Sarcasm may be a national sport in bars and pubs across Australia, but the masses felt they’d been hornswoggled when word came through that Lonely Planet had anointed Canberra Australia’s “coolest little capital”, and the third ‘must-visit’ destination for 2018, after sexy Seville and shabby-chic Detroit.
Except, this was no gag. Of course, Canberra’s steady emergence as a serious ‘boutique’ destination is hardly news. Its proximity to Canberra District wineries, such as Clonakilla, with its benchmark shiraz viognier, as well as Eden Road, Four Winds Vineyards and Wiley Trout, has helped to ensure a formidable wine landscape for its affluent citizens. Equally, local eateries including Poachers Pantry and Pialligo Estate – with their produce grown on-site – have truly stamped Canberra on the national culinary map.
Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, however, made no secret of his predilection for liquid gold. Indeed, Question Time has been spilling over to the iconic Wig & Pen (facebook.com/wigandpen.canberra) at the Australian National University since 1994, where bruises are mollified over the tavern/brewery’s fabled Velvet Cream Stout, among other hand-pumped drops brewed on site. And Europhiles (no doubt skittish from the dual citizenship hullabaloo) have long flocked to Zierholz Brewery (zierholz.com.au) for a salutary hefeweizen or pilsner.
But now an audacious bevy of upstart brewers is very much living up to Lonely Planet’s declarations about the city they call home. Leading the charge is BentSpoke Brewery Co. (bentspokebrewing.com.au). Emerging from obscurity, it is becoming a serious contender in the frantic race to replace Feral Brewing Co., Pirate Life and 4 Pines as Australia’s indie darling, following their takeovers by various global conglomerates in 2017.
While numerous brews revolve across the frosty taps at BentSpoke, courtesy of brewer and founder Richard Watkins, the packaged beers have been remedying thirsts nationwide: most notably the flagship Barley Griffin Canberra Pale Ale, which took out an International Brewing Award in 2017. At 4.2% ABV this is a truly refreshing beverage with delicate tropical hop aromas that pique the tastebuds, but never distract from the exquisite wafer-like malt structure. A mischievous reference to the American-born architect who designed the capital, the lightness of this unapologetically parochial beer allows its star ingredient to dazzle: Canberra’s exquisite water.
Water is Canberra’s very raison d’être. When our Federation pioneers were shopping around for a suitable patch for the national capital, this one-time sheep station proved ideal for its fecund springs. And BentSpoke is not the only get-up exploiting this pristine natural treasure. With a tradition of home-brewing in Canberra, a bold few have taken that next step into commercial brewing and packaging, among them the freshly minted Capital Brewing Co. (capitalbrewing.co).
The gypsy duo of Tom Hertel and Laurence Kain has now found a permanent brewery and taproom in emerging Fyshwick (read industrial chic), where you’ll find mod burgers, bearded blokes doing yoga and – more importantly – bountiful beer. Capital brings some SoCal flair to its namesake, but is poised to make inroads nationally with its impressive canned beers (replete with minimalist artwork), among them a red IPA named Evil Eye.
This beer charges out of the gates with audacious pine-like hops, backed up by sweet caramel malt, bready rye undertones and a prickly bitter finish, all at a fairly modest 5.8% ABV. While there are more seamless and generous red IPAs on the market, this brew is emblematic of the young brewery’s moxie, foretelling impressive things to come.
Less impudent, but no less compelling, Pact Beer Co. (pactbeer.com.au) has also grown from a backyard kiln into a fully-fledged brewing operation. And while the references may be provincial – with brews such as the Mount Tennent Pale Ale and Double Dissolution Double Bitter – the ambition is national, best showcased in the impressive L Yeah Lager: a bold take on an Aussie classic. This pale lager is jammed with US-bred Loral hops (think floral, citrus and spice), to give a New World twist to a national favourite.
Canberra, where there’s a delectable pint to complement every pork barrel.