|The backoftheferry returned to our nation’s capitol recently to enjoy a few of our countries best craft beer venues. One a brewery. The other a bottlo. Both venues feature in earlier posts (here and here) but they are of such high quality a second write up cannot be avoided.
Both venues also happen to be in Fyshwick. Growing up in the 70s and 80s I always associated Fyshwick with graining, imported betamax pornography. I never actually owned or purchased any….but when my I overheard my parents talking and they mentioned Fyshwick, for whatever reason, innuendo and muted laughter followed.
|Zierholz Brewery is located in the backblocks but the beer is superb. Canberra was 100 this year and the first cab off the rank was the Birthday Beer IPA. Solid with a nice IPA ‘squint’. While consuming the IPA, and the Zierholz Amber that followed, I attempted to punch out the Pork Knuckle Special on the lunch board. As people who know me will attest, I can eat my bodyweight at lunch but the knuckle defeated me. The quality was unquestionable, the portion simply gigantic.|
|Next stop was Plonk. Located in Fyshwick Markets, Plonk is indescribable. I somehow moved my bloated thorax the 3 or 4 blocks to Plonk. The craft beer choice on offer was incredible. I had filled my basket with 10 cracking long necks and had moved on to pay when I realised all I had perused was the NZ range!|
|I also managed to visit some other sites in Canberra including the War Memorial. Always a good visit, worthy of mention is the relatively recent introduction of a closing ceremony where the record and experiences of one of Australia’s war dead are remembered. Pretty moving stuff.|
First held in 2005, the Groovin’ the Moo has been growing size and popularity as a musical festival for alternative acts that is held in oddish locations. First held in Gloucester, the 2013 version has been through or will be held in Maitland, Canberra, Bunbury, Townsville and Bendigo. There’s a common line-up at all venues, with local bands opening. 6 bands played in 2005 – at least 27 bands appeared on the 2013. On the weekend, I effectively chaperoned 5 teenage girls to the 11 hour concert in Canberra. They were far more familiar with many of the Canberra line-up than I was, but there were enough acts to keep me interested.
The big names (those that I’d heard of anyway] included Regurgitator, the Kooks, They Might Be Giants, Tame Impala, Temper Trap and Flume. The first three acts, in particular were fabulous. The ‘Gurge were wonderful. They played at twilight and played during the setting of the sun. Their blend of thrash, tongue in cheek lyrics and ebullient stage craft simply delighted the crowd. A great Australian band – the crowd went beserk. They Might Be Giants played some new stuff, but wheeled out their big hit “Dr Worm” (but not “You’re not the Boss of Me”). Really, really solid set and great show men. The Kooks were simply awesome. They fed off the crowd enthusiasm and just rocked out.
The suprise act for me was Matt and Kim. I had absolutely no idea who these guys were. I’ve spent plenty of time since looking at their clips on YouTube and reading up on their history. Boyfriend and girlfriend, Matt and Kim put on one of the most unique and wild live performances I’ve had the pleasure to see. Matt plays a keyboard and Kim thrashes a very simple kit with the vigour of John Bonham. She takes it to a new level with multiple ascents of her bass drum to engage the crowd with foul mouthed exhortations and gyrations that have to be seen to be believed. Her venture into the crowd, standing on the hands of an adoring audience was visually stunning. Two people creating so much noise is remarkable, even if some of it is computer generated. If you ever see these guys playing near by – get out and see them.
The beer list was appalling. I was being the responsible chaparone so was grateful for the presence of some mid-strength beers, but gees – I may as well have drunk water. Carlton Dry 3.5 (apparently especially made for festivals) is the worst beer I’ve drunk. It’s water with some carbonation and light dusting of beer flavouring. I’m convinced that when a beer states on a label “Smooth Finish” it really means no discerbible flavour. Once ticked off, I actually moved to real water for the rest of the day.
When I went to Canberra on the weekend, the focus was showing the kids a few sights and spending some time with my brother, who normally lives in Boston. He mentioned that there would be a multicultural festival on, but we weren’t prepared for the juggernaut that is the National Multicultural Festival. Apparently, this has been going for decades – but I hadn’t heard of it. I reckon the Canberrans keep this quiet and celebrate a festival that is probably only possible in a place like Canberra because of the presence of all the embassies in what is a fairly compact place. It goes for three days, where the Saturday night is the apogee – going from 9.30am to 12.50am the next morning. In 2012, over 250,000 people attended and judging by the throng we gladly mixed with on Saturday – they’d have gone close to equalling that.
