So while I missed out on the Canberra Beer & Cider Festival, I have been spending an inordinate amount of time in our nation’s capital of late. Hell, I’m here again, gearing up for Groovin’ the Moo, which, when I first heard about it, I assumed had something to do with Canberra Milk.
Putting one particularly unusual friend who claims Canberra is both the nation’s “political and fun capital” to one side, anyone who has been to Canberra can attest that the place is pretty boring. Each Friday night, the “locals” flee the town as if it were infested by plague rats and come back shame-faced on the Monday morning. There are, honest to God, pubs closed on a Sunday in the CBD. Appalling, I know.
Fortunately for those of us who enjoy a good brew, there’s the Wig & Pen.
Rumour has it that the pub was started by an ANU student who home brewed at college. That is, for people who don’t speak Australian, a pupil of Australia’s most prestigious university made beer in his room in the on-campus accommodation. That doesn’t sound very hygienic but who am I to talk? [Correction: this is not true]
Whether that’s true or not, students have obviously played a role in the W&P’s development. Most Sunday afternoon’s there’s a raft of PhD students present. I know they’re postgrads by the way they carry themselves, wearing their hatred of institutional education on their sleeves but lacking the motivation to participate in the real economy. Plus their cheap clothes.
Given it’s proximity to ANU, this is not surprising and is a pretty good sample of the typical patron. Canberra is one of the better educated, wealthier parts of the country and this is reflected in the W&P’s clientele. As opposed to the Story Bridge Hotel, there’s no hi-vis here.
Enough about academics, what about the beer? Well, it’s all brewed on site. Occasionally the lights in the fermenting room are left on and you can have a squiz. The walls are plastered with the awards the brewers have won. There’s a substantial range on tap, some hand pumped, with a blackboard explaining what each is above. To give you a run down of some of the more memorable W&P efforts:
- Fiery Aztec – a bitter dark beer flavoured with surprisingly spicy chilli
- Lunch with the Monks – a Belgian trappist beer that’s in excess of 10%
- Bob’s Armpit – smelled kind of glue-y. Never been able to figure that out.
- Olde Spiced Ale – a mix of anise, vanilla and a few other things that don’t go well together
While that sounds negative, the fun is that you don’t know what you’re going to get – it might be mindblowing for all the right or all the wrong reasons. That is unless you wuss out and go for something straightforward, like Rumpole, Ballyragget or Kiandra Gold, none of which I would turn my nose up at.
So it’s a pretty great range, a smart but not pretentious crowd with a proper Victorian English pub interior (all wood – very schmick) but I’m going to out the Wig & Pen’s two downsides. Firstly, the kitchen is never bloody open. It operates to strict lunch and dinner hours, in contrast to most pubs where the kitchen is open as long as the bar is. Secondly, I can never find a beer I really enjoy. ammo and I have had some, interesting is the politest way to put it, brews over the years but no real stand-outs. #11 would be an exception, except it’s a bit of a knock-off.
Other than those two items, quite frankly, the Wig & Pen is one of the few things Canberra has going for it, not least because I feel an overwhelming urge to get extremely drunk when I’m in town.
- If you find the website, let me know
- Locality: Acton, ACT
- Type: Brewpub
- Rating: 2 / 2 selection + 0.5 / 1 food + 1.5 / 2 ambiance = 4 / 5
- Interior Design: Pretty cosy, which is great for Canberra winters, but all hard, wooden surfaces.
- Likelihood of making a spectacle of yourself: Huge but only if you try to debate one of the postgrads on existentialism, otherwise nil.
- Plus: There’s always something new and unique to try.
- Minus: That new beer might bite you in the ass.