Category Archives: People

Wine review – Ballinaclash, Grove Estate, Moppity Vineyards, Vintner’s Daughter

Ballinaclash Sub Tuum Hilltops Shiraz 2014
$25

Sub Tuum Shiraz comes from Peter and Cathy Mullany’s 16-hectare Ballinaclash vineyard near Young. The wine – made by Chris Derrez and Lucy Madox of Madrez Wine Services, Orange – won gold at last year’s Canberra and Region Wine Show. Medium bodied, vibrant and fresh it shows the region’s delicious cherry-like varietal flavour and spice, with soft, juicy tannins. It’s available from ballinaclash.com.au and jugiongcellars.com.

Grove Estate Sommita Hilltops Nebbiolo 2013
$47
Brian Mullany holds interests in and manages several Hilltops vineyards totalling around 100 hectares. The largest, Grove Estate (49-hectares) sells fruit to leading Australian wineries, including components for Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz. Mullany trusts his nebbiolo grapes (a Piedmontese red variety) to Canberra winemaker Bryan Martin. The 2013, tasted alongside the 2014 and 2015, showed a delicious core of bright fresh fruit, tightly held by savoury tannins.

Moppity Vineyards Lock and Key Reserve Hilltops Tempranillo 2015
$27
Jason Brown recently hosted a tasting at his 70-hectare Moppity Vineyards, covering wines from his Moppity and Tumbarumba vineyards. The Moppity wines (Hilltops region) showed class across a range of red varieties, including shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, sangiovese, nebbiolo and tempranillo – released under various Moppity, Lock and Key and Cato labels. His just-released tempranillo presents vivid, crimson colour, alluring perfume and matching vibrant fruit, wrapped in assertive but soft tannins.

Vintner’s Daughter Canberra District Riesling 2016
$30
In 2014 Stephanie Helm and viticulturist husband Ben Osborne bought Yass Valley Wines, changed the name to Vintner’s Daughter, and quickly grabbed attention, initially for their outstanding 2015 riesling. While the 2016 vintage hasn’t achieved as much wine-show success as the 2015, it’s in a similar style. Lemon-like varietal aroma and flavour give the wine great vitality. Bracing, fresh acidity gives a pleasantly tart grip to the dry finish.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2017
First published 28 March 2017 in the Canberra Times

Capital Brewing Co takes shape

Capital Brewing Co launched in the Canberra market last April, selling kegged beer made in Sydney by their own American brewer, Wade Hurley. At the launch, Capital partner Tom Hertel announced plans to shift production to Canberra following construction of a brewery in Fyshwick, Canberra.

Though originally scheduled for opening in late 2016, the brewery is now likely to be commissioned by late May 2017, said Capital’s Nick Hislop during a site visit today. However, the consumer launch will likely be some months later as production settles and Canberra’s cold winter ends.

The pictures show Capital Brewing’s location and give a glimpse of what promises to be an outstanding new beer venue.

Capital Brewing Co location
Capital Brewing Co, now being fitted out at 1 Dairy Road, Fyshwick, Canberra. It’s due for commissioning in May 2017, with a public opening in spring.
Entry and courtyard
Capital’s Nick Hislop in the large, landscaped courtyard. The area will all be licensed and includes a stage for gigs.
Meccano for brewers
Nick Hislop and the US-made brewing stuff, ready for assembly.
Brewing platform and customer service area
The brewery will go on the raised area. The lower area is to be fitted with high benches and stools, with the bar to the right and out of sight in this shot.
A rear courtyard, too
Nick in the rear courtyard with baby plants already beginning their long climb up the structure.

