Craft beer is a topic that gets a lot of people excited, rookies like me included. It causes much debate globally and the same goes in Canberra it seems. This week’s Best of Canberra local craft beer call out saw much debate among RiotACT readers, which, for some, quickly evolved into a conversation about the cost of craft beer in Australia compared to the US. Arguments about cost aside, I was pretty excited when votes started coming in for Canberra’s local craft breweries.
Unsurprisingly, this week’s voting was a hot contest between three of Canberra’s breweries – Bentspoke Brewing Co, The Wig & Pen Tavern and Brewery, and Zierholz Premium Brewery.
Not counting those home brewers amongst us, there is only one other commercial brewery in Canberra that I know of and that is The Tortured Gum Brewery. Located in Hume, it has a big range of craft beer available and offers a “Brew on the Premises” service, where you can brew your own beer using their microbrewery equipment. I think it’s a pretty cool idea, but the other three breweries have what The Tortured Gum doesn’t – a bar or tavern or taphouse attached.
No matter what you call it, my guess is that the lack of an attached bar might be the reason that The Tortured Gum Brewery is lesser known than the others and didn’t attract any votes this week.
In the end, the local craft beer Taste Off was to be between Bentspoke and The Wig & Pen. Not far behind was Zierholz Premium Brewery, which offers seven different beers and has two venues, the original brewery in Fyshwick and the newer restaurant and bar at the University of Canberra. Zierholz beer is also available on tap in a number of other restaurants and bars around town. This article, however, is about deciding which beer is better – Bentspoke or The Wig & Pen. This week, I bought my beer-loving partner, Matt, along for the ride.
First up I went to The Wig & Pen Tavern and Brewery in their new location at Llewellyn Hall at ANU’s School of Music. After relocating from Canberra House on Alinga Street due to the building’s redevelopment in January this year, it was my first time at the new venue and they seem to be settling in well. The Wig & Pen first opened in 1994 and has 15 beers on tap, all brewed in house and including four traditional real ales which are hand pumped. It also has one cider (not its own), a good selection of local wines and a menu of honest pub grub. The Wig & Pen has always had a real English pub vibe going on, which it hasn’t quite nailed yet at the new premises but seems to be well on its way.
We tasted a few of their beers before settling on Kiandra Gold, a golden pilsner beer, and Aqua Amandi, a wheat and rye ale. I had the Kiandra Gold and was pretty happy with my choice. I like hoppy beers and this pilsner had the right amount of hop bitterness for me. Matt also enjoyed his Aqua Amandi, reporting that it was refreshing and subtle in taste. Overall, The Wig & Pen have a big selection of house brewed beer and are more than willing to let you try before you buy.
Next was Bentspoke Brewing Co on Mort Street in Braddon. Bentspoke only opened in June last year and has made a big splash in the Canberra craft brewery scene. I went the first week it opened and it had already sold out two of its six beers within days. It is far more on top of demand now, with all 18 taps pumping out 17 different beers and one cider. Inside, they have jumped on the industrial bandwagon, marrying their love of beer with custom fixtures made from old bike parts. Bentspoke also offers a two-litre take home “traveller” container for all those serious craft beer-lovers out there.
We went on Friday evening and the place was packed. There wasn’t much opportunity for taste testing, but I’ve had a few of their beers before. I went for the Sprocket, a fruity IPA, while Matt tried the Barley Griffin, an Australian Special Bitter with a decidedly Canberran name. Sprocket was crisp and refreshing, the perfect mix of fruit and bitterness. Matt also liked his Barley Griffin, which was one of the original six beers that was available when Bentspoke opened. The addition of oregano gives this beer an unusual spice that people seem to either love or hate. Matt and I are both sitting on the love side of the fence for this one.
For this week’s Taste Off I once again found myself with a difficult decision to make. Both The Wig & Pen and Bentspoke brew a big range of delicious beers. The Wig & Pen have been brewing beer for 20 years and are well and truly established as a Canberra institution. Bentspoke, on the other hand, are very new to the commercial brewing game. I enjoyed the beer at both, so my decision this week came down to the experience on the whole. Bentspoke’s industrial feel is fresh, modern and always lively, while The Wig & Pen haven’t quite captured that cosy feeling of a true English pub just yet.
This week I am naming Bentspoke Brewing Co the winner of the local craft beer Taste Off.