They’re far from being neighbours and you wouldn’t draw too many similarities between the ACT and NT either, but once again we’re running the Territories together as our Best Of Beer 2022 series draws to a close.
Australia’s Green Capital
While most drinkers are only interested in the quality of what’s in the glass or can in their hand (well, most crafty drinkers, at least, given the country’s most popular beer in 2022…), the stories behind each brewery and beer can play a huge role in their success. And there’s no doubting that Capital have put their money where their mouth is when it comes to the “Good Natured” side of their story.
In 2022, years of ongoing work to become a business with impeccable credentials when it comes to being as good for nature as a brewing and hospo company can be saw them hit some significant milestones. In April, they became Australia’s first certified carbon neutral brewery; in September, they followed that by joining the small but growing number of local brewing companies with B Corp certification.
Capital also marked five years at their fantastic Fyshwick home, which we marked by inviting their head brewer and creative director to pick their favourite five beers from that half decade.
BentSpoke Keep On Cranking
While there’s no denying that the breweries who go hardest on pushing their fans to vote in the GABS Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers tend to fare the best, it doesn’t make it easy to win the thing – let alone two years on the trot. And let alone with an IPA when you’re not the biggest player in the field.
But after knocking Stone & Wood Pacific Ale off top spot in 2020, BentSpoke's Crankshaft did it once again in 2021 – and no doubt will be hoping to become the first since Feral with their Hop Hog in 2014 to complete a hat-trick of wins when the results are counted down in late January.
It was a standout moment for the Braddon-based operation in a year in which they continued to secure partnerships outside the beer world, including with the ACT Brumbies, and in spring invited guests for a tour of the new barrel room located across the road from their Mitchell Cannery.
Hail Ale Mary
While the towering success of the capital’s big-hitters can cast a shadow over the city’s other brewers, a new arrival has been making waves – one that also has a brewery in Fyshwick, albeit rather smaller in size than Capital’s: three 600 litre fermenters at time of writing.
Ale Mary features the beers of homebrewer-gone-pro Andrew Gordon-Douglas, who went into business with partners including Canberra publican and a former owner of Pact Beer Marc Grainger, which gave him instant access to taps at pubs like the Durham Castle.
Cans should be appearing anytime now, if they haven’t already, and Mat Farrington of CanBEERra says of their Kings Head Pale Ale: “It’s very flavourful – a proper American pale ale that would be close to an IPA for those used to hazies for whom bitterness has faded from their mind.”
Keep an eye out for Cypher Brewing too, as they’re set to open in early 2023 in Gungahlin after testing the market with beers brewed at BentSpoke.
While there hasn’t been a flurry of new brewing companies to report upon in the NT, 2022 has been one of ongoing growth for those already up and running. We’ll have more to say on Alice Springs Brewing Co later but their peers have been stepping up too.
When The Crafty Pint’s founder and family stopped in at Purple Mango on the fringes of Kakadu last year, they were still brewing on a 50 litre setup; now they’ve got their hands on the Braumeister ten times its size that previously pumped out beers at Alice Springs. Co-owner and head brewer Adam Asanovski has an offsider in the brewery too, while they’ve continued to focus on showcasing local ingredients through their taps.
And, while Purple Mango have taken advantage of Alice Springs' old brewhouse, at Beaver Brewery in Darwin, Chris Brown took possession of their old fermenters to expand the output of his always colourfully-attired beers (pictured at top of article). That said, they're already at capacity again, in part thanks to growing support from local bars and retailers – a positive ongoing impact of consumers' desire to support local businesses during COVID.
Local hospo legends Mulga and Kitty Kat have given craft brewers another foot in the city with The Last Supper Pizzeria at Birth of Venus – complete with a holy fantastical fitout, while Porkin' is a new bottleshop that's pushing NT-brewed beers hard. And, as tastes change, it's a situation that's allowing Chris to keep experimenting, whether that's with big IPAs or the hoppy new world lager that's just started a 3.5 month conditioning period. That said, arguably his beer highlight of the year was claiming a silver medal at the Indies for Beaver's Red Dog Red Ale.