There were a couple of things that struck me. Firstly, the diversity of cultures was extraordinary. I’ve been to some cities that can attract a broad cross-section of cuisines and cultures (Beijing and Sydney come to mind), but nothing came close to the collection of nationalities gathered in the Canberra CBD. Whether it was performers, cuisines or beverages, peoples from all continents (other than Antarctica) were proudly sharing their country. I haven’t Yemeni food before and judging by the queues many wanted to experience something new. The Pacific Islanders were well represented. The South Americans were singing, drinking and eating and naturally the Asians and Europeans were well represented. Secondly, the vibe was so good. They’re a mature bunch in Canberra. Everyone was enjoying themselves – whilst walking around eating and drinking, without ever getting out of hand. Don’t get me wrong – the grog was flowing and spirits were high, but at no time did I see anyone carrying like a loon. There were a few security guards ambling about, but it was so pleasant to feel like you were being treated like an adult.
There were so many highlights. My brother and I had no programme and we were just wandering around what seemed like an endless maze. We didn’t get to all six stages but watched a Maori choir, a Dominican band, a Paraguayan duo, a Bollywood show amongst other things. The totally unexpected highlight was to see Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu perform. I’ve seen this guy in documentaries and on Australian Story and the tale is almost too extraordinary in today’s day and age to be true. Gurrumul is a blind indigenous singer that can barely speak English, but has blown people away with his unique ethereal voice and songs. It was just such a pleasure to stumble upon such a wonderful performer. And the hype is real – gees he’s good. The eclecticness of the evening was typified by bumping into an Irish harpist I know from Sydney who had been called up at the last minute to replace a Venuzuelan harpist. I met her as we watched a Cuban harpist that was subbing in a Paraguayan folk duo. It was that kind of event.
As enjoyable as the different performers, the highlight was enjoying the different cuisines and beers. We ate Peruvian, Turkish (the ubiquitous Gozleme), Laotian (a fiery Papaya salad), Bangladeshi, Fijian and German. I would have had a crack at the Yemeni fare, but I couldn’t face the queue. Everyone proudly told you what made their food special. Try the Laotian salad if you can. The beer variety was incredible. Not a good night for my internet access to go down – would have been a record Untappd night. Just about every country had a national beverage on display. The Eastern Europeans were particularly prominent, and the Peruvians and Sri Lankans were showing their wares. The locals weren’t being left out either. Plonk – Canberra’s finest bottleshop had a few crackers on tap. I had a lash at a glass of Bridgeport Kingpin from the tap. It always amazes me how a keg from a Brewpub in Oregon can end up in Australia – but we’re the winners. This was the standout – a lovely hoppy red ale, that went on and on. The Canberrans were there in force and our old mates from Zierholz had plenty of fans. Wig & Pen had a well patronised stand as well and in addition to their own offered a collaboration with the Canberra Brewers – the local brewing club. Malty Cultural (an early candidate for beer name of the year) offered far more than a cute name. Yes – malty, but enjoyably sharp and citrusy. Would have loved the t-shirt as well.
I was in Canberra on the weekend and revisited some old haunts. Wig and Pen never fails to amaze and it is wonderful to see that Zierholz is digging in. My offspring are very excited about Groovin the Moo. One of the venues for this years Groovin the Moo is the University of Canberra or in this age of acronyms and shortenings of any name, UC. We went to check it out and were delighted to find that Zierholz has opened up a new branch at the University of Canberra. It is 100m from where I think that Groovin the Moo will occur.
When I was a university student (many moons ago), the choice of beer at the bars was pretty scant. To be honest, uni students weren’t picky in the 80′s – cold and wet was the criteria and if it was happy hour – then anything went. I even ran for Student Rep Council where one plank of our highly sophisticated platfrom was to get Coopers on Tap in Manning Bar (or was is Toohey’s Old?)(BTW, I was elected). So to discover that the students at the University of Canberra are the happy recipients of the first outpost of Zierholz brings on pangs of jealousy. Zierholz have done a great job. They haven’t compromised. The only beer I could see available was Zierholz (with at least 8 varieties), but they do make a range of wine, wine based drinks and spirit based drinks available as well.
Zierholz@UC will or should kick some serious arse. It has a great set-up. A full blown music stage. A great outdoor area. A really easy area to clean up. A Canberra based brewer that has made a commitment to his city. I’m really hoping that I can spend some time there during the Groovin the Moo. Will uni studnents appreciate the good beer? Probably not – but they’ll enjoy a great venue that is going to get good music acts where there is good beer. Zierholz has done something really cool and good bloody luck to them. BTW, I drank a tasting rack of Zierholz at the original site and enjoyed all of them. There hasn’t been a bad Zierholz beer and they are perfect beer novices. Zierholz makes good beer that isn’t super heavy – but it is really good. This is an interesting experiment. We’ll watch it with interest.
Other than the Wig & Pen, the big beer discovery in Canberra was the Zierholz Premium Brewery. This is harder to discover than the Wig & Pen, because the backblocks of Fyshwick are the last place one would expect to look for a microbrewery with a restaurant attached. That said, it is really worth hunting down, because the food and the beer is genuinely unique.
Christoph Zierholz is a German who started brewing a beer for his father in a garage. He’s gone on to live the dream and build a real live brewery and make German style beers and serve it with German style food on site. The Brewery, Bar and Restaurant is all in one complex. A very simple space has long benches and tables designed for communal drinking and eating. The food fare and beer menu is very simply displayed on big black-board and there’s a bookshelf of books on beer from Christoph’s personal collection.
