He may have a beer named “The Judges Are Still Old Codgers” in their honour but that hasn’t stopped Richard Watkins, the brewer behind Wig & Pen’s beers, taking home one of the major trophies at the Australian International Beer Awards. The Canberra brewpub was named Champion Small Australian Brewery at the 2012 awards dinner. For the second year running, only a handful of golds were awarded to the record 1,344 entries with Richard picking up two of them for his Velvet Cream and Lunch With The Monks. What’s more, a further ten of the 14 Wig & Pen beers submitted were awarded silvers and bronze medals – a staggering level of consistency from someone who brews a huge range of styles.
“We won Champion Small Brewery back in 1998, but the competition has become a lot bigger since back then,” says Richard, who is in his 17th year at the brewpub. “We would probably be the brewery with the most entries to win the award [for which scores are averaged across all entries] so it’s pretty pleasing.”
The Wig & Pen pours 16 beers, including four real ales and six seasonals. It gives Richard huge scope to experiment, something he never shies from, whether playing with new ingredients, forging new styles or being one of those at the forefront of barrel-aging in Australia.
“One of the best parts of being involved in a brewpub is to see the looks on people’s faces when they try something different,” he says. “You need to have beers that are more approachable to encourage people in but I like to have beers that challenge people’s tastes. I was doing barrel-aged beers in 2004/5 and the market wasn’t there back then so it’s amazing how people have got really into sour or barrel-aged beers since then.”
Upon collecting his trophy at the gala dinner in Melbourne last week, Richard acknowledged Geoff Scharer, the craft beer pioneer behind Scharer’s Little Brewery in Picton who passed away earlier this month.
“Geoff was around the traps when I started brewing at the Hahn brewery [now Malt Shovel] in Camperdown,” he says. “I first caught up with him around 1990 when he used to sell his beer at the Australian Hotel [in The Rocks] and went on a few trips to different beer destinations in New Zealand and the States with him. What he contributed to the industry is understated these days.”
Looking ahead and the future for the Wig & Pen is uncertain. Its current home looks certain to be demolished in the coming months, but Richard insists that he will keep the name alive.
“The demolition of this building will happen at some point and the Wig & Pen will have to move,” he says. “But 120 per cent I want to see the Wig & Pen survive because I have put so much time and effort into it.”
More immediately, the new beers – next year’s gold medalists, perhaps – keep on coming.
“I got a Russian Imperial Stout which is a 12 month project part aged in barrels coming on in June. There’s also a spiced ale, an English old ale to which we have added truffle and brandied cumquats. We’re going to be doing out tripel a bit longer after the gold and then there will be a cherry chocolate stout called Elders of the Blackforest.”
Then, maybe, a batch of “The Judges Are Still Old Codgers Despite The Trophy”…?
The Wig & Pen is, for now at least, in the Canberra House Arcade, Alinga Street, Canberra.
For a full guide to this year’s trophy winners and the Australian International Beer Awards themselves, check out this online guide – AIBA 2012.