It wasn't just venues getting behind locals either: this year's Darwin Festival showcased three drinks from the NT's longest-established brewery One Mile. The three-week event is the largest festival in the Territory and this was the first time a local brewery had been part of it – a handy addition to the regular comedy nights and live music at their venue.
Speaking of which, the One Mile team have started work remodelling their bar and cool-room, which will see them introduce more taps and more new products, the next step in their evolution after installing a new canning machine in 2022 and making the transition from bottles.
Beers Of The Year
Capital All Night Long Dark Lager & ALC-LESS
They put out many bigger, funkier, sillier, hoppier beers in 2022, but with this pair showcased their knack for developing finely-tuned beers in tighter packages. All Night Long was their malt-driven dark lager and the pick of their new can releases from CanBEERra Mat and those he surveyed for this article – “bloody lovely”, “all smooth and integrated” he says – which is how you want such beers to be.
With ALC-LESS (pictured at top of article), they entered the non-ale space and did so in fine style. They spent years refining the recipe on their 350-litre pilot kit, the result of which – “Your Zero Hero” according to Capital – was a “pale, hazy, light and refreshing beer that brings enough passionfruit, citrus and guava hop flavours that ensures Alc-Less might be the kind of hero you can believe in.”
And, while they were both available for a wider audience, if you’re a local – or timed your visit right – you might have been lucky enough to swing by their Fyshwick home when Batch 1000, a delightful barleywine, was pouring, while there was love aplenty for their Brew Zealand Hazy DIPA too.
BentSpoke Keep It Simple
It goes without saying that BentSpoke’s latest birthday release, Descent 22 (pictured above), wowed wherever it went, and this year was no different for a foeder-aged imperial stout we felt was the quirkiest release in the series to date. But, while sampling its delights didn’t come cheap, their Keep It Simple IPA (pictured at top of article) – or JAIPA (just another IPA) – was a standout IPA from a brewery that knows plenty about brewing them.
The cavalcade of hop-derived delights it brought was anything but simple: this was a beer that kept on giving courtesy of the Idaho 7, Talus, HBC 586 and HBC 630 hops in its midst. One to unfurl at leisure.
And in keeping with the locals angle above, taproom visitors found much to enjoy in Hop Buffalo – a hazy IPA brewed with fresh hops from HPA's Buffalo Valley farm. It was one of a series of such beers from BentSpoke, with others featuring hops from Ryefield Hops and Tallaganda Hops.
Zierholz Premium Lager
Before getting to the beer, it’s worth highlighting another “for the locals” element of the capital’s beer scene in 2022. The city’s longest-established brewery unveiled a bold new look for the Zierholz brand, but also decided to bring their beers to the people by taking their pop-up bar (pictured, with Wild Polly along for the ride) to Canberra’s parks every for a few days every week, raising their profile anew in the community.
As for the beer – one of three in their colourful new-look core range cans – the Premium Lager first appeared as their Oktoberfest beer, proving popular wherever it landed on tap, thus earning the promotion. Maltier than their Pils, it’s balanced and very drinkable.
Alice Springs That’s Not A Knife, This Is A Knife
When peak tourist season eased and they no longer found themselves chasing their tails just to meet demand, the team at Alice Springs went on a bit of a tear with new releases: a kolsch, a stout, a few IPAs…
How much the liquid inside the cans for this pair celebrating one of Australian cinema’s most iconic moments matters to most people who’ll pick them up, I can’t say, because what beer-drinking fan of Mick Dundee would spot them and not give them a go? Those that do will find an IPA and IIPA (pictured at top of article) – each featuring the same all-Aussie hop blend – with plenty of punch, well suited to settling, or perhaps sparking, an argument.