The best way to get into what Zierholz has to offer is to get a reasonably priced rack of 7 beers for $12, and you get to follow that up with a half pint of your favourite. There’s plenty of German style beers – “Schankbier”, “Weizen”, “HopMeister” etc and an Amber Ale in a “Dusseldorf style”. I really enjoyed the German Pils – a wonderful session beer with a sharp hoppy taste. $7 a pint is good value, and there’s also a locally produced cider.
The real surprise was one of the best light beers I’ve had. The Mild Autumn Ale has a wonderful dark brown colour and a decent amount of roasted taste. The aftertaste is not particularly long, but for a 2.1% beer – this is really, really good. So, if you get to Canberra make the effort to get to Zierholz Premium Brewery.
According to Wikipedia, Fyshwick is known for its adult entertainment industry and as one of two suburbs in Canberra where prostitution is legal. That entry will have to be updated as it is also the home of 3 interesting sources of beer. Strickland Beer Group’s office is in Fyshwick, Zierholz Premium Brewery is in Fyshwick and one of Australia’s best bottlo’s is in the Fyshwick Food Market. Plonk is simply awesome and the range of Australian and overseas beer is superb. The range of prices is also extraordinary from a couple of bucks a stubbie to a number in the $10 to $20 range and some more than that. There was no problem to expand the number of countries covered by the BotF Beer List (if I get around to updating it).
The first new country attempted was Kenya. The exotically named Tusker Lager is made by the historically sounding East African Breweries Limited. This brewery has been producing beer since 1922 and has become a little bit of a Pacman in East Africa taking over breweries in Uganda and Tanzania. The history is colourful and one of the founders died soon after the company began when an elephant hunting trip went wrong. Despite their long and colourful history, EABL have not produced a great beer. Tusker Lager smells pretty ordinary and tastes worse. There is an ickiness and tinny after taste that dominates a very bland mouth feel. I hoped to find a Kenyan Embassy for an exotic piece of beer porn, but the Kenyan High Commission is on the 3rd floor of a small office block in the Canberra CBD. I’d suggest they do a swap with the Greeks that maintain an embassy despite their economic woes.
The second country visited was Serbia. Jelen Pivo is brewed by the Apatinska Brewery which has been going since 1756. It is unfortunately now owned by a private equity firm. Jelen sponsors the Serbian Football League and is probably the VB of Serbia – though that’s a guess. Jelen Pivo is pretty bland, but is totally inoffensive. You’ve gotta love the label, though.
As I write this post I am sitting on the side of the Hume Highway 2kms north of the Avon Dam Road bridge aka the middle of nowhere aka much longer I’ve ever intended to spend near Bargo. The clanking sound that emanated from the Terios sounded terminal. We’ll see.
As I wait for the tow-truck, I reflect on my time in Canberra and the discovery of 4 new brewers (not counting the world of riches at Plonk bottlo, where over 800 beers can be found).
In addition to Wig & Pen, there was the Strickland Beer Group, Zierholz Premium Brewery and the unlikeliest of the lot – Aldi. There’ll be future write-ups on the latter two with more beer porn, but I’m limited to one photo per iPhone email post.
Kembery Regional Ale is the only bottled beer from Wig & Pen. Kembery is an earlier name for Canberra bestowed by a Polish explorer. It’s a reasonable drop with a nice amount of bite. Probably best described as a mild pale ale. It’s a shame they can’t bottle the Firey Aztec, but this will do.
Tow truck has arrived.
This correspondent is in Canberra for a couple of days doing the whole Questacon, Australian Museum caper during school holidays. With the sprogs safely tucked away, I was able to duck off to one of two microbreweries in our Nation’s capital.
The Wig and Pen has been operating in Canberra for 17 years now and is styled like an old English Pub. Apparently the food is pretty good, but tonight was about the beer.
There was no shortage to choose from with 14 beers and 3 ciders on tap. 4 of the beers were on a hand pump in that old English style.
First off – Brewers’ IPA. Off the hand pump, smooth, not bitter at first, but a long lingering hop aftertaste.
Second – a Pale Ale off the hand pump. Very mild and again smooth.
Third – Firey (sic) Aztec. The night’s winner. I approached with trepidation because the last chili beer I tried was simply unpleasant. The surprise here was that the Firey Aztec was a Chili Stout. The chili was used for its flavour not its heat and it worked. Top beer, tasting like a Lindt chili chocolate, though not as sweet. A warming low buzz permeated throughout. A winner.
Lastly, I tried an Olde Spiced Ale. This was a dark beer passed through a compote of spiced and fruit. 7% and plenty of flavour. Worthy of a second attempt.
Alas, the wind was taken out of our sales by the bar man’s last call at 10pm! Bugger – 10pm! Aaah, yes. It’s Canberra.