Australian Beer History Week

Australian Beer History Week – Day Seven

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To ensure that Australian Beer History Week is actually a week, and not eight days, I’ve chosen to combine our two territories – the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory.

Northern Territory
When it comes to beer in the Top End thee was just no going past the infamous Darwin Stubby (pictured above). That huge bottle of beer that has probably made many a tourist think “Australia must be a nation of pissheads”. At the time that sentiment wouldn’t have been too wide of the mark.

Or maybe that statement should just refer to the Northern Territorians. According to Deutsher’s book Breweries of Australia, people up there get through about 230 litres of beer a year – when you consider some of the population would include kids who aren’t knocking back stubbies that means the Territory’s drinkers are getting through even more than 230 litres per head.

So it would make sense that a huge beer bottle would come from up north. The Darwin stubby was introduced in 1958 and held 2.25 litres before being reduced in 1983 to two litres. You could almost say the Darwin Stubby was the country’s first growler, at least in terms of size. The crucial difference is that the Darwin bottles came pre-filled – usually with NT Draught but Deutsher’s book includes a VB label that he says was also on a Darwin Stubby.

On the other hand, having a huge container of beer in a hot climate doesn’t make sense at all. I’d have thought a smaller bottle would be a better option as it would still be cold when you finished the beer. Also, it’d be faster to chill initially – I know from experience with growlers that they take a fair bit longer than an ordinary bottle to chill.

I couldn’t find a Darwin Stubby to buy and review – I could have sworn I’d seen them at one stage in Dan Murphy’s but no longer. In fact, I couldn’t find any evidence that they’re still manufactured, though I’d assume they are because tourists would most likely buy a bottle or two. But given that it’s NT Draught inside the bottle I think it would taste pretty much the same as any other Australian macro lager.

Australian Capital Territory
Any beer geek knows what I’m going to focus on in the ACT – the iconic Wig and Pen. The iconic brewpub opened up way back in 1994, when the idea that beer could be something other than a lager wasn’t considered by a whole lot of people.

So it’d be safe to say that brewer Richard Watkins has probably helped shift the focus towards better beer in this country (though he moved on from the Wig and Pen a few months ago to start his own brewery). There isn’t much in the way of history that I could find about the Wig and Pen, so I’m going to go with personal experience. The first time I ever went inside was when I was dating a girl from Canberra. She took me there once, not long after we’d been dating but I can’t remember being too impressed.

That would have been because this was before my good beer epiphany so I didn’t understand all the styles of the beers, why there were handpumps and why some of the beers I was drinking were warm. But some time later I married that Canberra girlfriend and, a bit later than that, got bitten by the good beer bug.

So now we visit her family in Canberra several times a year and, each time, I try to squeeze in a trip to the Wig and Pen (and also the Plonk bottle shop in Fyshwick). It doesn’t always happen – understandably, my wife wants to use our time to visit her family, not sit in a pub for a few hours – but it does every now and again.

And when it does I appreciate it a lot more now. I even like the dim lighting, worn-out carpet and tables with years of scratches and gouged initials initials. It feels like a real English pub – or at least what I imagine one to be, having never been inside one in my life. And the beer is great – so many different styles, all brewed in the micobrewery jammed into a small space at one end of the pub.

Watkins must have a short attention span because he pumps out a huge variety of beers, many of them award-winners. From the perspective of an occasional visitor who reads the numerous award certificates on the pub walls, it seems like Watkins makes a beer once or twice, gets tired of it and moves on to experiment with something else.

Which is wonderful for the beer geeks of Canberra. And for those of us who visit every now and then. For as long as it’s there, because there has been talk that the building’s owners may be planning to knock it down and build an office block. What that means for the future of the Wig and Pen is anyone’s guess.

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