From each person we met in Sydney on the first day of our trip we heard, “Why are you going to Canberra?” Our traveling companions, Ute and Wolfie, were asked the same question. They really didn’t have a reason, except they were riding with us. We, on the other hand, had two reasons to go to Canberra. First, it provided a good stopping point to break up the long drive from Sydney to our next destination, the High Country of Victoria. More importantly, however, Canberra is the home of two breweries, including a pioneer in Australia’s craft beer movement.
The first stop on our drive to Canberra was the town of Goulburn, home to a brewery of the same name. After a few wrong turns, which gave us an opportunity to tour parts of the town, we located the brewery on the edge of Goulburn.
The brewery’s claim to fame is that it is “Australia’s oldest brewery.” Construction of the complex, Bradley Grange, began in 1833. Designed by a famous Australian architect, Francis Greenway, the complex still survives today as a brewery, restaurant, function venue and museum.
It was a beautiful day in Australia, so we sat in the courtyard. The former cooperage, the courtyard was a nice place to have some lunch and sample the beers.
The three beers available, Gold, Fine Sparkling Ale and Stout, were all real ales, fermented in open vessels. The brews were interesting, especially the Stout, which didn’t have any hops. I have tasted no hop beers before, but I knew they were hop-less before I drank them. Goulburn’s Stout took some getting used to… it tasted like a Stout but your taste buds were expecting that nice hop bite that never came.
After leaving the brewery, we weren’t done with Goulburn because there was still the “Big Merino” to see. A tribute to Goulburn’s biggest industry, wool, the Big Merino is a giant, hollow, anatomically correct, concrete sheep.
In trying to find Big Merino, we took another series of wrong turns and got the see other half of Goulburn we missed when searching for the brewery. I was expecting this majestic setting on top of a hill overlooking the town, but we finally found the giant concrete sheep squeezed into a highway service area next to the petrol station and fast food restaurant. Passing on climbing into the sheep, the access being through the Big Merino Gift Shop (no kidding), we settled for the walk around. I thought that this was something Vegas was missing and Merideth commented that it looked more like Jabba the Hutt (judge for yourself).
With fun and games over, it was time to get back on the highway for the serious business of beer travel. We were headed to ACT, Australian Capital Territory, and Fyshwick, a town just outside of Canberra, and the home of Zierholz Premium Brewery.
Two things intrigued me about Zierholz. One, they were a German-style brewery started by a German emigre. But more interesting was that their brewing kit came from the defunct Wild Duck Brewery in Eugene, Oregon, a brewery we visited over a decade ago. We easily found Zierholz in an industrial park off the main road.
Lady luck was with us on this day. Zierholz was closing early for a private function. If we had climbed up around in the Big Merino and arrived a half an hour later, we might not been able to try the beer.
During our visit, there were seven beers to sample, ranging from a Pils to an Australian “Steam” to a Porter. The stars were the Shankbier and the German Ale, Zierholz’s interpretation of a Kölsch. I even enjoyed the Amber, a style which I normally find very bland. Both of us are huge fans of German-style beers and finding excellent examples in Australia was both a surprise and a pleasure. Ute and Wolfie felt right at home.
From Zierholz, we arrived in the Canberra city center within a few minutes. The downtown area of Australia’s capital was a ghost town on this Saturday, which I hear is common for the weekend. Walking up what we assumed was the main drag, the only businesses open were the pubs and a Wine and Beer Merchant. That was fine, since we were in town to visit a pub, Wig and Pen. Established in 1994, Wig and Pen is one of the first craft breweries in Australia. Entering the pub, you saw the familiar trappings of an English-style pub seen throughout the world.
If I had an expectation from Australia, it was to find at least one English-style pub serving cask beer. And Wig and Pen was it. While they have expanded into German-style lagers and Belgians, my first pints were both cask, Bulldog Best Bitter and Brewers IPA. Both excellent. I finished off the evening with their Velvet Cream Stout, which by world-wide law has to be served cold and nitrogenated. Merideth thought it was “too roasty,” but I liked it a lot.
To sum up the visit to Canberra, I’ll admit it’s not going to be on everyone’s Australia itinerary, but for a beer traveler, it shouldn’t be overlooked.