Over the past couple of years, the nation’s capital has witnessed a surge in the availability and popularity of craft beer. BentSpoke Brewing Co opened its doors, the Wig & Pen (pictured below) – a Canberra craft beer institution – re-opened after relocating to new premises, Zierholz Brewery has expanded and opened Zierholz@UC on campus at the University of Canberra and 2014 ACT Homebrew and National champion, Kevin Hingston, has launched Pact Beer Co.
What’s more, Canberra has three venues featured in Beer and Brewer Magazine’s latest annual top 50 craft beer bars – The Durham, Pot Belly and Transit – and is seeing an increase in other pubs, bars and clubs offering a range of bottled and tapped craft beer. All of which means there is more reason than ever to look forward to this year’s Canberra Beer Week, which returns from November 5.
On the rise of good beer in Canberra, event co-organiser Steve Hegarty says: “There has always been a thriving farmers market community in the ACT enjoying the abundant bounty from amazing producers surrounding our doorstep; coupled with the most organised and flourishing home brew clubs in Australia producing some of the best commercial brewers in the country you have a recipe for awesome beers being lapped up by an appreciative audience.”
The number of venues involved in the beer week 2015 has more than tripled from 2014 to 30; the number of events has doubled to 25 too, including tap takeovers, brewery tours, Meet the Brewer dinners, beer matching, a craft beer fight club and the week’s premier event, Canberra Beer Day Out.
Local brewers BentSpoke will release six new and returning beers over the course of the week, with purple corn featuring in one of the more unusual brews. Pact, Canberra’s newest beer company, will start its week with the launch of a new offering, the 42.2 Summer Ale at the revitalised Old Canberra Inn. The beer is described as a sessionable BBQ beer, high in hop flavour but light on bitterness.
Richard Watkins, co-founder and brewer at BentSpoke (pictured at top of article), says: “The success of BentSpoke is directly related to the rise of Canberra’s beer market. BentSpoke is lucky enough to have become a beer destination in Canberra and offers a wide variety of beers that cater to a large number of new and old beer drinkers."
He says there are other, more subtle signs, that the market is changing.
“It’s also great to see other venues giving it a go; a local pub has just had Carlton Draught beer tanks installed meaning brewery fresh, unpasteurised beer is on offer to its patrons," he says. "It’s a small step, but is offering another option to the regular.”
Of his six releases for the week, the first of which is launched on the opening day of Beer Day Out (pictured below), he says the idea is “to offer even more variety to those attending events during the week. We could have done seven, but but figured we’d give ourselves Saturday off."
The six beers to be released are English pale ale Hub, a Euro style lager, the PSI strong saison, Frenzy raspberry witbier, Derailleur – a Brett IPA that has been aged for 12 months, and a purple coloured beer made with purple corn, chilli and ginger.
Richard’s partner, Tracy Margrain says of their beers: “It’s been great being able to design something that also appeals to women. More women are trying the bigger beers that we create and not just the ciders."
As for the rising tide of good beer in the capital, she says: “Fifteen years ago the Canberra wine industry took off and there’s definitely room in Canberra for more breweries.”
Event organisers expect more than 7,000 people to participate in the events on offer this year. And, having had to turn punters away in the past at Beer Day Out, this time the event will be held over two days, November 6 and 7. It features 30 brewers, including Australian craft beer royalty from across the country: from Coopers and Feral to Nail, Stone & Wood, Murray’s, Little Brewing, Bridge Road and more.
Pact Beer Co’s Kevin Hingston says the support of Canberran good beer drinkers and venues has been crucial to the positive start his beers have enjoyed.
“Since Pact launched back in June, we've been blown away by the support of the local community," he says. "We've been tapped in a number of great bars and the Mt Tennent Pale Ale is available in bottles right across the territory.
"Locals love the beer, but they also love the stories behind the beer, such as the legend of local bushranger John Tennant – an oft missed character in Canberra History.
“While Canberra is our home and our focus, we're also flying the flag interstate. By sending our beer to great bars in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, we're showing Australia that the strong tradition of great Canberra brewers is well and truly intact.
“Canberra's appreciation of beer and support for local brands seems to be following the trail blazed by local cuisine. We're seeing a continued growth in interest in craft beer, local craft beer brands, and craft beer focused venues. It's really encouraging to see new ventures like XO and The Hutch launch with independent tap points and we're really proud to be part of their stories.”
About the author: Drew is a good beer enthusiast and home brewer from the craft beer drinking capital of Australia, Canberra (per capita). You can follow him – as The Twisted Hop – on Twitter and Instagram.