Read The story behind Capital Brewing Co.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2017

Wine review – McWilliams Tumbarumba, Shaw Vineyard Estate, The Vintner’s Daughter, McKellar Ridge

McWilliams Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2014
Rob Parke’s Glenburnie vineyard, Tumbarumba, NSW
$40
At last year’s Canberra and Region Wine Show, Tumbarumba region bagged 14 of the 17 medals awarded to chardonnays from the 2015 and earlier vintages. This silver medallist from the show, made by Andrew Higgins, captures the intense varietal flavour of cool-grown chardonnay fermented and matured in French oak barrels. The delicious chardonnay flavour harmonises with the barrel-derived characters, creating an opulent, silk-textured wine of great elegance and character.

Shaw Vineyard Estate Riesling 2016
Shaw vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
$30

Graeme Shaw grows riesling at his Murrumbateman vineyard but trucks the grapes to Calabria Family Wines, Griffith, for winemaking. This is a bigger, stronger style than the average Canberra riesling, thanks largely to the influence of botrytis cinerea, a fungus growing on the grape skins. Shaw riesling gives Canberra’s typically bracing, fresh acidity and citrus-like varietal flavour. And the botrytis influence shows as an orange-rind-like aroma and flavour, accompanied by a subtle sweetness and grippy, mildly tannic finish.

The Vintner’s Daughter Shiraz Viognier 2015
Vintner’s Daughter vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
$40
While her father Ken Helm continues to champion Canberra cabernet, Stephanie Helm opts for the regional specialty – shiraz–viognier – grown and made in conjunction with her husband Ben Osborne. In 2014 the couple bought and renamed Yass Valley Wines and from the vineyard produced this impressive red in the outstanding 2015 vintage. Medium bodied, in the Canberra mould, it offers juicy, sweet fruity, spicy varietal flavour and soft tannins. It may cellar well, but the seductive, sweet fruit and caressing tannins make it irresistible now.

McKellar Ridge Riesling 2016
Briar Hill vineyard, Canberra District, NSW
$22
Brian Johnston’s silver medallist from the regional wine show reveals a leaner, high-acid side of Canberra riesling, with lemon-like varietal flavour and an exotic touch of passionfruit. The natural acidity intensifies the flavour and contributes to the lively, fresh, dry finish. Johnston writes, “The grapes are all hand picked, de-stemmed and pressed into a stainless steel vat”. This gentle processing and a cool fermentation account for the wine’s purity and delicacy.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2017
First published 27 February 2017 in CT app and the Canberra Times

 

Clonakilla Syrah 2015 – a beautiful Canberra shiraz

Clonakilla Syrah 2015 – a beautiful Canberra shiraz, due for release 27 April 2017

Of the many beautiful Canberra shirazes produced in 2015, nothing equalled Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier. But the coming release of Clonakilla Syrah 2015 on 27 April, throws down a mighty challenge to the district’s world-renowned benchmark.

Tim Kirk, son of Clonakilla founder John Kirk, made the first Syrah in 2006 as an alternative style to the shiraz–viognier blend. Made from Tim and Lara Kirk’s T and L vineyard, planted in 1999, the new shiraz-only wine, says Kirk, “… is the Hermitage to the Shiraz–Viognier’s Cote-Rotie”.

A 1991 visit to Rhone Valley Cote-Rotie producer Marcel Guigal inspired Kirk’s Shiraz–Viognier blend. But his Syrah’s salute to nearby Hermitage says more about shiraz (under the variety’s French name) as a solo act than it does about that region’s style. Indeed, a wine of this calibre requires no such comparison.

From the first vintage in 2006, critics and a comparatively small number of consumers compared it favourably with the flagship Shiraz–Viognier. However, the perfect 2015 vintage, together with a maturing vines and a decade of constant tweaks in the vineyard and winery, produced a wine of even greater dimension than the early vintages.

Tasted from barrel in September last year, the unfinished Syrah showed its characteristic ripe-berry and spice flavours and silky smooth tannins. At that stage it was all fruit, and simply irresistible.

Then in October 2016, the 2013 Syrah achieved the seemingly impossible by upstaging the 2015 Shiraz–Viognier at Ben Willis’s Aubergine Restaurant.

