We’ve swept through the states over the past fortnight, looking back at the standout beers and moments from 2021 in WA, Tasmania, NSW, Queensland, Victoria and SA, and now it’s time to wrap up our Best Of… series with the Territories. Yes, as with the Indies trophies and our Pint of Origin venue at Good Beer Week, we’ve decided to showcase ACT and NT in the one place this time around. So let’s get to it…
When it comes to the beer scene in the ACT, much of the attention is hogged by the big two, BentSpoke and Capital, and it’s a situation that's hard to quibble with either, whether judged by the volume and quality of beers both release, the reach they have compared to their ACT peers, or the headlines their endeavours generate.
Wind the clock back to January and you find them dominating in the GABS Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers once more, with the former’s Crankshaft claiming top spot and the latter landing more beers in the top 100 than any other brewer. Both have been expanding and upgrading their facilities and putting a focus on sustainability too; in Capital’s case, they’re targeting both B Corp accreditation and becoming a carbon neutral brewing company.
BentSpoke continued to renew and strengthen their partnerships in the world of sport, including baseball, roller derby, basketball and cricket, hosted ACT’s first Pink Boots Society brew day, partnered with SuperSky Engineering to capture “space yeast” for their AstroBeer, while keeping their feet on the ground with their ongoing support for the homebrewing community; the winner of the ACT Amateur Brewing Championships, Richard Brown, saw his Corroboree Frog American porter scaled up and poured at the Braddon brewpub.
Capital’s work in the community saw them create a beer for the National Portrait Gallery, partner with Goterra to reduce and recycle their food waste, embark on tree-planting drives with Keep It Cool, and target the ski slopes, while both enjoyed awards success too. Capital took out Champion Territories Brewery at the Indies, while BentSpoke’s Sprocket claimed Best Traditional IPA at the AIBAs in May.
The ACT’s longest-established brewery, Zierholz, released a series of cans through 2021; in a sign of capital city camaraderie they used BentSpoke’s Mitchell brewery to can their Oktoberfest release after COVID travel restrictions threw a spanner in the works too.
The Pot Belly turned 45 in 2021. Having spent the latter half of 2020 on renovations and improvements to the brewery, distillery, and the food offering, they ended this year strongly with a series of tasty Wignall beer releases and a commitment to hosting local music, especially metal, after surviving an at-times frustrating year in which their Darkfest made it over the line in July before lockdown arrived in the capital. Braddon Brew, on the other hand, ceased pouring their own beers before closing their doors in July.
The team from the Old Canberra Inn turned their attention to the former Duck’s Nuts in Dickson, reinventing it as the Dickson Taphouse with craft beer and live entertainment at the heart of the offering. Meanwhile, Caribou Kingston has been showcasing Canadian crafties, plus Canada-themed beers from Wayward in Sydney.
Pioneering family-run bottleshop Plonk celebrated 15 years in 2021 with special winter and summer beer boxes featuring new beers brewed for them by mates from across the Aussie beer world. One of the city’s other fine retailers, Page Bottler, took their relationship with Brisbane cult favourites Bacchus into new territory by creating a beer together. It was as sensible as you might imagine such a pairing would be: a 13.5 percent ABV raspberry, marshmallow, chocolate pastry stout…
It was also great to see so many of the wider region’s brewers head to the Canberra Craft Beer & Cider Festival in March, where the likes of Dangerous Ales, Jervis Bay, Cupitt's Estate, Tumut River Brewing Co (who held their own craft beer festival in November) and Jindabyne rubbing shoulders with the ACT’s hometown favourites.
And, while it's been mentioned in our NSW feature, it’s worth plugging the new South Coast Ale Trail again, given the region is often regarded as Canberra’s backyard. Founder Nigel Ayling has already signed up many of the region’s brewers in a part of the country where the number of new brewery openings continues to amaze: Broulee Brewhouse, Frogs Hollow, Husky Brewing, Malt Man Brewing, South Yeast and Tilba Brewing Co are among those to either release their first beers in 2021 or set to join the party in 2022.
Equally, while they’re now looking to build a brewery and venue in Sydney rather than the ACT, it would be remiss not to mention the success of Heaps Normal here, given they’ve called the capital their base to date. Not only is their Quiet XPA one of the beers spearheading the rise of non-alcoholic beer, but they raised a staggering $8.5m to fund future growth as they aim to capture 20 percent of the non-alc beverage market in Australia.
