10 December 2018

Canberra institution Wig and Pen to close at end of month

| Ian Bushnell
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First beers at the ANU site in 2015. Owner Lachlan McOmish on the right. Photo: Facebook.

Wig and Pen Tavern and Brewery owner Lachlan McOmish is calling time on the award-winning Canberra institution, saying the move to the ANU has proven too costly and he can no longer afford to keep propping it up.

Confirming the Wig and Pen will close at the end of December, Mr McOmish said it was a dark Christmas for the 16 staff, who were ‘gutted’.

He said it was a real shame because as a business the Wig and Pen, with its 16 craft beers, had put Canberra on the brewing map, and with 25 years’ experience it was an entry position for people training to go into this industry.

“We’ve done wonderful things for Canberra,” he said.

The entrance to the ANU School of Music, with the Wig and Pen on the left. Photo: George Tsotsos.

Named the best small brewery in the country at the 2012 Australian International Beer Awards, the Wig and Pen ranked No.4 on TripAdvisor among 25 attractions in Canberra and paved the way for other ACT micro-brewers, such as BentSpoke and Capital Brewing.

Mr McOmish said the forced move in 2014 from Canberra House in Civic due to redevelopment had seen delay after delay, as well as problems with the fit-out, that had cost the business dearly.

The Wig and Pen, which opened in 1994, closed its doors in September 2014 and was expected to reopen at Llewellyn Hall the next month, but it wasn’t until January 2015 that it could do so. But the problems did not stop there.

Mr McOmish said the delays cost the Wig and Pen about three-quarters of its business and it was almost like starting over. It didn’t help to have the Canberra Times publish a letter to the editor claiming the ANU, which had reached out to the Wig and Pen, was no place for a pub.

“It’s been getting better slowly but it’s too long for me, I can’t afford to keep propping it up,” he said.

A quiet afternoon at the Wig and Pen. Photo: George Tsotsos.

The hope is that the business can be sold intact, preserving the jobs and the brand, but if it can’t be sold on that basis then Mr McOmish will sell the brewing equipment separately.

“Going with it by way of sale would be all the IP and labelling, and the Wig and Pen brand is a good brand,” he said.

“What I’m hoping is someone who’s got a bit a bit of capital will come in and say, yes let’s go with it. That would be great. Retain the name, stay on, if it means they’re making some beer to take to another venue that’s good.

“If I was a big operator, I would say run the Wig and Pen and use it to enter all the awards, win as much as you can and then make use of a big contract brewer to make Wig and Pen beer according to the recipe and then sell across your chain of hotels. That’s the way it would work best. It’ll make someone a fortune if they do that.”

It’s not just goodbye to the Wig and Pen for Mr McOmish. At 67 the past few years have taken their toll and he’s also selling his house and retiring to the coast at Potato Point, south of Tuross Head.

He said at present the Wig and Pen would close quietly on 31 December.

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Capital Retro6:11 pm 10 Dec 18

Perhaps they should have been brewing cider instead.

Beer has really lost its former popularity.

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