When the now-bottled 2015 sample arrived in February 2017, the question was whether it could equal the impressive 2013 (there was no 2014). Well, it did, and will probably surpass it with time.

Just as it did in the barrel tasting, the bottled 2015 leapt from the glass, all perfume and fruit – in Canberra’s distinctive ripe-berry and spice style, with Clonakilla’s great flavour concentration and silky, slippery texture. Tasted over three days, deeper, more savoury flavours emerged, suggesting a wine destined to grow in dimension over time.

Given the comparative youth of the vines and ongoing tweaks in the winery, Tim Kirk believes the best is yet to come. It’s hard to imagine a more harmonious, beautiful shiraz. But if there’s better to come, let’s all hope for a long life.

Clonakilla Canberra District Syrah 2015
$96 at cellar door
Release date 27 April 2017

© Copyright Chris Shanahan 2017

Wynns Michael shiraz – a triumphant evolution

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Michael Shiraz 2013 $114–$120
Winemaker: Sue Hodder
Tasting: masked, with food

David Wynn made the first Michael shiraz in 1955 – a bottling of an outstanding parcel of shiraz memorialising his late son Michael. The one-off wine built a great reputation as it aged, and was one of the standouts in a 1997 tasting of all Wynns shirazes from 1953 to 1995.

Wynns made its second Michael Shiraz in 1990, albeit it in a more alcoholic, tannic style than the original. Production of this powerful style continued through the 1990s but was halted after the 1998 vintage.

Influenced by the beauty and longevity of those early low-oak, lower alcohol vintages in the 1997 tasting, winemaker Sue Hodder, with vineyard manager Allen Jenkins, began refining the Wynns’ red styles.

As part of this wider project, Michael reappeared with the 2003 vintage. And over the next decade as Jenkins transformed the vineyards and Hodder took control of a new small-batch winery, the style evolved further.

The 2013 vintage shows the spectacular result of that work. Pure, sweet, berry-and-spice varietal character combine with fine fruit and oak tannins in the most intense, harmonious way imaginable.

We can never know exactly how the 1955 tasted at the same age. But I recall the (in retrospect) too sturdy versions of the 1990s in their youth, and the beautiful, elegant wines of the 1950s at 40 years.

The 2013 stands somewhere between these two styles, drawing on the best of each. It’s a triumphant evolution, lifting Coonawarra shiraz from potential to greatness.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2017

Wine review – Collector, Long Rail Gully, Clonakilla, Freeman

Collector Shoreline Rosé 2016Collector Shoreline Rosé 2016
Hall, Canberra District, NSW
$24
Alex McKay makes his savoury, dry rosé from sangiovese grapes grown in the comparatively warm Hall sub-region. Even rosé sceptics like yours truly find much to like in this one. The pale pink, slightly bronze-edged colour suggests more than just fruit, though it has that in abundance. The aroma suggests Turkish delight and lemon peel. The vibrant palate reflects these characters and offers as well great freshness, a smooth texture and a tangy finish that combines acidity and tannin.

Long Rail Gully RieslingLong Rail Gully Riesling 2016
Long Rail Gully vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
$19.80–$22
Sadly Long Rail Gully founder Garry Parker died in early December, so the tasting sample became a toast to a man I barely know but with whom I shared over the years several long conversations about wine and the Kimberly region. Parker’s son Richard makes the wine and in 2016 produced a succulent, dry riesling, laced with intense lime- and lemon-like varietal flavours. It’s the perfect summer refresher but should evolve to a honeyed richness with bottle age.

