beer came from.
“I am an English immigrant who’s loved experimenting different real ales since I could blag myself into my local pub back home. Brains Skull Attack, London Pride, Timothy Taylor Landlord… I loved them all,” he said.
“We were looking at opening a small craft beer bar together and leaving the very rewarding yet exhausting field of mental health.
“We had also started to home brew with our mates Juice and Chloe who we’d meet in the Scratch Bar most Friday afternoons to discuss our latest creations.”
Although homebrewing is perhaps underselling it, as the team were using a pretty special kit. Boettger’s heritage is German, and according to the Easy Times team, her parents are direct descendants of “the father of the Pilsner” Josef Groll, a Bavarian brewer hired by the Czech town of Pilsen (and the rest is history).
“We were using a rather large SS Brewtech three vessel system as well as a Grainfather, a keezer and a kegerator, five fermenters and a glycol chiller.
“We worked on perfecting Anita’s ancestor’s Original Groll Pilsner. Matt from Brewski, Emily (now at The Woods Bar), Jimmy (now at Milton Common) and Dave from Aether all gave it the thumbs up an so did our other mates.”
Ferguson was tight-lipped when it came to who will be Easy Times’ head brewer, only saying they are “one of the most exciting young brewers in Australia and has produced award-winning beers for award-winning breweries.”
When they are in place, they will be brewing on a two-vessel 10hL direct fire system from Brewtique.
“We will only have six fermenters as there isn’t much room although you may be surprised when you see them. They are nice, slim and over 4 metres tall. A work of beauty. We can only launch with a handful of beers so we are narrowing our very long list so a variety of styles that we love and hope that other people love too.”
He said there will be a DDH Double IPA called Big Tasty, a Munich Helles called Gabba Lager, East Coast State of Mind IPA, Gabba Pale Ale and a midstrength session IPA.
Getting it over the line
Submitting a development application proved to be tough, with a material change of use required for the 100-year-old former violin makers and cafe building Easy Times is now in.
While still in the process of getting a licence, Ferguson said they had support from across the board when it came to planning.
“Our town planners Urbis were great though… and the council were great and were supportive of the project from the start.
“The local counsellor Jonno Sri was also very encouraging and after a couple of hiccups we got finally got our DA just under four months after submitting it. We think that’s pretty good for a brewpub with a hotel licence.”
Ferguson had an impressive list to thank, but “there are too many kind and generous people to mention to be honest,” he said.
“Even brewery owners we’d never met before like Fick, Soapbox and Revel were offering great advice. What an incredible industry and community. We have been totally blown away by the help and support we have had,” explained Ferguson.
“Personally I couldn’t have done it without the support of Anita… [she’s] a dead set legend with a heart of pure gold. Our locals will be in for a seriously warm and genuine welcome when she gets behind the bar at the Easy Times brewpub.”
He said he and Boettger want to recreate the welcome and community feel of an English pub, but also want to give back to the community that’s helped them.
“Once we are up and running, I will be hoping to give back to the brewing and craft beer community by offering free help and support to workers throughout the industry who might be struggling mentally in an often hectic and demanding career.
“I feel too much indebted to the craft beer scene just to open the doors of Easy Times without continuing my passion for community work in some way.”
Easy Times Brewing Co will open at 20 Logan Road, Woolloongabba, Queensland 4102, Australia before mid-2020.
Brewery openings are presented by Spark Breweries and Distilleries, the finest in-venue and production brewing systems available, with local design and support.