Alice Springs Brewing Co
However you choose to look at it, Alice Springs Brewing Co have enjoyed a ripper of a year – not least when you consider the challenges they've faced in the past couple of years, whether that's the impact of COVID on tourism or ongoing issues with crime in their home city that played a part in brewery founder Kyle Pearson handing back the keys to Alice bar Monte's at the end of the year.
From a time not too long ago when he wondered whether they had enough cash left to survive, they've ended 2022 with a vastly expanded brewery which they've still had to push hard to meet demand, beers on sale not only across the NT but also in SA and Queensland (and soon elsewhere), plus a 700-capacity venue they have no trouble filling that's about to get a major refurb at the start of 2023.
"It's been a really rough three years, with so many setbacks," Kyle told The Crafty Pint. "But now we're more determined than we've ever been.
"We put the new kit in in January and it was full steam ahead from there. As a whole, Alice and the NT are becoming more receptive to craft beer, and especially indie craft beer."
Having signed ex-Little Creatures brewer Jum Ryan last year, the brewery team has expanded again in 2022 – as has the limited release schedule (as discussed above), aided by the installation of a new canning line.
"On the back of the tourism season in September, we had some breathing space, so I thought, 'Let's have some fun and get back to why we do this'," Kyle says. "Let's show people what we can do."
More fermenters are on order as they track towards 250,000 to 300,000 litres of beer per annum, with the goal being to hit around half a million in the next couple of years. But, arguably, it's the impact Kyle has had outside of his own brand that's made the most difference to beer in the NT.
Above, we documented how his upgrade has allowed both Beaver and Purple Mango to expand their output, while Beaver owner Chris puts it like this: "Kyle has worked his butt off getting into every venue and bottleshop, and everyone else gets to ride on his coattails."
How was 2022 For You?
We started this article talking about how valuable a brewery's story can be in the context of Capital Brewing. And within breweries themselves you'll often come across amazing individual stories – like that of Sherri Dill.
Sherri started out working behind the bar at Capital's Fyshwick venue before moving into the brewery and has since represented Capital onstage at beer events. She was also part of the Pink Boots Society ACT collab brew this year so, as our Best Of Beer 2022 series draws to a close in the year Pink Boots Australia marked their first decade milestone, we invited Sherri to reflect on the year just gone.
How's 2022 been for you and Capital?
It has been a massive year, both for me personally and for Capital! After getting seven beers in the GABS Hottest 100, a brand new pilot system, which allows us to get really creative and experimental, and being the first brewery in Australia to achieve B Corp and Carbon Neutral certification, 2022 will be difficult to top.
As for me, at the beginning of 2022, I officially joined the brew team and got my brewing certification from the IBD. I also got to host my first Pink Boots collab brew day in 2022 (pictured below), and make a delicious beer in the process!
Which beers from ACT have you enjoyed most in 2022?
I may be biased, but our pilot system has allowed us to make some truly fun and interesting and delicious beers that we are always getting great feedback on from taproom customers. BentSpoke's Keep It Simple was a stand out IPA for me among many incredible beers they made this year. Apart from that, I'm really excited to welcome newcomers Ale Mary and Cypher Brewing.
What can people expect from you and the Capital team in 2023?
For the moment, we have our sights set on the GABS Hottest 100; crossing our fingers for another stellar result. After that, we are continuing to work through our environmental plan to make sure we're an industry example in sustainability and community.
You can, of course, expect more great events and gigs at the taproom with our ongoing support of the local music industry. Definitely some sick new merch is on the cards, and of course some high quality brews coming up in our product innovation plan that I'm super proud of.
And what's your one wish for Aussie beer in 2023?
Only that there will be more of it! Brewing is such a friendly industry, and even though we're all technically competitors, everyone is always supportive and excited to try and share the new brews that their peers are cooking up. I hope that we can all continue to inspire each other and push each other to keep coming up with new stuff.
You can check out the rest of The Year In Beer 2022 series here. Thanks to the wider Crafty Pint team and the industry gurus who have helped in the compilation of this series.