Category Archives: Beer

Five new Canberra beers for winter

Canberra, look out for a slew of new winter beers from our local breweries.

One of the beers is an election special from Pact Beer Co – it surely had to happen and it could only happen in Canberra. Brewer Kevin Hingston created this beer just for the election and called it the Double Dissolution Disillusion Double Bitter. Try saying that quickly 10 times after a few pints.

In a pun filled email, Hingston writes, “We put the Double Dissolution Disillusion Double Bitter down today. It’s an English style double bitter – a labor of love with a liberal amount of green hops.”

The best bit? “We are calling it a double bitter, but that’s just an empty election promise – it’s actually a normal strength one,” Hingston says.

The election beer isn’t the only thing that Pact is putting out this winter. It will join the Brickworks, an American brown ale style which is being relaunched for the Canberra winter.

And you can also look out for three intriguing new beers at microbrewery BentSpoke in Braddon. Ever-inventive master brewer Richard Watkins has tapped several extraordinary winter beers ready for BentSpoke’s second birthday which is being celebrated this month.

Who needs wine when you can enjoy Cluster 18, an 18 per cent alcohol sextuplet IPA. Or grab a balloon of the Descent 16 – a 16 per cent alcohol imperial stout. These are beers with a flourish.

But if you’d like something a little more comforting and traditionally wintry, don’t despair. For less adventurous palates, Watkins has created Hot Off the Press, a hot, mulled, spiced cider.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 8 June 2016 in

Committee brews up a winner

A thoroughbred, not a camel

Ask a committee for a horse and you get a camel. But what happens when you ask a committee of brewers for a special beer?

The delicious answer is Saison a Trois, a one-off variant on the French farmhouse ale style. Released for the Australian International Beer Awards in May, it was brewed collaboratively by the winners of the small, medium and large brewery categories of last year’s competition.

Chris Willcock (4 Pines Brewing Co), Matt Houghton (Boatrocker Brewing Co) and Marcus Cox (Thunder Road Brewing Company) set to work on 29 February to create the dark, malty, 6.5-per-cent-alcohol ale.

Despite the dark colour and high alcohol content, it remains light and refreshing, with a very clean, fresh aftertaste. Though it was consumed at the AIBA dinner and following GABS festival, organisers might consider offering next year’s collaborative brew to a wider audience.

Beer reviews

Orkney Brewery Skull Splitter (Scotland) 330ml $7.50
Orkney’s “wee heavy” delivers the dessert-like richness of traditional, strong Scottish ale. Forget about hops and bitterness. This is all about rich, sweet malt flavours – including caramel- and –molasses-like characters – combined with a heady 8.5 per cent alcohol. It’s a delicious, harmonious, winter warmer – in fact, far from skull splitting.

Stone and Wood Stone Beer 2016 500ml $10
Each year Byron Bay’s Stone and Wood makes a stone beer by adding hot stones to the kettle. This intensifies malt flavours, partly through caramelisation caused by the heat. This year’s brew pours black as stout, with warming coffee- and chocolate-like aromas, sweet, malty palate and dry finish, with a pleasing espresso-like bitterness.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 8 June 2016 in the Canberra Times

AIBA gongs for Woolworths and Boston Beer Co

326 brewers go head to head

Sixty-three judges at this year’s Australian International Beer Awards (AIBA) tasted 1793 beers from 326 brewers in 36 countries. They dispensed hundreds of gold, silver and bronze medals. In taste-offs of gold-medal winners, they awarded trophies to category winners. And grand taste-offs elected a champion Australian beer and champion international beer.

Woolworths execs smiled all the way to the presentation ceremony, as their part-owned Gage Roads Brewing Co topped all Australian beers with the draught version of its Little Dove. US brewer Boston Beer Company led the international field with its beautifully named Samuel Adams Kosmic Mother Funk Grand Cru.

The real excitement though can be found in the full results at For beer nerds, the Catalogue of Results, details the scores of all entrants in every category. But of more interest to the general consumer, the Trophy Guides offers judge profiles, tasting notes, medal winners and lists of category taste-off contenders.

Reviews – 2016 AIBA award winners

BentSpoke Brewing Co Barley Griffin 560ml glass $11
One of six beers created for BentSpoke’s opening in 2014, the easy-drinking Barley Griffin Canberra Pale Ale won a gold medal in the 2016 Australian International Beer Awards. Brewer Richard Watkins won three other medals, silver for Big Nut, and bronzes for Dick Tracy and Pedal Pale.

