As the home of politicians and public servants, Canberra has often suffered from something of an image problem. Yet, despite many Australians’ distaste for the political class (not to mention the city’s many roundabouts), more recently a new image of the nation’s capital has begun to take shape.
It is one of a young population living in a region surrounded by wildlife and bushlands and with a relative proximity to the coast. That it also has a number of breweries, and a growing number of good bars, doesn’t hurt – and shows it’s also a city with a thirst for local beer.
Among those sating that thirst are the people at Capital Brewing Co, an operation that grew out of long bar side chats between Tom Hertel and Laurence Kain, who ran the bar Hippo Co, and the brothers behind Batlow Cider Co, Richard and Sam Coombes. Conversations often revolved around putting the city and its surrounds front and centre and, when it came to beer, a shared affinity for the kind of bold, hop forward styles of America’s West Coast.
Ultimately, this led them to form Capital Brewing Co – and to San Diego, where they found their head brewer, Wade Hurley, who at the time was busy brewing at Coronado Brewing, having learnt the trade at Green Flash. Since signing on, Wade has been given free range over the beers and, though he also has a love of hops, it doesn’t mean his lineup is solely the domain of big, bold and bitter, with Coast Ale, a Californian Common, and the brewery’s seasonal coffee stout indicative of a broader range.
From Coast Ale to Evil Eye Red IPA (named after an old tree stump the Coombes’ family car often passed on weekends away), the beers tell the story of Canberra and its surrounds on their labels. These days, they’re brewed in Canberra too. Initially in 2016, Capital was launched with beers gypsy brewed in Sydney before they moved into their own brewery in Fyshwick late in 2017.
Located on Canberra’s outskirts, Fyshwick has historically been an industrial area, but in recent years there’s been a concerted effort to regenerate the area into a retail and hospitality centre. Within this space, you’ll find the likes of local coffee roasting legends Barrio and a rock climbing gym.
A 25 hectolitre brewhouse sits towards the back of their expansive warehouse, with an open space for dining in front. It’s the kind of setup that’s equal parts production and hospitality, where the steady stream of beers brewed for the wider Canberra population and drinkers further afield doesn’t make the Fyshwick venue any less of an enjoyable place to settle in for a bevvy or two.
A long timber bar encases the brewery’s 12 taps, which feature a rotating lineup of Capital beers alongside one dedicated to Batlow’s cider. Large shared tables turn the production hub into a social one, meaning once you’re through the front doors, it’s easy to forget you’re in an industrial lot.
Food is the domain of Canberran phenomenon Brodburger, the city’s cult food truck, which started out slinging burgers in local parks before finding a few permanent homes across town. Maybe the burgers help, or maybe it’s the promise of a few beers to accompany them, but the brewery is particularly effective at bringing in a large lunchtime crowd. Yet it’s in the post work hours and on weekends where Capital truly shines as students, families and cyclists and taxi loads file into a brewery with the capacity to fit upwards of 500 people.
The main beer garden out the front is a sprawling space that fills quickly each afternoon, suggesting any government ministers looking for ways to reinvigorate industrial areas should make sure they stop in for a beer.
As both locals and visitors head to Capital for long afternoons in the sun, and local bars fill their fridges with cans brewed by the capital’s growing band of brewers, Canberra’s long derided reputation is disappearing. Capital’s tagline is one of Good Natured Brews and, sure enough, that good nature can be found across the rest of the city too.