Clonakilla O'Riada ShirazClonakilla O’Riada Shiraz 2015
Various vineyards, Canberra District, NSW
$38–$40
At last year’s Canberra and Region Wine Show, judges awarded gold medals to seven Canberra District shirazes from the exceptional 2015 vintage. Clonakilla O’Riada Shiraz and Ravensworth Shiraz Viognier topped this amazingly strong line up. Ravensworth ultimately inched ahead of Clonakilla to take the trophy.  Conspicuously absent from the lineup, however, were Clonakilla’s top two shirazes, wines I regard as Canberra’s finest:  the flagship Shiraz Viognier and the equally distinguished Syrah. Hopefully one day Tim Kirk might enter these wines so that judges see a comprehensive line up of Canberra’s signature red variety. Their continued absence leaves a question mark over the results. O’Riada shows similar flair to its upmarket siblings, offering supple, juicy flavours in the red-berry-and-spice mould of Canberra District shiraz, with  distinctive Clonakilla elegance-with-strength.

Freeman Secco Rondinella CorvinaFreeman Secco Rondinella Corvina 2012
Freeman vineyards, Hilltops region, NSW
$40
Our tasting group recently compared Freeman’s 2012 with an Italian original of the style. Zonin Amarone della Valpolicella 2012 and Freeman’s version both included dehydrated rondinella and corvina grapes in the fermentation. The resulting wines are deeply coloured and powerfully flavoured with strong, grippy tannins. Freeman’s captures the deep raisiny flavours and power of the style, but remains bright, fresh, and well balanced. It comes into its own with rich food such as slow-cooked beef – as Janet Jeffs demonstrated deliciously at a winter dinner in the Arboretum.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2017
First published 25 January 2017 in the Canberra Times

Five top Canberra and NSW high-country wines

On the back of two consecutive, bountiful, high quality vintages, winemakers in Canberra and the neighbouring NSW high-country released an amazing wealth of classy wines in 2016.

Regional specialties lighted the way. Canberra 2015 shiraz and 2016 riesling sit with Australia’s best. So does chardonnay from Tumbarumba and shiraz and cabernet sauvignon from Hilltops.

But our regional offering now stretches way beyond recognised specialties to delicious quirky wines, like naturally sparkling pet nats (from the French petillant naturel), and a spectrum of varietals, including savagnin, gruner veltliner, marsanne, roussanne, viognier, nebbiolo, sangiovese, tempranillo, montepulciano, barbera, gamay, touriga nacional and graciano.

Despite the excellence and diversity of styles now being made in the NSW high country, shiraz remains the most exciting variety. At the 2016 National Wine Show of Australia, judges tasted 299 shirazes. Canberra’s Mount Majura 2015 topped a field of 88 wines from the vintage. And Chalkers Crossing Hilltops CC2 2014 beat all comers from the 2014 vintage.

The two locals wrestled for victory in the trophy taste-off. Chalkers Crossing won (see review below). The success of the two elegant, medium bodied southern NSW high country styles shows a shift among judges away from Australia’s brawnier, traditional warm-grown versions. But more than anything else, it reveals growing recognition of mature winemaking and the high quality of shiraz grown at altitude in southern NSW.

Alex McKay's Collector Canberra District Marked Tree Shiraz Viognier won the National Wine Show of Australia's Red Wine of Provenance Trophy. Photo: Alan Howard
Alex McKay’s Collector Canberra District Marked Tree Shiraz Viognier won the National Wine Show of Australia’s Red Wine of Provenance Trophy. Photo: Alan Howard

Cementing that shift,  judges awarded the Red Wine of Provenance trophy to another local, Alex McKay’s Collector Marked Tree Red, a Canberra shiraz–viognier blend. Judges compared McKay’s 2015, 2009 and 2005 vintages to similar spans of vintages of Grant Burge Meshach Shiraz, Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz, St Hallett Blackwell Shiraz and Rosemount Estate Balmoral shiraz.

Back in the shiraz classes, local wines other than the two trophy contenders rated highly, with gold medals awarded to Moppity Vineyards Hilltops Reserve Shiraz 2015, Grove Estate Hilltops Reserve Shiraz Viognier 2015 and Moppity Vineyards Hilltops Estate Shiraz 2015 and 2014.

