Thanks to Walter Burley Griffin, Canberra is probably the best laid out city in Australia. If you’re looking for Parliament House or the Australian War Memorial, you’re only ever a couple of clean roads and huge roundabouts away.
But venues with a range of good beer aren’t always quite as evident, particularly if you’re from out of town. Not that you’ll have any problem finding places that serve up beer from local legends BentSpoke and Capital. There’s a fierce loyalty to local breweries so, no matter where you are, just close your eyes, spin around, and walk in a straight line and you’ll find a beer from one of those two on tap or in the fridge.
But, if you’re after venues with a more extensive tap list, it may take a little more hunting. Sure, it might be tempting just to head to Braddon, the inner-city suburb where all the cool kids hang out (see the “Other Options” below). In doing so, you’d miss some of the best joints scattered around town. With this guide, we'll help you find some of the places spread out across the capital – as well as a few bars that are spitting distance from the huge roundabouts.
Along the way, we’ll also point out a few of the bottle shops that make it their mission to keep you plied with plenty of the good stuff at home.
From north to south, check these places out…
Note: this Crawl focuses on pubs, bars and bottle shops; see our other Canberra Crawl for a guide to the capital’s breweries and brewpubs.
Stop One: The George Harcourt Inn
In the far north of Canberra, the George Harcourt could be the perfect spot for weary travellers to unwind after a long drive to the ACT. Built in the 1980s, but with a pretty authentic tilt at the classic Tudor style pub, it has a great vibe to soak up while sitting and chatting in the sprawling beer garden or at a booth inside.
With more than 20 beers and ciders on offer, it caters for a diverse group, with a variety of standard Aussie staples, British and European classics (this is a great spot to sit back with a pint of Fuller’s London Pride). While the majority are given over to major breweries' beers, around half a dozen taps feature small local operations, with four of those on rotation.
Say hello to old George at 3 Gold Creek Road, Nicholls - the northernmost venue on our crawl.
Stop Two: Page Bottler
Page is a residential suburb made up of little other than houses. Indeed, you could be forgiven for driving past the small precinct that contains Page Bottler and barely giving it a second glance.
But this local liquor store is more than first meets the eye. Between stacked shelves and a jam-packed cold room, the tiny shop seems able to hold more incredible beer than it should, including locals, gypsy brewers, treasures from the States and Europe, fresh-as-anything hoppy beers from around the country, and just about every limited release that catches owner Tim Rasheed’s eye.
They’re arranged in no particular order; sometimes the beers are all mixed in together, and sometimes you stumble upon a gem hidden at the back of a shelf. But Tim just shrugs and says: “Can’t claim to have the most organised shop you’ll ever see… but what you see is what you get.”
And “what you see” is 30 to 40 new beers a week, the option of buying “Mystery Cubes” curated by Tim, and a super passionate approach to beer and customer service. Not too shabby for little ol’ Page.
It may not look like much, but head into Page Bottler at 2/4 Page Place, Page. You won’t regret it.
Stop Three: The Old Canberra Inn
Stepping into the Old Canberra Inn is like being sucked through a time warp taking you back in time 100 years (but with more beer styles on offer than you'd have found the). As one of the region’s first licenced venues, it’s actually been around since before Canberra was a thing - this place is more classic country pub than most classic country pubs. The rustic building, wood fires, brick floors and hearty pub fare make this a sensational spot for a beer - all the better with a stellar rotating craft lineup.
The eight taps place a focus on limited release and seasonal beers that other venues may not get their hands on. Regular Battle of the Brewers events add to the fun of trying new beers, and the owners say punters are relishing the variety and are always excited to explore new styles. And with around 400 different beers being poured through the taps in a 12 month period, you know they’re serious. Patrick Baggoley
The Old Canberra Inn has been at 195 Mouat St, Lyneham since before your grandaddy was born.
Stop Four: To All My Friends
To All My Friends is the bar you’d get if a 50s milk bar and a Scandi design magazine had a baby… and that baby enjoyed excellent beer. (Disclaimer: Do not give your baby beer, even if it enjoys it.) Owned by the same people as Little Oink Cafe next door, this bar is a suburban oasis in the residential area of Cook.
TAMF manages to balance retro charm and modern cool, high quality and approachability. There’s a wall covered in floral wallpaper that meets a cold room door smothered with beer decals; eight taps bouncing between pale ales, IIPAs, session sours and imperial stouts; classy small batch gin with paired garnishes, and big ol’ tasty pizzas. The packaged list is 35 beers strong, and ranges from Bentspoke Easy Pale for a fiver to treasures like Deschutes Dissident or Stone Saison Du Buff for $60.
P.S. Wednesday night is trivia night, and it’s always pumping - for good reason. Book ahead and thank me later.
To All My Friends is at 24 Cook Pl, Cook - just a couple of doors down from Cook Grocer, which has a surprisingly solid selection of takeaway booze.
Stop Five: Blackhearts & Sparrows Braddon
Sometimes a trip to the bottle shop is all about efficiency - get in, buy the booze, get out. But sometimes a bottle shop can be an experience. What do I feel like? What will match the food I’m serving? What new releases are out at the moment?
