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Faces of Canberra: Capital Brewing Co and Underground Spirits

Canberra. No longer known only for its excessive number of roundabouts and politicians. Today, we celebrate a Canberra that has been brought to the global forefront, as not only the best city in Australia, but also the third best city in the world to visit as awarded by Lonely Planet, in 2017. This has been made possible by the ever growing creative scene here in the capital, alongside the epic reputation we have acquired, as the ultimate foodie destination, sprawling bush lands we are surrounded by and a combination of everything else good about our city. We’ve seen some pretty cool brands come out of Canberra.

Today, Avenue Hotel Canberra focuses on the alcohol scene in Canberra, because, well, we love a good drop. Both award winners in their fields and Canberra based, Capital Brewing Co and Underground Spirits have both recently cropped to the forefront of the international market. We chatted with Dan from Capital Brewing Co and Andrew from Underground Spirits, to gain a little insight into their businesses and into why they made Canberra their home for their businesses.


How did Capital Brewing Co come to fruition? Was it something you fell into or always had a plan for it?

Myself and my old mate Tom Hertel set-up Canberra's first bar serving independent Aussie craft beer on tap. We also poured crate-loads of Batlow Cider and got to know Batlow's owners Sam and Rich Coombes. Over several sessions surfing waves and smashing beers, we discussed how rad it'd be to open a brewery. In 2016 we started 'gypsy' brewing on rented equipment. Solid demand for the beer allowed us to raise enough funds to put down our own roots here in Canberra.

You’ve recently launched your brewery in Fyshwick, can you tell us a bit about what we can expect on a visit there? We’ve heard all about your beer yoga…!

Ha! Yep, beer yoga has been wildly popular - what's not to love about balancing a beer on your head in Tree pose! The first two sessions sold out instantly, so we've just announced another session in late November. Book your spot now. The Fyshwick Brewery and Tap Room's proved very popular since opening in September. There's a big beer garden complete with lawn games, a courtyard with kids cubby, and a 12 tap bar situated right amongst the shiny bling of the brew house. Located inside the brewery is the iconic red Brodburger caravan serving up what's often called Australia's best burgers to go with your freshly brewed beers. Brewery tours run on the weekends. Bookings here

Where do you draw influence for your brews from?

We snagged our Head Brewer Wade Hurley from the World Beer Cup winning Coronado Brewery in San Diego on the US West Coast which is renowned for it's big and bold Pale Ales. Wade now passionately calls Canberra home, and we frequently head off on adventures in our own backyard which provide inspiration for our brews such as Trail Pale Ale, named after hiking in the Brindabella Mountains, or First Tracks Stout named after skiing adventures in the Main Range.

In your opinion, why have we seen a notable pull away from the mass produced traditional style beers, with more focus and attention paid to craft beer styles?

Quite simply, a desire for super tasty brews and something different. The Australian palette is changing. People are seeking out something a little more interesting than your traditional (and sometimes bland) lager.   

Have the boys always lived in Canberra? What is it that captivates them about our capital and in turn lead them to break into the market here?

Yep. Most of our crew is born and bred Canberran. Some, third generation. We love it here in the Bush Capital. We have an amazing backyard - national parks with great hiking, climbing and riding, not to mention the best water in the country, which is a key ingredient in beer. Coastal or snow adventures are just a short drive away. Add a great bar and restaurant culture, and a killer underground music and arts scene.

What is your ultimate way to spend a weekend in our capital!?

Breakfast at any number of top notch cafes in Braddon. Pack a picnic for a half-day bushwalk out to Square Rock to take in Namadgi National Park's amazing sub-alpine wilderness. Drop into the Capital on your way back for a well-deserved Brodburger paired up with a tasting paddle. Then grab a bike and cruise around the lake dropping in at your pick of National Institutions - you can't go wrong with the National Portrait Gallery, National Gallery, or National Museum of Australia.


Can you tell us a bit about the team and what roles you each took into the successful launch of Underground Spirits at the beginning of 2017?

Toby Angstmann

Toby is the backbone of Underground Spirits and it's because of his brain and ingenuity that it has made it from conception to reality. Toby is one of Australia’s leading Obstetricians and fertility experts. Through practicing medicine he is exposed to medical techniques involving various types of filtration systems and had the idea of implementing some of these techniques and tools of filtration into alcohol production. The result is his patented and extremely effective filtration system that we credit our amazing spirits to.

While Toby was the brains behind the business I (Andrew Galbraith) was the man in the field making connections with customers and spreading the Underground love to the thirsty masses of Canberra. During my undergraduate medical science degree, I worked as a bartender and made invaluable networks in the Canberra hospitality scene which enabled me to spread the word of Underground and choose the best restaurants to showcase the range. When I’m not in the distillery making the spirits, I’m visiting clubs, bars, restaurants and attending events to show off our incredible range of spirits.

While we were extremely pleased with the response that the local and international community were showing for our distillery in such a small amount of time, we realised we were becoming overwhelmed by the workload involved in keeping up with the orders and paperwork and decided we needed help. That’s where Toby’s sister Claudia Angstmann came in. Claudia lives in the UK and was the perfect person to take on the role of CEO who could plow through the endless paperwork and finalise new deals with prospective customers and distributors, all while we were sleeping back in Australia.

While things were becoming easier as we were finding our feet and benefiting from Claudia’s business experience, we were still under pressure to meet production demands and I needed someone to share the day to day distillery work that I was being bombarded with. We hired my old uni and work mate Ross McQuinn who is the perfect fit for Underground and brings passion and eagerness to the team. Ross now distills most of the spirits and is a natural salesman and problem solver.

Lastly we needed someone with experience in event and award management. One of Claudia’s longest friends Ana von Alten stepped into the scene and handles all of our events and awards applications and countless other tasks that we throw her way.

Together we have formed a tight, eclectic and functional team that brings a wide range of diverse knowledge and abilities together.

Still being relatively ‘new’ on the scene, how has 2017 been for you? What have been your biggest standout moments of the year?

2017 has been incredible for everyone involved in Underground and we could never have imagined our spirits would have received such a positive response from the community. While there have been times when production was in danger of not keeping up with demand, we have always found solutions to maintaining supply and keeping our customers happy and running back for more. The biggest stand out moment for me would be winning a gold medal at the Las Vegas Global Spirit Awards which really put us on the global map and solidified us as a leading producer of premium spirits in the world. The win led to countless requests from exporters to ship our product all over the world and has given us confidence that Underground Spirits will be a very well known brand both domestically and internationally within a few years.

We understand your distilling methods are one of your major points of difference. Are you able to tell us a little more about what makes your method so unique?

Our innovative filtration system which implements medical grade filters is what enables us to produce the cleanest and smoothest spirits we’ve encountered to date. After distilling the alcohol and filtering sulphites and other impurities using copper filtration in our stills, our patented carbon to micron to nano filtration system (invented by Toby) filters to an unimaginably small pore size of 0.02 microns. