The nation’s capital has long had a love for craft beer – even before we started calling it by that name. And so more than a few tears were shed when Wig & Pen and Pact both ceased operations within the same year, especially since the former had been keeping Canberrans hydrated for just shy of quarter of a century.
But the world keeps turning and the wort keeps fermenting, and other brave souls are making sure the people of the nation’s capital don’t go thirsty.
A couple of breweries became a household name in Canberra in a few short years, not to mention distributing their goods to other parts of the nation; another brewery has been a consistent font of German beer and food for more than a decade; and a few venues have a small brewhouse stashed away in the back, and put out just enough of their own beer to fill a few of their taps for the delight of their customers. (There’s also a gypsy brewer who’s getting a bit cocky with his gluten free beer brewed with ancient grains.)
So: where in Canberra can you go to get beer from the source?
Zierholz Premium Brewery
When Wig & Pen closed up shop, Zierholz became the longest-remaining Canberra brewery, having been in the industrial part of Fyshwick since 2005.
Christoph Zierholz first started brewing with a desire to make a traditional German wheat beer for his father, who was missing the beers of his homeland. From there, he went about learning everything he could about brewing, and he did so with German efficiency. Many years, thousands of litres, and a few awards later, Canberra began to benefit from the fruits of his labour.
The brewhouse at Zierholz is a real workhorse, with a copper-clad kettle that’s been going strong since the mid 90s. It’s to thank for the seven beers that grace the menu: from a light Schankbier to a bitter porter, and a super bright Pilsner to a Weizen that’s bursting with the flavours of Bavaria.
While Christoph is the father of the beer side of things, his wife Cristina runs the restaurant side with an expert hand. Sit down at a long table and taste as much as possible with a sample paddle and a trio of German sausages, or, if you’re game, tackle a pint of Pilsner and a pork knuckle.
Out where the streets are wide, the open blue sky greets you, and there are more utes and vans than people, Zierholz Premium Brewery waits for you at 7/19-25 Kembla Street, Fyshwick.
When you head out to Capital Brewing, you travel away from the centre of town, through industrial areas, and eventually see the brewery is next to an expanse of land called Jerrabomberra Wetlands. But there’s nothing backwater about Capital Brewing.
Since opening the doors of the brewery in 2017, the team at Capital haven’t had time to scratch themselves. They more than doubled their brewing capacity after the first month, and it seems they’ve been growing non-stop ever since. Their ever-increasing number of fermenting tanks has the appearance of a stainless steel forest stretching into the distance of their vast warehouse.
But that doesn’t mean Capital feels like a cold, industrial space. On the contrary, from the moment you arrive you’re met with groups of friends and families in the beer garden out the front. Red and white umbrellas shade those sipping at picnic tables, while kids and dogs play on the open grassy area. There are eucalypts and rosemary bushes, cyclists and businessmen, sunshine and spaciousness.
Inside, the legendary Brodburger food truck feeds the masses with some of the best burgers in town, while the long bank of taps at the bar offers options aplenty for discerning drinkers. Once you have your drink – or perhaps high-handled tasting paddle – and a burger, you’re left deciding whether to head back out into the sun, remain at the bar tables looking into the brewery proper, or to continue through to the indoor-outdoor courtyard with skylights, foliage, party lights and astroturf.
With capacity for 980 people all up, Capital gives you plenty of places to rest your beer. And, depending on the time of day, time of week, and time of year, you’ll either be part of a friendly buzz or of a packed house of happy punters.
Make the trek to Capital Brewing at Building 3/1 Dairy Road, Fyshwick, and prepare to be impressed.
StoneAge Brewing (King O’Malley’s)
Google describes King O’Malley’s as “an old-timey Irish tavern with wood-&-stone decor”, and it’s spot on. You won’t find a haven of flavourful independent beer here, but there is a brew kit hiding downstairs.
StoneAge 2 Hammers Pale Ale is always on tap; it’s occasionally accompanied by an Irish red, a porter, or a Belgian blonde, but since the brewer works on a fairly small scale, it’s not always possible to have more StoneAge beers on at one time.
The pale ale’s bright, fruity, and lively; follow it up with a Young Henrys or a Bentspoke, and if it’s the right day for it, a pint of Guinness to finish.
At 131 City Walk, Canberra, King O’Malley’s is full of Guinness posters, bunting and knickknacks in a way that only an Irish pub can get away with.