When it comes to the beer scene in the Northern Territory, Alice Springs Brewing Company founder Kyle Pearson (pictured below right with head brewer Jum Ryan) reckons 2021 was a “coming of age”. Although international tourism was off the cards, the Stuart Highway was busy with domestic travellers dodging lockdowns elsewhere, and expansion was the name of the game.
Alice Springs took delivery of a new 12 hectolitre brewhouse just before Christmas – having taken delivery of a former Little Creatures brewer earlier in the year – and are unpacking new tanks as these words are being typed, with the intention to up distribution both inside and outside the NT’s borders after testing the waters in SA and Queensland this year. It’s seen the relocation of some of their tanks at Beaver Brewery in Darwin so they can knock out more beer, and their Braumeister and other tanks heading towards the rebooted Purple Mango, located on the way from Darwin to Kakadu, which will give Adam Asanovski ten times the brewing capacity for his beers, which often featuring local native ingredients.
Three of the NT’s breweries entered the Indies – the most to take part to date – with bronze medals for Alice Springs (Centralian Ale and Stout), One Mile’s 4:21 and Beaver’s Ards Amber Ale. Another small operation is taking shape at Dunmarra Roadhouse too as the state’s craft beer trailblazers at One Mile race towards their tenth anniversary in 2022. We hear noises about two, maybe three, more in planning as well, but we’ll wait for more than noise before saying any more.
While the big brewers dominate tap space in the vast majority of venues – the likes of Monte’s and The Jump Inn in Alice, and Matt Mulga’s venues, such as Lola’s Pergola and Babylon, among the standout exceptions – more venues are starting to showcase packaged product from their local brewers; I enjoyed Alice Springs’ beers at Kings Canyon in midwinter and Beaver founder Chris Brown says his cans are helping him reach more drinkers across Darwin at a time when more Territorians are looking to support local too.
On the retail front, the team at Winnellie Cellars in Darwin have been swapping out RTDs for craft beers sourced from across the country, while the Gap View Hotel in Alice has been taking a similar approach with a growing beer range eating into the space formerly given over to wine. In short, while the latest twist in the pandemic threatens to impact the NT’s tourism trade a while longer, it’s an increasingly rosy picture for Territorians eager to knock back something other than the ubiquitous Great Northern tinnies.
While I was lucky enough to visit the NT’s breweries in July, this section focuses on beers from the ACT, in part due to their greater availability, and in part due to the fact I only got to sample the beers on offer in the Territory at that time (although more feature in the Reader's Picks section below).
As a sign of what’s going on there, however, it’s worth pointing out Alice Springs were debuting a punchy IPA (with gnarly decal artwork) and their first sour at the time, One Mile (where the medal-winning 4:21 was the pick of the beers I sampled) delivered a highlight for many with their biggest ever Bar BQ Lot festival in July, Beaver are managing to keep 12 taps rotating through fruit beers, lagers, saisons, stouts, IPAs and session beers, and Purple Mango (where you can camp for the night right next to the brewery and enjoy open air showers to wash off the Top End heat) were showcasing everything from ginger and galangal to rosella and mango through their various alcoholic drinks.
Anyway, onto the beers deemed the finest of the capital’s new releases in 2021 by Crafty contributors and a crew corralled by Mat Farrington of CanBEERra.
BentSpoke – Descent 21, Hop Juice and Hop Wheeler IPA
It’s becoming a given that BentSpoke’s birthday beer, the barrel-aged Russian imperial stout Descent appears in these year-end lists. This year’s version came with a twist, however, with wild yeasts adding a vinous edge to the much-loved beast.
There were fans aplenty for their Hop Juice, which did just what it promised on its cans when it appeared in November: combining mango and tangerine with a quartet of tropical hops to create a drink that was as much like juice as it was beer. The brewers got to play with Yakima Chief Hops’ experimental variety HBC 586 as one of five hops in the mix in Hop Wheeler. We all know BentSpoke know how to brew IPAs and this was no different; as my scribbled tasting notes said at the time of release: “hard to pin down exactly where the hops sit but, damn, it's a pure expression”.
Capital & Mountain Culture West Coast NEIPA
The craft beer scene in Australia these days is so awash with hazy IPAs, juicy IPAs, West Coast juicies, NEIPAs, DDH DIPAs and the like – many of them done damn well too – that it takes something to stand out from the crowd. But this pairing of two like-minded operations, one that evolved from a trial batch debuted at GABS, certainly did that.