While it’s possible to do the former at Blackhearts & Sparrows, it’s so much more enjoyable to do the latter. The wall of fridges at the back of the store is arranged by style and full of hundreds of beautiful tinnies (and a few fancy bottles). The staff are always happy to give recommendations and food matching advice, as well as just shoot the breeze. The cheeses in the display case and the fancy chocolate will give you something take home for nibbles. The free Friday night tastings will make you want to bring your friends.
And the warm terracotta, wine barrels and a wall of doggo photos all play their part in creating an atmosphere that you don’t want to leave.
Blackhearts & Sparrows is keeping classy at Shop 15/27 Lonsdale Street, Braddon, rivalling its Melbourne siblings.
Stop Six: Brew Nation
In Canberra's CBD (or Civic as the locals call it), conveniently close to the main bus interchange, is a beer sanctuary hiding in plain sight. Housed in the heritage-fronted Sydney Building behind charcoal grey curtains, Brew Nation is a neat little spot boasting 12 rotating taps with a colourful range of tinnies to boot.
A change in management in 2019 was the start of something big; the Sydney Building is set to become a food precinct with markets full of interesting providores, wood-fired pizza, a grill, a cocktail bar, a wine bar, and a bottle shop. Since many local core range offerings will be available from the other vendors, Brew Nation will be free to focus on special releases. The whole area will be licensed, so you can come with a group, get whichever beer you want from wherever you want, and either wander the markets or settle in your favourite spot.
Or just grab a beer and catch the afternoon sun while you’re waiting to catch a bus. No one will judge.
In the centre of town, in the conspicuous Sydney Building, you’ll find Brew Nation at 1/102 Alinga St, Canberra. And you won’t want to leave.
Stop Seven: Transit Bar
Heading underground, the Transit Bar offers a great mix of craft beer and bands. Since being picked up by new owners keen to pursue the crafty side of beer early in 2017, gig goers have had 12 taps to choose from, with a steady rotation of local beers and other seasonally appropriate craft options. There’s also a tap dedicated to the Good Beer Co’s Great Barrier Beer, from which 50 percent of profits goes to the Australian Marine Conservation Society. Patrick Baggoley
In a city that’s cleaner than your nanna’s kitchen, head to 7 Akuna St, Canberra to find a little grunge.
Stop Eight: The Durham Castle Arms
The Durham is the jewel of Canberra’s inner south. The English pub vibe is conducive to enjoying a few beers with friends while you chow down on quality pub grub, play a board game, or watch some sport.
When it comes to taps, expect seven or eight brews from around the country - including a couple of Canberra beers, of course - and the occasional visitor from overseas. There’s generally a focus on balance, with a range of IPAs, at least one sour/gose and a couple of dark beers; the colourful decals lining the beams on the ceiling showcase the great variety of beer that sees the inside of the Durham.
At the end of the day, find your favourite spot at the Durham the wind down in, whether that’s catching the breeze at the tables out the front, settling in on the upholstered bench seating running the length of the pub, or standing and staring down the taxidermied fox and pheasant watching you from a display case at the back of the room.
The Durham is a pub Simon Pegg would be proud of, standing proud in Kingston Shops, 52 Jardine St, Kingston.
Stop Nine: Plonk
My 90-something year old grandfather never used to say “booze”, “hooch” or “grog”, but every year at Christmas he’d look around and ask, “Who wants some plonk?”
Unlike my grandfather, Plonk in Fyshwick offers up beverages for more than just once-a-year occasions. Plonk’s huge range of beer caters to every conceivable occasion: Christmas and birthdays, barbecues and dinner parties, Friday afternoons and Tuesday evenings. When a shop has 1200 different beers in stock at any given time, you can generally find what you’re looking for.
The problem, of course, comes with making choices - how do you choose one beer out of 1200?! Plonk makes it a little easier by offering mixed 6-packs and mixed cartons. But when you’re faced with more beers from around Australia and around the world than you may have ever seen in one place before, expect to spend a bit of time making your decision.
Plonk’s flagship store is at Shop 17, Fyshwick Markets, Mildura Street, Fyshwick. There’s also a secondary Plonk store at Shop 27/10 Lathlain St, Belconnen, and a huge online store.
If you really want to put the crawl in Crafty Crawl, make your way into the buzzing centre, get on your hands and knees, and try the following spots:
- Hopscotch, 5 Lonsdale St, Braddon - more scotch than hops, but it’s a place for easy fun over a few sessionable local beers, a game of pool and some giant Jenga.
- Grease Monkey, 19 Lonsdale Street, Braddon - get greasy with burgers and Detroit style pizza, and wash them down with three Capital Brewing taps, Hawkes and a house lager.
- Debacle, Mode 3, 24 Lonsdale St, Braddon - twelve taps including four Euro taps, and directly opposite Gelato Messina. Time to get continental.
Find our other Canberra Crafty Crawl focusing on the city's breweries and brewpubs here. You can also check out our other Crafty Crawls here.
Some of the entries above are by Patrick Baggoley, as indicated. Patrick is a passionate homebrewer and Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) trainer for the Canberra Brewers.