Weihenstephaner Kristall Weissbier (Bavaria) 500ml $4.60–$6.50
No surprises seeing Weihenstephan conquering the Beer Awards’ wheat category. It’s a Bavarian specialty, and imagine the tut-tutting in Munich had  a new-world upstart stolen the mantle. It’s a textbook example of the style, with luxurious white head, delicate, banana-like aroma, and light, lively palate, combining subtle, smooth malt with wheat beer’s zesty, fresh finish.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 26 May and 1 June 2015 in  and the Canberra Times

A thoroughbred, not a camel

Saison a trois

Saison a Trois – collaborative brew by 4 Pines, Boatrocker and Thunder Road

Ask a committee for a horse and you get a camel. But what happens when a committee makes beer?

The delicious answer is Saison a Trois, a one-off variant on the French farmhouse ale style. Released for the Australian International Beer Awards in May, it was brewed collaboratively by the winners of the small, medium and large brewery categories of the 2015 competition.

Chris Willcock (4 Pines Brewing Co), Matt Houghton (Boatrocker Brewing Co) and Marcus Cox (Thunder Road Brewing Company) set to work on 29 February to create the dark, malty, 6.5-per-cent-alcohol ale.

Despite the dark colour and high alcohol content, it remains light and refreshing, with a very clean, fresh aftertaste. Alas, it’s no longer available, but here’s a tasting note for the record.

Saison a Trois
Brewed collaboratively by 4 Pines, Boatrocker and Thunder Road, Saison a Trois appeals for its deep amber-brown colour and persistent white head. The aroma and flavour combine a core of sweet malt with alcoholic warmth, an exotic touch of spice and tingly, refresing citrus character on a buoyant, refreshing palate.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016

New Zealanders launch home brew machine in Australia

WilliamsWarn Brewmaster

In 2011 New Zealanders Ian Williams and Anders Warn launched what they claimed was “the world’s first all-in-one brewing appliance”. Following success of the WilliamsWarn Brewmaster in New Zealand, the inventors have now released it in Australia

Their launch of the WilliamsWarn Brewmaster beat America’s PicoBrew Zymatic to the punch by about three years. However, the two systems operate in fundamentally different ways.

The American machine starts by making wort from grain. The New Zealand machine, on the other hand, bypasses this time-consuming part of the brewing process by using malt extract, which can be made into wort by adding water.

The machine, which controls fermentation, carbonation and dispensing in one continuous seven-day process, costs between $7500 and $8500, depending on configuration. Details of the machine and the wide range of malt extracts available to would-be brewers are on

Beer reviews

Little Creatures Hotchkiss Six Domestic Stout 330ml 6-pack $21
Little Creatures new seasonal brew is an easy drinking stout with a comparatively low alcohol content of 4.5 per cent. The deep colour and roasted-grain flavours come from caramel and chocolate malts. Their sweetness is nicely balanced by the spicy tang and bitterness of Rakau and Southern Cross hops.

Ridgeway Brewing Imperial Barley Wine 2015 (UK) 330ml $8
Barley wines are very strong ales displaying sweeet, malty richness and wine-like alcohol content. Ridgeway’s vintage-dated version offers 10 per cent alcohol, sweet, fruity and malty aroma and a big, warming, malty palate, cut with assertive hops flavours and bitterness. It’s built to cellar and should change in interesting ways over time.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 25 May 2016 in the Canberra Times

Old friendship brings Canberra brews to Sydney

Royal Albert to host five Canberra brewers

On the strength of an old friendship, five Canberra brewers are to take over the taps at inner Sydney’s popular Royal Albert Hotel.

The Surry Hills hotel, winner of TimeOut’s 2015 people’s choice award, specialises in Australian-made drinks (including 60–70 craft spirits) and tap takeovers by craft brewers.

Royal Albert partner Michael Bain says the connection with the Canberra brewers came through long-term friend (and Royal Albert partner), Matthew Farrah, owner of Canberra-based Rogue Wines.

Bain says the tap takeover begins on 16 June, with three taps each for the Wig and Pen, Zierholz, BentSpoke, Pact, and Capital Brewing. A sixteenth tap will go to either a collaborative Canberra brew or perhaps a Canberra apple cider.

The beers, served from 50-litre kegs, will remain at the bar until sold out. Royal Albert’s Facebook page will detail the beers to be served and allow customers to vote on their favourite.

Beer reviews

Grand Ridge Kellerbier (Gippsland) 330ml $6.15
Grand Ridge’s lovely, delicate lager offers spicy, fruity, herbal aromas, partly derived from dry hopping with fresh-picked, home-grown hallertau hops. At 4.2 per cent alcohol, it sits light and refreshing on the palate, while delivering heaps of flavour, partly fruity, partly malty, but mainly hoppy – with appropriately very bitter finish.