With so many delicious local wines available, my favourite five of the year represents outstanding examples of particular styles: one traditional riesling, two shirazes and two glimpses of the future in the white marsanne and red tempranillo.

But a score or more wines could easily have been substituted for the selections. That’s how good Canberra and region wines are at the end of 2016. The message is to be adventurous and enjoy yourself. There’s a wealth of wine out there to be discovered.

A FAVOURITE FIVE

Four Winds Vineyard Riesling 2016Four Winds Vineyard Canberra District Riesling 2016
Four Winds vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
$25
Four Winds Vineyard’s Sarah Collingwood, a finalist in the 2016 Women in Wine Awards, missed out on the gong, but shares credit for her family’s delicious 2016 gold-medal-winning riesling. Any number of Canberra rieslings qualify for a “favourite” rating and singling out just one seems miserly when so many pass the luscious test. However, Four Winds sat among the silver and gold medallists on the tasting bench, then graduated to the dinner table where its delicate, juicy flavours and freshness left us looking for the second bottle.

collector-lamp-lit-marsanne-2016Collector Lamp Lit Marsanne 2016
Wayne and Jennie Fischer’s Nanima vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
$22
Like other Canberra vignerons, Collector’s Alex McKay looks to Rhone Valley white varieties as alternatives to riesling, the district’s specialty. Marsanne leads a three-way blend with roussanne and viognier – all spontaneously fermented in oak barrels and all subject to a secondary fermentation converting tart malic acid to softer lactic acid. The varietal combination and winemaking technique produce a unique, savoury dry white well removed the floral, aromatic style of riesling. The aroma combines a citrus-like character (orange and mandarin) with subtly musk- and Turkish-delight-like notes. These are reflected on a smooth, richly textured palate of great vibrance and freshness, with a mildly tannic grip on the lingering dry finish.

Ravensworth Shiraz ViognierRavensworth Shiraz Viognier 2015
Ravensworth vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
$36
What better wine to represent Canberra’s beautiful shiraz–viognier style than Bryan and Jocelyn Martin’s Ravensworth 2015, winner of four trophies at the 2016 Canberra and Region Wine Show. Judges voted it best shiraz, best Canberra shiraz, best dry red of show and champion wine of the show. This was the fourth time Ravensworth won the show’s champion’s trophy. The 2015 shows the exceptional depth and harmony of the great vintage – a buoyant, lively and exciting red, combining fruit, spice, savour and substantial though silky tannin structure.

Chalkers Crossing CC2 Shiraz 2014Chalkers Crossing CC2 Shiraz 2014
Chalkers Crossing vineyard, Hilltops Region, NSW
$22
Fruit, fruit and more fruit gives Celine Rousseau’s modestly priced CC2 shiraz tremendous drink-now appeal. In the 2016 National Wine Show it faced off against Canberra’s Mount Majura 2015 to win the trophy as best shiraz of 299 in a tough competition. It went on to win three more trophies – best single vineyard dry red, best dry red, and the Len Evans Memorial Trophy as wine of the show. Len would’ve approved of the wine’s fresh, ripe, succulent fruit and spice flavours and fine, soft tannins. Rousseau says only about a tenth of the wine sees oak, hence the predominance of the lovely fruit.