Canberra has bicycles in its DNA. It’s not just that it has designated bike lanes and bike paths everywhere you look; where other cities usually have a grid of roads at their centre, Canberra’s layout of main roads is a wheel-and-spoke pattern.
If it wasn’t already apparent, BentSpoke Brewing also have bicycles in their DNA. The beers often take on bike related names like Crankshaft, Sprocket and Red Nut. The venue is cyclist friendly, right in the middle of town and with a hospitable outdoor area. And the decor reads like a visual ode to cycling: bicycle wheels hang on the walls, the tasting paddles are inspired by handlebars, and the lights above the stairs are spheres of sprockets with golden glowing hearts that look like something from a Shaun Tan book. Perhaps it’s no surprise the brewery became iconic in the cycle-loving city so quickly, before their beers spread to the rest of the country.
But what if, like this writer, you respect gravity enough to know that vehicles should have at least four wheels? What if you only ever ride a bike in life or death situations? And what if, on those rare occasions you do ride a bike, you hold on like you’re trying to stay atop a rodeo bull?
Then agonise over the list of close to 20 beers on tap, from quaffers to funky Belgians to dark beasts to hoppy special releases being run through fruit in the Hopinator. Sit out the front, where each table is named after a beer style, and the fairy lights, greenery and heaters keep the area warm in every sense of the word. Or head up the stairs, holding onto the hand rails that are actually functioning beer pipes, sit on a keg next to a wall collage of malt sacks, and check out the brewing tanks.
And if you don’t order the hops salt potatoes with imperial stout gravy, then I’m sorry but we can’t be friends.
You can’t miss Bentspoke Brewing at 48/38 Mort Street, Braddon. Just look for the swarm of extremely satisfied people.
While many venues in Canberra follow the city’s theme of wide open spaces, Braddon Brew bucks the trend by existing in a cosy nook tucked away down a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it laneway. There’s a small paved courtyard out the front, and seating for around 12 people inside.
But it’s inside this intimate space where all the action happens. Run by a father-son duo, this is a brewery and bar, coffee roaster and café all in one.
Here for the beer? There are eight to ten taps pouring at any given time, of which a few are made on premises. Expect a couple of easy-drinkers like a lager and a pale ale, and an edgier release suited to the malt-forward preference of Mark, the brewer/father; when The Crafty Pint was last in town, an Imperial Red Agave Ale was the attention-grabber. Other than the house-made beers, the taps tend to look further afield than the ACT, exploring breweries from other states and New Zealand.
Here for the coffee? Check out the posters and paraphernalia, coffee beans roasted on site by roaster/son Jordan, a few different brew methods including nitro cold brew on tap, and a full menu of breakfast items.
Peek at chalkboard A-frame signs and down clean alleyways until you see Braddon Brew at g2/27 Lonsdale Street, Braddon.
Wignall Brewery (The Pot Belly)
Out in Belconnen, wedged between a VW dealership and a Zone 3 Laser Game, The Pot Belly is one of the few pubs in Canberra that’s held tightly to its pub-ishness. Though it was established in 1976, it feels much older, with timber frontage and vintage street lamps out the front, and built-in wooden pews and chessboard tables inside.
It’s also the home of Wignall Brewery. With a Brit as the head brewer and a 250 litre brewhouse bought secondhand from Jindabyne Brewing, Wignall contributes to the Old World feel of the pub with traditional English-style beers.
One of the owners, Govinda (“Gov” for short), says: “We like US style beers, but we love the volume and taste of English beers.” Which is why a London porter, an English best, and an Irish red ale are the regular beers that keep the regular customers happy.
With their small kit, Wignall find their customers drink their beer as fast as they can brew it, and they work hard to keep even a couple of their taps pouring their own beer. While they’re looking to expand their brewing capacity, they’re happy enough at the moment keeping their nine taps (as well as one handpump) spread across their own beers, other Aussie craft beers, and some mainstream beers for their long-time customers. It fits well with their philosophy of being the village pub, one that embraces camaraderie and community, supports local musicians and local brewers, and looks to have something for everyone.
You’ll find Pot Belly at 5/26 Weedon Close, Belconnen. Try one of the Wignall beers and, as of late 2019, the team are finalising their processes for distilling their own vodka and London dry gin as well.
Coming soon: another Canberra Crafty Crawl focusing on the city's pubs, bars and bottleshops.
NB "Crafty Crawl" is our catch-all title for suburb, area or PT line guides to good beer around Australia and we're not suggesting you take any of them on in one go unless, of course, they're approached sensibly.