Ahead of the game: Tracy Margrain and Richard Watkins of BentSpoke Brewing Co. Photo: Rohan Thomson
Canberra's embrace of the global craft-beer phenomenon tightened during 2014. We began the year with two local breweries – Zierholz and the Wig and Pen – and on June 6 we welcomed BentSpoke, Braddon, as our third. The two-story brewpub provides great views of the brewing equipment from the downstairs bar. It serves beer, cider, wine and food on both levels and at its outdoor courtyard. On opening night, people queued in the cold to join an enthusiastic crowd inside. And in the first three days, patrons consumed 3500 litres of beer – all brewed on site in the lead-up to the opening by Richard Watkins. Watkins, partner Tracy Margrain and his backers – the family behind Melbourne brewing supplier, Bintani Australia – designed and built BentSpoke from scratch in a new building on the corner of Mort and Elouera streets, Braddon.
As BentSpoke fired up, our oldest brewpub, the Wig and Pen, prepared to move from its Alinga Street home of two decades to nearby Llewellyn Hall, at the Australian National University. Owner Lachie McOmish hoped to achieve the move in just a few weeks from September. He poured last drinks for his loyal patrons on October 30. After visiting the new site on November 25 I'd be surprised to see it open before the new year, despite the building activity under way at the time. McOmish says the bar will be about the same size as the original. The brewing area, on the same level, will be larger, and supported by a grain mill and storage space downstairs.
Before leaving the Wig and Pen to establish BentSpoke, Watkins trained Dr Tom Lillicrap as the Wig's new brewer. The new site should attract the old enthusiasts. And concertgoers at Llewellyn Hall will at last have tasty alternatives to the lacklustre offering of the Hall's pop-up bar.
Good taste: Andrew Deakins and Anna Trundle from Turner enjoy a stout at the Wig and Pen at Alinga Street before it closed for relocation. Photo: Rohan Thomson
As BentSpoke revved up and the Wig and Pen wound back for its move, our third brewer, Christoph Zierholz, eyed a new site at Kingston. Zierholz currently brews from a brewpub in Fyshwick, with another outlet at University of Canberra. He hopes to secure a site for a brewery and beer hall at the new arts precinct, adjacent to Kingston Markets.
Certainly our thirst for varied and interesting beers seems endless. It's likely our small city can easily absorb the output of three exceptionally innovative local brewers. All these brewers arose from the amateur ranks and the depth of local interest shows in two recent events. Canberra brewer Kevin Hingston won the Champion Brewer Award at this year's Australian Amateur Brewing Championship, hosted in Canberra. Canberra brewers overall amassed the second highest aggregate, just one point behind more populous Victoria, and two points ahead of NSW.
The other event, Canberra Beer Week, held in November, attracted a beyond-capacity crowd to its one-day beer hall at Kingston. Tap takeovers and beer and food events across the city also attracted enthusiastic drinkers. It seems Canberra can't quite get enough of the really good stuff.