Canberra the craft beer capital of Australia

Bentspoke Brewery owner Richard Watkins at his bar in Braddon Photo: Matt Bedford

Times are changing in Canberra’s beer and cider industry –  when Canberrans ease back  at the weekend and crack open a cold one, bar owners say they are  most likely to try a craft brew.
Bentspoke Brewery owner Richard Watkins said when you compared the ratio of craft-beer drinkers to population, Canberra was   “the craft beer capital of Australia”.
“If you found out craft-beer sales in Canberra per capita I reckon we would stack up pretty high when compared to Sydney or Melbourne or Newcastle, the other craft beer Meccas,” he said.
“We do have three breweries for 350,000 people … when you look at that, it’s a pretty good stat.”
Mr Watkins said the lack of traditional pubs in Canberra had helped the rise of craft beer  because few places were tied into contracts with big brewing companies.
“There’s currently two [craft] beer festivals running in Canberra throughout the year –  there’s Beer Day Out, which starts Canberra Beer Week … and next weekend we have the Canberra Craft Beer and Cider Festival,” he said.
“If you can [nearly] sell  out two beer festivals a year, it says you have a pretty good presence.”
Even Canberra’s large pubs have seen its impact with PJ O’Reilly’s manager Kelvin Fitzgerald saying 70 to 80 per cent of the bar’s business  coming from craft beers.
“It’s becoming some of our biggest sellers,” Mr Fitzgerald said. “Carlton Draft is the only mainstream beer we have on tap, the rest of [them] are craft.”
Beers such as Fat Yak, Ruby Tuesday and Little Ripper were selling very well. “It’s a bit of a national thing,” he said.
“Ciders have come into vogue as well and people are really into boutique ciders … [and] because ciders have gone craft as well, it’s a very large segment of the market.”
The owner of Plonk Beer and Wine said five or ten years ago his craft beer shop would not have been able to succeed in the ACT.
“My understanding is there’s another 250 craft beer breweries in planning, so in about four years time we’ll have more than 400 in Australia,” he said.
“We’re getting a lot of people regularly coming in saying, ‘We were at a friend’s house for dinner and we had this beer from your shop and we’re coming in for the one we tried and maybe something we haven’t seen before’.”
The Canberra Craft Beer and Cider festival will be held on Saturday, March 28, at The Mercure from 11am.

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