A warm and sunny day greeted the Australian National Botanic Gardens in the nation’s capital for the Canberra Small Brewers’ Festival. The event, organised by Mick Strickland, brought together small brewers from around the south-eastern corner of the country with locals Zeirholz and Canberra Beer Co facing off against the likes of Balmain Brewing and Bridge Road.
Ammo and I arrived at 11 on the dot and so were spared having to stand in line for very long. We were grateful for this minor miracle because the Eucalyptus Lawn is a long walk from the city where we had a stomach-lining breakfast. As the day wore on, the entry queue grew. Eventually, tickets on the door were sold out and I can’t imagine the frustration of waiting for thirty minutes only to find out there were no tickets available. It pays to book ahead.
The festival area was cosy with a dozen small tents lined up around the edges with a two-piece band playing in the amphitheatre at the top of hill. Included in the ticket price were ten tokens, each representing a 60mL sample. Below are some highlights of our sampling adventure.
Best in Show
An interesting effort from the Sydney-based brewer. Reputedly based on a Czech beer, our sample came with a balance of smoky, bitter flavours in a black pilsner, hence the text-speak name, which was one of the standouts on the day.
Hopdog Horns Up Rye IPA
The Hopdog IPA is very reminiscent of the (Feral) Hop Hog IPA, whose reign at the top of Australian beer lovers’ palettes continues unquestioned. It packs a bunch of hops and balances up the bitterness with floralness and rated a “delicious”. We’d have liked to ask if the comparison was intentional but the line was building rapidly.
Dalgety Strong Ale
Dalgety had the foresight to offer a free case of beer to one lucky taster. Seeing as I don’t seem to have won it, this won’t materially (or positively) impact on my opinion. If I was to hazard a guess, I’d say this was done in the style of a Belgian beer but I’d be wrong because it’s an English Strong Ale (duh) and an effort that will put hairs on your chest.
From Canberra’s own microbrewery that isn’t the Wig & Pen, the Hefeweizen is a classic definition of the genre, showing banana and spicy tones with smooth mouthfeel.
Honorable Mention (for Experimentation)
We didn’t particularly enjoy the following but they’re worth mentioning because I’d always rather someone try something new than make another Australian pale ale.
Pictured right. Basically, Hopdog take their pale ale, based on Kiwi (TBC because I wasn’t listening) hops, run it through a big bottle of Australian Galaxy hops and pour it into your cup. This was one of the more popular offerings, although it didn’t sit well with ammo. It’s certainly a great idea to up the hoppiness of your beer and it might not be long before the “hop filter” makes its way to your local.
Pinchgut Brewing Stray Root
The idea was to infuse beetroot into a beer. The finished colour is bang on beetroot, with a dark pink shade, but the flavour and aroma wouldn’t indicate any beetroot had been used. Methinks that a batch of the lighter pilsner hadn’t gone to plan and was recycled for this beer.
Two Brothers Kung Fu Rice Lager
There didn’t seem to be anything special about this lager, other than a slightly paler than usual colour. There was no trace of rice but, as ammo rightly pointed out, why would you want that? It’s pretty flavourless at the best of times. I wonder if there’s any value in using rice as a very mild base to build up a very flavourful beer.
Rounding out our day, we also made it to
- Black Duck Brewery – meh on the Pale Ale and the Irish Red Ale.
- Hopdog Brewery – wheat wine was worth two tokens and, at 10.6%, split the two of us. I was not keen but ammo loved it.
- Zierholz – the Schankbier is an improvement on the standard lager.
- Two Birds Brewing – another pile of meh for their Golden Ale and their Sunset Ale, which could either be amber or red ale but we’re not sure because there wasn’t enough flavour to decide.
- Canberra Brewing Co – big thumbs up on the Ginger Beer, big thumbs down on the sausage-infused Hefeweizen.
- Strickland Beer – 1842 Pilsner was the only offering and merited a positive response.
- Dalgety Brewery – the Blonde Ale was described as a “girl’s beer” and was pretty light on but not too shabby.
Bearing in mind that we only got ten samples each, we still didn’t manage to pay a visit to the likes of Bridge Road, Hawthorn, Balmain, Swell, Matsos/Fusion and Bowral but after trying seventeen beers, we were exhausted by the thought of doing any more samples.
Perhaps the real winner on the day was the Wig & Pen. After being involved during the early stages, a dispute between organisers and the microbrewery over who would be invited, the former wanting to cap participants by brewery size and the latter wanting any good brewery irrespective of size to be invited, led to the Wig & Pen canning their involvement. Despite this, we arrived at the Wig shortly after opening and within fifteen minutes, the place was full, although opening their kitchen earlier might have kept a few more of the festival participants around.
In the end, ammo and I took a leisurely two hours to get through our tokens. We thoroughly enjoyed our beery day out, not to mention our first festival since we got this blog off the ground, and are planning our next adventure.