It's been a big year for Capital Brewing. Not only have they continued to expand both their team and their sales footprint but that footprint is also now a whole lot greener. The Canberra operation became the country's first certified carbon neutral brewery under the government's Climate Active program before, a few months later, they then joined the growing number of local breweries to become B Corp Certified.
Last month, they also marked five years since their Fyshwick brewery opened. And while their story stretches back a little earlier, we felt it was a good excuse to invite them to reflect on a mighty fine half decade at their mighty impressive home.
We've chatted with the team about many of their recent achievements, but one facet of Capital we've spent less time on is the actual beer, for which their fans have head brewer Wade Hurley, creative director Mick Healy and their substantial teams to thank. Indeed, from Capital's earliest days, the pair have have worked hand in hand: Wade has focused on how the beer tastes, Mick on how it looks.
The latter told The Crafty Pint he was eager to leave long days in the advertising industry behind when co-founders Laurence Kain and Tom Hertel first approached him.
"I jumped on it straight away," Mick says of the moment he signed up for a role which includes being involved in naming the beers, designing parts of the taproom, and the brewery's merch, marketing strategy and the communication and ads you might see pop up on your social feeds.
“It’s definitely evolved into quite a big role and I touch a lot of different aspects of the business.”
For both, it's a business that's grown well beyond their expectations too, not least as the vast majority of their beer sales remain in the ACT region and Sydney.
“When I first started there were six or seven of us and now there’s 80," Mick says. "Every year, the growth is just amazing; we have this amazing sales team that’s going out there and building the brand and to be a part of it is just so exciting."
From a production point of view, Wade has moved gone from brewing Capital's beers on other breweries' equipment to working on the build of their production site, to having a more hands-off role when it comes to day-to-day brewing.
“I used to do everything: brew the beer, get East Coast Canning up and help them can, keg it off, and all the cellar work,” he says.
"We started with three 50-hectolitre tanks and now we have 17 100-hectolitre tanks and we’ve merged into the building next door. It’s been really fun to be a part of that growth but really challenging as well."
Wade's career in the Australian craft beer industry Australia has been a unique one too: Capital's founders met and hired him while on a trip to America. Before landing in the capital, he'd worked at some of San Diego's much-loved craft breweries, such as Green Flash and Coronado, and his constant presence at Capital since its start makes him something of a rarity in the local industry, where brewers often move on after a few years.
“I thought I’d start this brewery up and be here for a couple of years and then go brew in Germany or see where else the world took me," he says.
"I’m doing a lot more R&D and creative stuff now so that’s been really motivating me. On top of that, I have an Australian wife and two kids here so I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.”
He's also seen Australia's beer industry grow to better resemble that of San Diego.
“When I moved out here felt like I went to so many different bars or pubs and you wouldn’t see any craft beer on tap," he says. "And now there’s basically a guarantee – even if it’s someone big like Stone & Wood or Balter – there will be at least one tap of a tasty craft beer.
"It’s been really interesting to watch the craft beer industry in Australia explode over the last few years and now there are so many breweries here I’ve never even heard of.”
But back to Capital and their beers – and more specifically, Mick and Wade taking us down Memory Lane as part of our Five Years In Five Beers series.
Rock Hopper IPA
This beer holds a dear place in our hearts. Not only is it the first beer we brewed on our Fyshwick brewhouse in Canberra, but this beer also pays homage to Wade’s West Coast roots. He hails from San Diego, which is arguably the birthplace of this IPA style.
Born out of 18 months of contract brewing, this beer took its maiden voyage on the new brewhouse and is a big, bitter and dry beer. It’s a classic West Coast IPA loaded with Citra, Amarillo, Centennial, and Chinook hops, which give you the classic West Coast hop profile, and a simple malt bill to let those hops shine. This beer is easily one of our favourite beers brewed to date.
When we first started we wanted our core range to be a bit different than what most other breweries have. Coast Ale was originally a riff on a California Common and has slowly evolved into an easy-drinking, straightforward hybrid beer, somewhere between a California Common and a blonde ale. Hopped like a pilsner but brewed with ale yeast this beer kinda ticks all the boxes when it comes to a sessionable beer.
It was the first beer we ever packaged and it made its way into 330mL brown bottles – this was in the time before the can revolution. It’s also the beer that set the groundwork for our Good Natured Brews branding, which was influenced by the outdoors and nature with the hop fish graphic.
Crispy Boi Pilsner
Named after a meme, Crispy Boi just might be the brewers' beer of choice here at Capital. Clean and crispier than crisp, this classic style lager is just what the doctor ordered after a hard day on the tools. Somewhere between a Czech pilsner and a German lager, this beer is downright sessionable.
We’ve brewed it quite a few times over the past few years with the first batch leaving the tanks back in 2019. It’s hit the taps throughout the ACT and NSW throughout the years and certainly sells out quickly once it’s been tapped.
Keep your eyes and tongues peeled because Crispy Boi will be making its triumphant return very soon.
Mountain Culture Collab
This was certainly a fun one to make! It was a beer that took about six months of brewing with batches being made at both breweries to perfect the recipe.
Mountain Culture are arguably best known for their juice-ladened NEIPAs. DJ is the maestro of haze and Wade on the other hand knows his hoppy, bitter and dry West Coasts! Both fellas hail from opposing coasts of the USA: Wade from the West and DJ from the East. This also added to the great story behind the beer!
For this collaboration, they met in the middle to brew a radical hybrid IPA. This West Coast NEIPA features the complex hop profile, touch of bitterness and signature dryness of a West Coast IPA. But it looks like a juice bomb and has the pillowy mouthfeel, lifted fruits and deep haze that are unmistakably from the East and swoop in to make it endlessly sessionable.
It also made The Crafty Pint's Best New Beers from The Territories in 2021. Look out for the 2022 series starting soon...
A lot of R&Ding went into this XPA; we toyed with the recipe for well over 12 months to get it into a place we were happy to release into the world. What we landed on was a tropical fruit, hop-forward beer with a biscuity malt backbone. We added more and more hops throughout the R&D process and finally landed on a downright tasty hop combination of El Dorado, Amarillo, and Mosaic.
Within six months of making XPA, it broke into the top 20 of the GABS Hottest 100 Craft Beer poll and landed at number 13. Fast forward another 12 months and it hit number seven and was our highest-ranking beer!
It’s now the best-selling beer in our range with room to grow even more thanks to the appetite of Aussie beer drinkers who love this easy-drinking tropical froth.
You can check out other Five Years In Five Beers features here.