Mt Majura Tempranillo 2015Mount Majura Tempranillo 2015
Mount Majura Vineyard, Canberra District
$45
Frank van der Loo made Mount Majura’s first tempranillo in 2003 in the comparatively early days for this Spanish red variety. The vines performed well in Canberra’s climate and over time tempranillo became Mount Majura’s flagship. In the 2016 local wine show, Canberra and surrounding regions fielded 14 entries in the tempranillo class. Mt Majura 2015 topped the class and went on to win the trophy for “best dry red other varieties or blends”. The great 2015 vintage produced a tempranillo of exceptional dimension, featuring intense ripe, black-cherry-like fruit flavour, combined with a deep savouriness, reminiscent of soy. The variety’s distinctive, chewy tannins cut through the vibrant fruit, giving a long, satisfying finish.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 16 December 2016 in the Canberra Times

Wine review – Gundog Estate, Chalkers Crossing, McKellar Ridge, Four Winds Vineyard

Gundog Estate ShirazGundog Estate Canberra District Shiraz 2015
$40

The Burton family’s Hunter-based Gundog Estate owns a vineyard at Gundaroo and is soon to open a cellar door outlet in the old stables at the Royal Hotel. The family’s 2015 shiraz shows the deep, sweet, fruity–spicy depth of the excellent vintage, complemented by layers of soft, savoury tannins that give grip and drinking satisfaction. Gold-medal winner, Winewise Small Vignerons Awards 2016.

Chalkers Crossing Tumba ChardonnayChalkers Crossing Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2013
$25
Like many high-country NSW winemakers, Young-based Celine Rousseau sources chardonnay from the cool, elevated Tumbarumba region. Her 2013 vintage tasted dazzling fresh at the recent Women in Wine awards at Avenue C Wine Bar, Campbell. Canberra finalist Sarah Collingwood (Four Winds Vineyard) missed out on gong but enjoyed great support from 17 local vignerons, including Rousseau, serving wine at the event.

McKellar Ridge Merlot Cab FrancMcKellar Ridge Canberra District Merlot Cabernet Franc 2015
$28–$30
Winemaker Brian Johnston models this silver medallist from the Canberra regional wine show on the reds of Bordeaux sub-region St Emillion. It combines merlot (70 per cent) and cabernet franc in a medium bodied style displaying the plummy fruit and grippy tannins of merlot, ameliorated by the perfume and softness of cabernet franc.

Four Winds Vineyard Riesling 2016Four Winds Vineyard Canberra District Riesling 2016
$25
Four Winds Vineyard’s Sarah Collingwood was a finalist in the recent Women in Wine Awards. She missed out on the gong, but has so far earned a gold and three silver medals for this absolutely delicious dry riesling. It combines the variety’s floral and citrus characters in its aroma. And the palate sings with delicate, mouth-watering, lemon-like varietal flavour.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 29 November 2016 in the Canberra Times

Capital Brewing Co to pour its first Canberra slab

Capital Brewing Co's Nick Hislop
Capital Brewing Co’s Nick Hislop

Canberra’s Capital Brewing Co launched into the Canberra market in April this year. Ex-San Diego brewer Wade Hurley produced the beers in a Sydney brewery.

At the launch, owners Tom Hertel and Laurence Kain of Hippo Bar and Rich and Sam Coombes of Batlow Cider Co, said they expect to build a Canberra brewery later in the year.

Seven months later, the promise looks set to become reality with the pouring of the first concrete slab scheduled for Tuesday 15 November 2016.

Director of brewing operations, Nick Hislop, said Capital’s brewery and bar areas would occupy half of an existing 2,000 square metre building in Dairy Road Fyshwick. The initial fitting is to include three uni-tanks and a bright tank, with combined production capacity of 24 hectolitres, plus bottling and keg-filling facilities and a public tasting area.

Hislop says the opening is scheduled for February-March 2017. At that stage the brewery will include a public sales and tasting area with trucked-in food. Later plans include a kitchen and two beer gardens.