Orkney Gold (Scotland) 330ml $4.65
Despite a modest 4.5 per cent alcohol content, Orknew Gold offers rich, warming, malty flavours and a soft, creamy texture. Intense hops bitterness flows in around the malty flavours, and every subsequent mouthful becomes that little more bitter. However, the generous flavour pushes back, giving a rich, bitter, balanced beer.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 18 May 2016 in the Canberra Times

Sour and hoppy beer thrills

Thrill seekers move to sour beer, but hops remain the main game

My Sydney beer spy, Mr Malty, notes a trend among the city’s manliest drinkers away from hops and bitterness towards mouth-puckering sour beers, such as Boon Marriage Parfait.

However, sour beers remain on the fringe for the moment and pose no near-term threat to the hops hegemony. Indeed, the growing obsession with very hoppy beers – and the search for increasingly bitter experiences – raises the question, are hops addictive?

In a Radio Brew News interview, Professor Charlie Bamforth suggested hops were habit forming rather than addictive. He noted his own increased tolerance for the uber hoppy and said, “If the word is not addictive, it is certainly pleasurable and calming”.

At Popular Science, Martha Harbison concluded there is no addiction. Hops can be removed from a diet with no withdrawal symptoms, and the bittering compounds (humulones) don’t affect the brain as addictive compounds do.

Beer reviews

Petrus Dubbel Bruin (Belgium) 330ml $5.35
The label depicts St Peter with keys, and carries the slogan “The key to heaven”. Certainly it’s the key to pleasure: deep, glowing brown colour, topped with vigorous foam; aromas of caramel, dried fruits and spice; and a juicy, smooth, warming palate reflecting all of the above. What a satisfying winter beer it is.

Pikes Oakbank Sparkling Ale (Clare Valley) 375ml $3.50
A golden rule in retailing is stock rotation. Stale stock isn’t good for the consumer, the retailer or the producer. But here we have it, a potentially very good beer from the Pike family’s Clare Valley brewery, bought in a Canberra retail outlet. It’s weeks past its best-by date and looking very sad indeed: flat, flabby just drinkable.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 11 May 2016 in the Canberra Times

Oops, by gum, another Canberra brewer

Clonakilla winemaker Tim Kirk once told me the quickest way to humility was through humiliation (according to St Augustine). And so, eating humble pie, this column belatedly introduces the Tortured Gum Brewery of Hume.

The brewer launched in 2013, a year before BentSpoke, two years before Pact Beer Co and three years ahead of Capital Brewing Co’s arrival this month. Somewhere along the line Tortured Gum morphed out of what used to be U-brew it, a brew-your-own franchise that once occupied the same site.

Tortured Gum Brewery offers 150 recipes for customers to brew on site and also sells its own keg and bottle beers into Canberra pubs, clubs, restaurants, bars and one retail outlet.

Owner Craig McAuliffe says the business is currently split about 60:40 between private and commercial brewing, but the mix is moving steadily to the commercial side.

Tortured Gum’s commercial brews include Black Mountain Porter, Capital Pale Ale, Duntroon Pilsner, Majura Brown Ale, South of the Border Mexican style, and Zingiber (an alcoholic ginger beer).

Pact Beer Co 100 Acres IPA (Australia) 330ml 6-pack 5.95
Pact’s Kevin Hingston launched his new IPA this month in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne. Based on a recipe that made Hingston Australia’s home-brew champion, the new brew provides rich, malty flavours with assertive but well balanced aromas, flavours and bitterness of centennial, citra, cascade and simcoe hops.

Boon Marriage Parfait Gueze 2012 (Belgium) 375ml $11.90
Gueze beer takes the palate on a challenging dry, sour, thrilling trip. Be in no rush though as Marriage Parfait carries at eight per cent alcohol. The beer combines mainly old, wild-ferment lambic beer, with a smaller amount of young lambic containing sugar and living yeast, which produce the secondary ferment in bottle.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 27 April 2016 in the Canberra Times

Canberra’s autumn brews

New from BentSpoke and Pact

New autumn beers from Canberra’s brewers include a BentSpoke amber ale, seeped with fresh hop flowers, and a Pact Beer Co hoppy, aromatic IPA.

The BentSpoke’s Richard Watkins put out three brews for the season, Reflector Amber Ale, Dick Tracy Brown Ale, and Fugg’n Chino Porter.

Reflector Amber Ale picks up its pungent hoppy tang as it passes through an infuser packed with fresh Victorian Galaxy hops flowers.

Dick Tracy gives warming, nutty, malty flavours. And Fugg ‘n Chino goes all the way with powerful chocolate malts, laced with Fuggles and Chinook hops.

Kevin Hingston launched two new beers last week: Pact 100 Acres IPA, at Canberra’s Transit Bar and, in conjunction with the Wig and Pen, Pact and Pen Hello I’m Tracy Grimshaw. This is a Currant Affair. Another beer, Pact with the Devil IPA, is due for release at the Great Australasian Beer SpectTAPular in May.

