I’ve recently visited the nation’s capital for work, which also gave me the chance to check out the local beer scene. Canberra has some seriously cool beer spots – bottle shops filled with craft and international brews, and some funky little bars serving good food and beer (Debacle in Bradon gets an honourable mention here). The crown jewel in Canberra’s beer crown has to be the Wig & Pen Tavern and Brewery, recent winner of the AIBA award for Champion Small Australian Brewery. It’s not hard to see why…
Why was I there??
Simple – Twitter sent me there
Ok, I already had this place on my radar prior to Twitters advice. I’d turned to Google to search out the best beer in Canberra (as I do prior to any trip around Oz) and this was at the top of every search list…in fact I was a little concerned that this was going to be the ONLY place I’d find good beer! My work colleagues were also a big help; anyone who had lived in or visited the capital suggested that a trip to the Wig & Pen is an absolute must for a curious beer enthusiast such as me. This sentiment was mimicked by the crew I worked with while I was down there (“You like beer? You HAVE to check out the Wig & Pen – best beer in town” was the most common phrase around the office) It’s hard not to get excited about referrals like that.
Any ‘ambience’ to mention??
My initial reaction wasn’t great. It’s definitely an English styled pub – dimly lit, faux wooden log beams that I nearly hit my head on a few times, old wooden furniture an even older red carpet. Being a Queenslander I prefer an open plan place that light and airy, preferably with fantastic ocean views – dark and small isn’t my thing. You can see the brewery itself through the windows on one side, which is a cool touch that doesn’t really gel with the overall feel of the place. The furniture also aggravated me – the little tables and chairs were far too small for a giant like me to be comfortable at (and I’m only 6’0”) and the bench seats along the walls had an unfortunately placed piece of wooden trim that dug into my upper back.
The place is decorated with pictures of foreign beer labels/brands, newspaper clippings and posters for events that happened last year. Oh, and a just a few awards – I counted 60 (mostly from the AIBA), but there may have been some hidden elsewhere. It’s an impressive looking list of credentials, so I was happy enough to find an uncomfortable seat and finally get a beer.
Most important…how’s the BEER??
The beers on offer are written on a blackboard behind the bar, split into categories: Regular Beer, Special Brews, Handpump and Brewers Stash (there’s also a cider section, but it’s difficult to get excited about it) There’s quite a selection catering for the needs of all kinds of beer lovers, from light and approachable Australia Ales & Pilseners to big bad barley Wines and Belgian tripels. Over two visits I managed to sample seven over the beers on offer (in no particular order):
Venom (7%): A big American Double IPA, the typical hop bomb – the body is a little light so the hops are the stars of the show. A big citrus and pine aroma (the type of beer I could smell all day). The bitterness isn’t as aggressive as the name (or the bartender) would suggest. This is a quality ale.
Obama IPA (6%): A black IPA brewed for the US Presidents recent visit. It’s much more IPA than dark, with fresh and tasty smells and flavours. The hops give a real ‘marijuana’ aroma, and as the beer warms that smell becomes a little smokey too…how progressive.
Brewers IPA (5.7-6%): Off the handpump! The body of an IPA with an Irish cream head. Smells and tastes creamy, more like a Red Ale than an IPA. A sweet caramel malt and some dried fruit (apricot and apple chips), with just a hint of hops at the beginning and end. Suits the British feel of the place.
Rumpole Pale Ale (5%): I ordered this because two of the bartenders arguing over whether it was good or not…and in my slight inebriation I felt like my opinion would help settle the debate (it didn’t). This is a solid beer – The hops and malt are well balanced, and the bitterness is far from aggressive. It’s fresh and not too heavy…this would be my sessionable choice.
Lunch with the Monks (7.5%): A Belgian tripel, spicy and bitter with a nice bready malt finish. There’s some pear and green apple mixing around with an easily detected alcohol quality. It was also served in a snifter glass…very cool. A nice find, probably a close 2nd to the Venom…
Big Brown Beaver (5%): The best name on the board! Labelled as a brown ale for hop heads, and it doesn’t fail in this statement. BIG hop aroma and caramel malt coupled with a very fresh hop flavour…I imagine this is what candied hops would taste like.
Big Ass Barleywine (8.5%): Fresh fruit on the nose and in the flavour, I’m thinking peaches apples and pears…It’s crazy how fruity this beer is, a very fragrant fruit salad. There’s an alcohol warmth takes over and finishes each mouthful off. The body and aftertaste aren’t big…it’s almost like the beer is merely a vessel for the amazing aromas.
It’d be fair to assume from my above comments that I’m not a big fan of this place based on the bar itself – and yes it really wasn’t to my liking. However, a venue that produces beer of this quality can have whatever furniture, decor and ambience that they want and they’ll still have people packing in. They could have a dirt floor with broken cardboard boxes strewn about the place to sit on and I’d still be happy to find a spot to enjoy a fantastically fresh and flavoursome brew. There’s a chance that I’ll be transferring to Canberra for a more permanent position within the year…looks like I’ve already found my local.