Capital Brewing Co currently offers six beers in outlets around Canberra:

  • Coast Ale – an easy drinking ‘California common’ style
  • Trail Pale Ale – a hybrid, like a hopped-up English Pale Ale, using English yeast and Australian hops
  • Evil Eye IPA – An approachable 5.8%-alcohol IPA using Topaz hops
  • First Tracks Stout – uses chocolate wheat malt, includes Barrio Collective (Braddon ACT) whole roasted beans in the boil and cold-brew coffee post-ferment
  • Spring Board – A seasonal American-style wheat beer, with orange and coriander, with honey as an adjunct, all fermented dry and highly carbonated. Dry and orangey, not estery.
  • White Cockatoo – A collaboration with Marrickville’s The Grifter Brewing Co. A wheat IPA using American yeast, Australian ingredients and American techniques, including double dry hopping with Galaxy and Topaz varieties

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016

Canberra’s BentSpoke brewery launches packaged beer

BentSpoke owners Richard Watkins and Tracy Margrain with ACT  Chief Minister Andrew Barr (centre)
BentSpoke owners Richard Watkins and Tracy Margrain with ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr (centre)

BentSpoke Brewing Co yesterday unveiled its second brewery and a high-speed canning line, located in Mitchell, a Canberra industrial suburb.

Brewer Richard Watkins says the new facility has the potential to brew six million litres a year – equivalent to 666 thousand nine-litre slabs – making it by far Canberra’s biggest brewery.

Until an on-site bar opens in mid-2017, the brewery’s output will be devoted to cans and kegs for distribution around Canberra.

Since opening in mid 2014, BentSpoke’s original brewpub, located in inner city Braddon, has produced around 300,000 litres of beer across about 50 styles. The beers have all been served on site from tap.

However, the opening of the larger Mitchell brewery, with its canning and keg-filling capacity, puts BentSpoke into the highly competitive wholesale beer business. It will fight for tap and shelf space against both mainstream and craft brewers, including Canberra locals Zierholz, Pact Beer Co and Capital Brewing Co.

Watkins says local retailers are keen to support local brewers and by launch date on 3 November, 11 outlets had signed up. These included Plonk, Prohibition, Ainslie Cellars, Curtin Cellars, Jim Murphy Fyshwick and Airport, Page Bottle-O, and the Woolworths-owned BWS stores at Calwell, Franklin and Mawson.

BentSpoke cans feature a removable pull-tab and wide opening
BentSpoke cans feature a removable pull-tab and wide opening

For the launch, Watkins released canned versions of two popular BentSpoke brews. Mid-strength (4.2% alcohol) Barley Griffin Canberra Pale Ale offers ultra fresh flavour with distinctive hops filling the mid palate and giving a vigorous, lingering bitterness. It’s streets ahead of most mid-strength brews. Crankshaft IPA, at 5.8% alcohol, delivers opulent malty character, citrusy hops flavour and thrilling bitterness – a delicious version of this popular, characterful USA West-Coast style.

Both come in 375ml aluminium cans with a pull-tab that completely detaches as it opens almost the entire diameter of the can.

Before commissioning the new brewery, Watkinson hired former James Squire brewer Mick Rance. “He’s a great brewer”, says Watkins, “and he’s got the technical skill to use the canning equipment. We have very low oxygen levels in our beer, as low as the big brewers, which is a big achievement”.

Watkins believes cans offer several advantages over bottles: they’re impervious to light, they don’t smash, and they’re light. The rip-top version he selected gives a wide, round opening that allows the drinker to see and smell the beer – a notable improvement over other pull-tabs. However, the tab detaches completely, leaving a sharp-edged, 50-cent-sized circle of aluminium to dispose of.

That’s a retrograde step in my opinion, reminiscent of the first detachable rip-tops of the 1970s. Discarded tabs from beer and soft drinks littered the ground everywhere. Some people even swallowed them after they’d been dropped into cans. After medical, environmental and public outcries, businesses eventually replaced them with tabs that remained attached. While people are unlikely to swallow the large new tabs, the fact that they detach from the can creates a litter problem, and leaves a loose end on a technology that otherwise benefits the consumer.

BentSpoke Brewing Co is a partnership between Richard Watkins and Tracy Margrain, and the Meddings family, owners of Melbourne-based brewing supplier Bintani Australia.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016