Thursday, June 4, 2009
I’ve had my first one!
Yes, it’s taken over twenty years of beer drinking but I’ve finally broken my duck.* I have enjoyed the refined pleasure of a proper, cask conditioned, hand-pulled real ale. And, as with every new experience, it had it’s ups and downs.
Have you ever been to Canberra? It’s that place that you don’t drive past on your way to anywhere in Australia? The place that you don’t even fly over on your way to anywhere? It’s also our Nation’s capital. And I’m thinking that statement in a Forrest Gump voice. As in “Hallo Mummah. I’m back from visitang ou-wah Nation’s Cap-it-arl”.
The delights of Canberra – which I can only assume is an Aboriginal word meaning “lots of roundabouts and stuff-all else” – are best summed up by Bill Bryson is his travel-novel Down Under (available at all good bookshops and immigration detention centres) when he says;
“In 1996 the Prime Minister, John Howard, caused a stir after the election by declining to live in Canberra. As you can imagine, this caused an uproar among Canberra’s citizens, presumably because they hadn’t thought of it themselves.”
For those who haven’t been to Canberra it is just like a really, really, really big park with some government buildings scattered around an ornamental lake, some nice monuments/memorials/museum-y things and lots and lots of roundabouts. That’s about it.
Fortunately they also have a very nice little brewpub which opened in 1993. The Wig & Pen is a cracker, a little hidden gem in the ‘city’ which brews its own full flavoured ales, four of which are drawn through hand pumps, and other styles to boot. Brewer Richard Watkins oversees the production of plenty of award winning ales in equipment picked up in the early nineties from a Sydney micro that went tits-up. As Willie Simpson notes in The Beer Bible, having stayed open for so long is something of a rarity in craft beer circles. Having done it in Canberra is even more noteworthy, I would add.
I chose the Wig & Pen Pale Ale as my introduction to real ale and I have to say that I can kind of get a feel for what those British types get all gooey over. There is something about the drawing back of the pump handle, the hissing as the beer makes it’s way towards the font, the expectation of the first draught then the little dip in the middle – the bit where you think you’re only getting a half – then the dawning relief as the process is repeated and the glass fills. Probably all sounds like a bit of a tug to those brought up on this bar theatre but for a lager-bred, beer-in-stubbies bloke who has never had the pleasure, so to speak, this was the realisation of a longing. And, a bit like a first sexual awakening, I couldn’t help thinking how much nicer it would have been to have someone there to share it with me.
I am guessing, based only on several years of drinking British beers from bottles, that this pint was a fine example of a cask conditioned, hand-pulled real ale. If nothing else, it is a – dare I say it – a ‘tick in the box’ on the list of beer-things I must do before I die.
* To 'break one's duck' is to claim a personal first. From the game of cricket in which scoring one's first run of the innings is to prevent one from scoring zero, or 'a duck' which, in turn, is from an expression relating to the fact that a zero on the score sheet looks like a duck egg.