It received comfortably the most nods of any beer from our ACT nominees and could have appeared in our NSW list too if we hadn’t chosen to place it in the spot where it was brewed, given Capital brewed and canned the beer drawn up by the head brewers at both breweries. You can cram all the flavour and aroma into a beer you like, but it’s the way they’re presented, the way a beer is structured and interacts with your palate, that takes beers into exemplary territory. And that’s what was achieved here in a beer that was full of character but delivered with genuine finesse.
Zierholz – Weizen cans
Given Christoph Zierholz has been brewing beer in Canberra for more than 15 years, you might think he’d look at the rapid rise of relative upstarts BentSpoke and Capital through green eyes, but we suspect he’s just as happy exploring his passion for traditional German beer styles as he was back in 2005 when the first of them was presented to a punter.
Having belatedly entered the world of tinnies (unless you count Zierholz’s five litre mini-kegs), it was the appearance of the well-loved Weizen in cans right at the start of the year that pleased most, not least Mat who was so eager to take some home he helped out on the canning line.
OK, so it’s more beers from the big two, but there were others that only just missed out. BentSpoke’s BS 1000 – a double IPA that was their 1000th brew at the Braddon Brewpub – is their third highest-rated beer (behind Cluster 18 and Descent 15) on Untappd, while Mat describes the aforementioned Corroboree Frog as: “Delish!”
There was much fondness for Capital’s Dankenstein, a tap-only West Coast IPA with a dankness that made it well named, and Tiki Time, a coconut hazy IPA released in cans right at the end of the year.
Starting in the NT and there were shout outs for Alice Springs’ Galaxy-laden Specific Ale (the beer that disappeared from the Crafty caravan fridge quicker than all by the Territory Mid they create alongside Beaver and Purple Mango), Purple Mango’s Monsoon Belgian pale ale – “Local and tasty’” according to Cecile Schnitzer – and Beaver’s limited release Teegy Porter and just-released Red Dog red ale described by reader Helen Turner as a “smooth, easy-drinking ‘darker’ beer – very refreshing in a hot climate.”
The Capital / Mountain Culture collab is, according to Nathan Ford: “An all-round great beer”, while Jack Purcell – winner of the NZ Hops Mixed Pack and year’s Crafty Cabal membership from those in the territories who completed our Reader’s Picks poll – was a fan of BentSpoke’s kveik yeast driven Drikk Godt Ol: “A little bit different than the plethora of other NEIPAs. Polarising to a degree but I found it bloody delicious!”
COVID might have put paid to their plans for a second event later in the year, but the organisers of the NT Indy Craft Beer Fest created one of the year’s highlights back in May, while the simple fact Beaver Brewery was open every weekend in 2021 and knocking out more seasonals than ever was a standout for Miranda Colquhoun.
Dickson Taphouse and Winnellie Cellars were both nominated as breakout venues in the ACT and NT respectively, with Pizza Wings Beer (PWB) in Canberra getting a nod too. And while there would be no surprise that hometown success in the Hottest 100 warmed the cockles of readers in the capital, Jack says the city’s retailers upped their game in 2022 too, praising Plonk, Page Bottler, Blackhearts & Sparrows and Candamber for “taking it to the next level with breweries like Mountain Culture, Range, Garage Project and Mr Banks becoming standard fare.”
In 2022, Look Out For…
Newcomers in Canberra
Goldenhope is a new beer brand brewing out of Zierholz expected to launch during summer and named after a Riverina wheat farm of the same name. Also on the horizon is Stronghold, a new brewing company from Mitch Porteous, a name familiar to many in beer from his years in the Sydney craft beer scene.
A Taste Of The Territory
Prior to 2021, pretty much your only hope of tasting any NT beer outside the NT was by visiting the Pint of Origin Territories venue during Good Beer Week. Having sent some of their Batch 37 pale out into select retailers in SA and Queensland even before commissioning their much larger brewery, Alice Springs are aiming to fly the flag for the Territory’s nascent craft beer scene across state lines. As mentioned above, their expansion is flowing onto Beaver and Purple Mango so, while NT craft beer drinkers celebrate a more diverse range of independent Aussie beer making it one way, will we start to see a little more NT beer flow the other way?
Huge thanks for Mat Farrington of CanBEERra for once again going to great lengths to help compile this feature, and to Mark Dowell AKA @mrboozybanter on Instagram for allowing us to use some of his beer photos here. You can check out the rest of the articles in the series here.