Macalister Brewing Co.
Words By Kirsty Nancarrow
What do you get when you combine a chemistry career and a love of beer? A bloody good brewery.
Sipping on a crisp, freshly pulled coldie overlooking a sugar cane field in Cairns’ northern suburbs, Macalister Brewing Co founder Rob Callin is living a very different life from his origins in Yorkshire, England.
The former chemical plant manager turned teacher began dabbling in home brewing after moving to Australia and discovered he had quite the talent.
A string of awards fuelled his obsession and Rob took a leap of faith, completing a Graduate Diploma in Brewing Science to turn his passion and pastime into a business.
What started as a small operation six years ago with a 50-seat bar and brewery in Smithfield’s industrial area has grown into a thrumming, full-time operation occupying the entire lot.
A recent major investment has seen the original bar, built by Rob himself, replaced with a much larger fit-out to expand the offering from eight hand-made tap beers to 12.
The brewhouse has been relocated outside the bar area and extra fermentation capacity added so it can produce beer seven days a week.
These days, the bar seats up to 200 thirsty customers.
“The venue’s fabulous. It’s not a dark, dingy pub in a carpark with poker machines and air conditioning,” Rob says. “It’s airy, it’s light, it looks out on a bit of Far North Queensland and the breezes blow through beautifully.”
Macalister is a place to catch up with friends for a long, lazy afternoon, or pop in for a solitary quick one while contemplating the sunset after work.
As the hot tropical sun descends over its namesake Macalister Range, the brewery comes alive with regular events such as trivia, music bingo, comedy and live music.
Rob plans to serve up more bands this year, taking advantage of high-quality touring acts while also offering a stage to talented locals.
“We’ve created a community place for people to come and meet. The staff are friendly, and we get to know people. It’s become a real social hub,” he says.
The real star of the show, of course, is the beer, which is increasingly high demand and now found in more than 40 licensed venues from Cardwell to Cape Tribulation.
But you won’t find Macalister beer outside of Far North Queensland. It’s an unashamedly local, unpasteurised and preservative-free premium product and Rob plans to keep it that way.
“Beer is best drunk fresh, it’s best drunk local and that’s what we aim to do, service the Cairns region and do it well,” Rob says. “I like the fact that we deliver all of our own beer, we know it’s not been sat in a hot warehouse. We know it’s cold, we know it’s good.”
A tripling of its on-site brewing capacity and a new refrigerated truck mean Macalister is well-placed to meet the ever-growing demand for its beer in the local market.
Macalister’s tropical blonde ale, the 4.5 percent Latitude 17, is a sessionable beer perfect for the tropics and continues to be the brewer’s most popular.
“It was a beer I used to brew at home for myself. It’s light and citrusy, and fortunately everybody else seems to like it as well,” Rob says.
While he’s more involved in the back-end of the business than the daily brewing these days, Rob still enjoys the creativity of beer-making and is always developing new products with his team.
One of them, a light beer crafted as a small batch for a friend’s wedding, is making its way to the taps in 2023.
The bar is open from Wednesday to Sunday. Macalister supports 10 local family-run food trucks which rotate through the venue on Wednesday and Friday evenings, and all day on the weekends, offering a tasty and ever-changing complement to its beverages.
“We’re small and we’re flexible; we’re not owned by anybody so if we decide we want to put on Spanish day with paella and Spanish-style lager, we can just do it,” Ro says.
For a refreshing taste of Far North Queensland, order a Macalister.
6 Danbulan St