Nestled in part of the ANU Canberra campus is a little place called Wig & Pen Tavern & Brewery. I had discovered this via a Google search, but after mentioning it to friends who had spent time in Canberra, I quickly discovered it was anything but a secret. I was there on a Wednesday evening and when I walked in, part of me still wondered if I was in the right place. But once I saw the beer taps, I quickly ignored that wonder.
From the selection I first chose the Duckmaloi Red Ale. Given my love of Red Ales, it was a predictable choice I know, but when in a strange city, you tend to run to what you know. The beer is red from the right angles, of course, but it was also a really solid flavour. Not overpowering, such as Matilda Bay’s Ruby Tuesday, but not too watery either. It tasted almost organic, kind of like it was made by from someone who has taken the time to work out what great red ale should taste like. Subtle, but just in the right way.
After some generous tasting portions, my next choices went to the 70 Shillings, an ‘export ale’ that was light but had a surprising full flavour, and the Sequioa, an American Pale Ale with a creamy taste. All three of these beers, along with the tastings, follow a strong undercurrent of smooth over hoppy. For the non-beer lovers, I mention this because in the same way that coffee can be strong but also overwhelmingly bitter, so too can craft beer, and often an overwhelming taste of hops can outweigh the brewers intent.
Taking my eyes away from my beer and to the place itself, it wasn’t what I expected, but let me build on that. Wig & Pen’s location means it has a feel that is both on-campus and strangely abstract from it. This is not a gastro pub, and it is not the first place you would take visiting dignitaries, which is what I assume is what everyone does in Canberra. But its prices, $12 for a pint, mean that it’s also not a place you would go to as a student accustomed to prices half that. Instead, Wig & Pen gravitates in the middle ground. The culture is a little off-centre: they were playing Portishead when I walked in; it’s a little homely: the place felt like somewhere I would hang out in Fitzroy, Melbourne; and it’s aesthetics are no-frills: think of a pub like Labour in Vain and you might be on to something.
Of course, as with a place like this, you would expect a crowd to match. It is next door to the school of music so when I was there, the orchestra appeared in tuxedos, sans bowties, after their performance. For a Melbournian from the North, I felt quite at home.
Overall, I really liked Wig & Pen Brewery. If you’re willing to make the effort to find it, which isn’t too hard with Google maps by your side, you will be pleasantly rewarded. The staff are friendly, the beer is great, and for someone from out of town, it is very easy to feel like a local there.
It’s not the prettiest place, but it’s got a different kind of charm, a style that wouldn’t be out of place in Fitzroy or Newtown. It’s the local favourite, it’s the underdog, and it’s the one that your friends, who went to Canberra to be anything other than to be a politician, would remember and recommend.
If you’re in Canberra on business, take the clients you like here. Or if you’re just in Canberra, make a point to spend some time here.
Wig & Pen Tavern & Brewery
Llewellyn Hall, William Herbert Place
Australian Capital Territory 2601
Telephone: (02) 6248 0171
Mon – Wed: 11:30am to 10:00pm
Thurs: 11:30am to 11:00pm
Fri: 11:30am to 12:00am
Sat: 2:00pm to 12:00am