As with the other Best New Beers of 2017 lists published on The Crafty Pint in recent weeks, the past year has given craft beer fans in the national capital plenty to wrap their taste buds around - far too many for most to have tried them all. Given that new, one-off beers are the norm more than staples for most of Canberra’s celebrated brewing companies, even compiling a list of all the new beers proved a challenge.
But we love a challenge, especially when it comes to beer, so managed to pull together a list of around 40 beers (it would be even more if we took into account the special one-off kegs, aged releases and spiced variations). Not bad for a territory with a smaller population than Newcastle!
The past year has seen some fantastic growth in the ACT beer scene. BentSpoke Brewing Co continues to expand its Mitchell canning facility and range of packaged beers. Capital Brewing Company opened its Fyshwick brewery and, with that, introduced a host of new taproom beers, and the Wig & Pen has bottled its Russian imperial stout, brewed and packaged on premises and the brewery's first packaged beer since releasing Kembery in 2011.
So, how do we go about picking our favourite ACT beers for the year? We called in the experts. The Canberra Brewers homebrew club is one of the oldest, largest and most successful homebrew clubs in the country and has a commitment to brewing and beer judging education; if anyone in Canberra can pick out a good beer, it’s this mob. We sent a list to the members and they helped narrow it down. And, given the ACT’s comparative size to the other states, we’re going with a top five instead of ten – with a handful of highly commendeds for good measure.
As with the previous lists, we give you our favourites from 2017 in alphabetical order...
BentSpoke - Stratus
It wouldn’t be a best new beers of 2017 list with at least one New England style IPA. Brewers are loving having a go at this style and punters, equally, are lapping it up. Stratus delivers on what people are looking for: big, juicy flavours and a balanced bitterness. In this case, BentSpoke has gone for haze rather than the murkiness that some of the more “Instagrammed” versions of the style have shown.
Every year gets bigger and bigger for BentSpoke. While the Braddon brewpub keeps turning out cracking new recipes, the Mitchell Cannery also keeps stepping up production, with Sprocket (IPA), GFG (a low-gluten Ginger beer) and Morts Gold (pale lager) available in cans for the first time in 2017. BentSpoke is now also available on Singapore Airlines business-class flights out of Melbourne and Sydney, while the brewery also launched a special beer for the Canberra Cavalry’s Australian Baseball League games.
Pact - Alter Ego
Pact loves to push the boundaries with new ingredients in its beers; from actual cookie dough in its GABS special release “Who Poured the Porter in the Cookie Jar” to quinces in a hefeweizen, it seems almost anything is on the cards.
This time around, it wasn’t the ingredient that intrigued, it was the way they used it. While coffee is almost a staple in dark beers these days, in Alter Ego the brewer worked with Belerephon Cold Brew to add subtle coffee flavours to a cream ale. The aim was to add just enough coffee to the crisp, thirst-quenching lager-like ale to bring out some unexpected, subtle fruity flavours often hidden behind the bold chocolate coffee flavours usually found in dark coffee beers. The result is surprisingly refreshing and reveals a little more flavour with each sip: the coffee beer for people who don’t usually like coffee beers.
Wig & Pen - Westbelconnen 8
Brewed with Ben Harmer, the winner of the Wig & Pen trophy for ACT Amateur Brewing Championships Beer of Show, this Belgian dark strong ale brings us sweet fruity/toffee malts, loads of Belgian character and a warming alcohol finish.
While Ben’s original recipe was a tribute to the classic Westvleteren 12, when the homebrew recipe was scaled up to the Wig’s equipment it came out a little lighter in alcohol than the original - but the result is just as enjoyable to drink. And at 8.88 percent ABV you’re still getting plenty of bang for your buck.
Wig & Pen - Red Coat IPA
IPA can mean a lot of things and, in this case, we’re talking inspiration more from the traditional English variety, with a bit of red ale in there for good measure. Fresh, caramel malt and a hint of roast play very nicely with a solid supporting bitterness. The hop aroma is floral and earthy rather than the citrus/tropical/pine variations we expect from US.
This brew first appeared in January and was a solid favourite through the autumn and winter months.
Wignall - Belco Boy’z
These new kids on the block were quick to endear themselves to beer fans with this outstanding initial offering, an English style pale ale. Wignall is the brewery attached to Belconnen’s Pot Belly bar and we’ll have more to tell you about the brewers behind it soon. In the meantime, we're happy to report this is a beer worth checking out.
Malty and toasty rich, with a balanced earthy English hop character and restrained bitterness, this fills the pint (and the palate) beautifully. Think of it as the love child of Fuller’s ESB and London Pride; hits the spot much better than the English bowling attack (yes, we went there).
- BentSpoke - Malty Cultural
A collaboration with the Canberra Brewers (possibly revealing a bias among our panel...) for the National Multicultural Festival, a blend of barley, wheat, rye and oat malts gave it an intriguing spicy flavour and smooth texture. Festivalgoers were fans as well.
- Capital Brewing Co - Rock Hopper IPA
A sensational take on the classic US West Coast IPA and one of the real highlights of Capital’s new taproom. It also worked very well as a base for mango and passionfruit variations. The beers at the Fyshwick brewery are getting better and better as they get settled in, so watch this space.
- Pact and Pen - Funky Monkey
Another collaboration, this time between the Wig & Pen and Pact. Freshly picked ACT blackberries were added to a light sour beer for a tart, fruity summer refresher.
You can check out end of year Best Of lists from other states here. And, if you're feeling suitably inspired, you can vote in this year's GABS Hottest 100 Aussie craft beers.