BentSpoke, an Aussie beer you haven't heard of (yet)
No one looked to a little pub, in the little capital city of Australia, to find Australia's next gift to the food & drink world. But here's the thing.
A few weeks ago, the Australian Prime Minister ScoMo and the British Prime Minister BoJo shook hands over two hampers to signify the UK had, in post-Brexit desperation, looked around and realised they still had a colony they could do a trade deal with.
It was clear what Australians stood to gain – Yorkshire tea, cheaper Jaguars, Henry vacuum cleaners; but the market of Great Britain? Hence the props that day were mainly full of Australian foods and wines – TimTams, Penfolds, Bundaberg ginger beer, Vegemite; and I spotted two silver cans. BentSpoke beer.
This is a brand that largely means nothing outside the Australian capital city of Canberra; as a local, I’ve had friends toss me a can, had it on tap at the historic Hyatt Hotel near Parliament House, and I’ve walked past the BentSpoke brewpub in one of Canberra’s winebibbing suburbs. It’s certainly not the first beer you’re going to be offered in Sydney or Melbourne when you get off the plane, or at a country pub in the outback. I was a bit astonished to see it featured before the world as a great Australian product.
Friday evening vibe
All of which suddenly meant I had to visit the BentSpoke brewpub on mission from FoodTribe to find out more about this beer. Does it deserve to be up there with TimTams and Bundaberg; the next big thing for people overseas to bring up when they hear your accent? Sadly, I’m as much of a judge of beer as your nan is a move critic; there’s far more loving everything and then falling asleep than nuanced critique. I can say that BentSpoke’s beers have taken out many beer awards in the last few years – notably a 2019 championship at the International Beer and Cider Awards in London, a 2018 bronze medal at the World Beer Cup in the US, and at the world’s Eurovision for craft beer last year, GABS Hottest 100, BentSpoke’s Crankshaft IPA was voted first place. It’s also becoming violently popular on taps and at BBQs in Australia’s capital.
The history of the pub is actually the history of the brand itself; rather than being an accessible off-shoot of a brewery, it was literally where founders Richard and Tracey started pouring their own beers for people walking in off the street 7 years ago – before it all got so big and popular and required a dedicated brewery offsite. Today all beer served in the pub is brewed there; whereas the cans you buy and see at trade deals are produced in the offsite brewery – a facility which has been redeveloped four times to keep up with demand. Obviously, the stalwart brewpub retains some exclusive brews and remains where new brews are tested to see if anyone will love them.
One such brew currently on test is "Fixie", a ginger beer, which if you're expecting Bundaberg, is more a beer with ginger than a ginger beer. Served with a wedge of lime, it’s the ideal gateway craft beer. Meanwhile a brew exclusive to the pub is ‘Dick Tracey’, the first beer that founders Richard and Tracey brewed together back in 2014 – it’s dark, malty, and a bit American. Not generally what I look for in a beer, but sometimes a man wants to weep a bit after a gulp.
Currently, four BentSpoke beers are canned and on shelves – “Crankshaft”, the iconic IPA, Mort’s Gold, a lager, “Sprocket”, a fruity IPA, which means it’s the best beer in the world, “Red Nut”, a hoppy IPA, “Easy”, a low alcohol ale, and “Barley Griffin”, a pale ale named in honour of Canberra’s Sir Christopher Wren, architect Walter Burley Griffin. The cans are iconic, in that you rip the whole top off them, something which I’d loved but never understood until Brewpub’s manager Simon explained it: it turns them into an aluminium schooner. Akin to drinking wine from a glass; you can actually smell the beer as you drink it.
It’s a concept that was pioneered in the US, but BentSpoke is the only Australian brewer to do it – and now, no longer. According to the Diet Coke drinkers at the New South Wales Environmental Protection Authority, the can creates two items of rubbish rather than one. Henceforth, cans are going to be boring again.
The question you’re no doubt wondering – are these cans going to find themselves on the shelves in Walmart and Waitrose any time soon? Probably not. After he’s shown me the lay of the Brewpub – with its keg stools, beer cans studded in the ceiling for patrons to look up and wonder if they’ve had too many, and handrails to an upper level that are actually pipes full of beer – BentSpoke’s Simon tells me a bit about the brand’s gentle ambition. They hadn’t even planned the trade deal prop – admirers at the court, it seems – and while a big international campaign isn’t on the cards tomorrow, the brand is fast becoming the face of Australian craft beer.
Just remember – you found out about it here first.