Beer reviews

Riders XPA Strong Pale Ale (Wonga Park, Victoria) 330ml $5.00
This American pale ale style provides a heady mix of warming malt flavours and powerful hops that dominate the aroma, flavour and bitter finish. After a few sips, a slightly harsh hops character accumulates, throwing the nevertheless enjoyable beer off balance. Riders Brew Co belongs to Phil and Gus Kellly, owners of Kellybrook winery and cidery in the Yarra Valley.

Maredsous Abbaye Benedictine Brune (Belgium) 330ml $5.60
Maredsous winter-warming ale pours a glowing, deep-brown colour. The fruity, malty aroma leads to a soft, supple palate with a wine-like eight per-cent alcohol content. The opulent malt flavour and high alcohol combine harmoniously and deliciously. Serve at around 10 degrees to bring out the rich malt flavours and fruitiness.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 19 and 20 April 2016 in  and the Canberra Times

Canberra’s new brewer

Capital beer team

Capital Brewing Co team, from left to right: Nick Hislop, Laurence Kain, Tom Hertel, Wade Hurley, Rich Coombes, Ian Stott

Canberra’s vibrant craft brewing scene becomes even more colourful from 21 April with the launch of the city’s sixth brewer, Capital Brewing Co. The new brewer joins our five existing players, the Wig and Pen Tavern and Brewery, Zierholz Premium Brewing, Tortured Gum Brewery, BentSpoke Brewing Co, and Pact Beer Co.

Canberra bar owners Tom Hertel and Laurence Kain began planning the brewery in June last year with Rich and Sam Coombes. The brothers, founders of the Batlow Cider Co, supplied Hertel and Kain’s Civic bars, Honky Tonks and Hippo Co.

The Batlow connection brings an existing national distribution network to the new venture. More excitingly for drinkers, it gives Capital Brewing Co direct access to one of the holy grails of brewing: a secure supply of hop flowers.

Rich Coombes says Batlow Fruit Cooperative commenced hop growing a couple of years back. As the first hop grower in the state, the cooperative received a NSW government grant and sent orchard manager Andrew Desprez on a study tour of US and New Zealand hop-growing regions.

Coombes says the cooperative harvested its second crop this year and, “Capital takes all of the US Cascade and Chinook varieties”.

Like other brewers, says Coombes, Capital uses pelletised hops. But it also has access to Batlow’s fresh hop flowers at harvest (used this year in Capital Evil Eye Red IPA) and a year-round supply of dried hop flowers, preserved in a cold store at two-degrees Celsius.

Unlike brewpubs BentSpoke or the Wig and Pen, which sell most of their beer on site, Capital Brewing Co intends to be a producer and distributor of beer with a distinct Canberra identity.

Tom Hertel says, “The name is a reference to the area. We [Hertel and business partner Laurence Kain] grew up here and we love Canberra. It’s a great place to live”.

While the three Capital beers being released on 21 April were brewed in Sydney, Hertel and his partners expect to commission their own US-manufactured brewery at Dairy Road, Fyshwick around September or October this year.

Hertel says, “We’re gypsy brewing at a couple of sites in Sydney. This isn’t the same as contract brewing, where someone else brews from your recipe. We rent tanks and have total control”.

Inspired by the San Diego craft beer scene, Hertel and partners brought California brewer Wade Hurley to Australia. Hurley produced the “gypsy” brews in Sydney and will head the Canberra brewing team.

The beers being released tomorrow show a distinct California influence. This reflects the personal tastes of the partners as well as California’s ownership of the strong, hoppy beer styles now being brewed globally.

Hertel describes Capital Brewing Co Trail Pale Ale as an American pale ale style, rich in malt and hops. Evil Eye Red IPA ratchets up the malt and hops even more. And Coast Ale, he says, provides lighter, easier drinking, “Like a California common. It’s a beer you’d take down the coast”.

Initially, Capital plans to sell kegged beer into the Canberra market, beginning with the launch tomorrow. However, production and distribution will expand when the Fyshwick facility opens.

It’s a 1000-square-metre warehouse”, says Hertel. “We’ll have a large brewery, canning and bottling machines and a touch-and-feel tasting bar where people can watch the whole process”.

Running the brewery with brewer Wade Hurley will be two more Capital partners, Ian Stott and Nick Hislop, with backgrounds in brewery and cider-making logistics and sustainability.

Hertel and Kain recently sold their Honky Tonks bar. However, they retain Hippo and Co and will offer Capital Brewing Co Trail Pale Ale, Evil Eye Red IPA and Coast Ale on tap there from tomorrow. They expect other outlets to offer the beers, but details are not available at the time of writing. Hertel says they will list stockists on their website (

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 13 April 2016 in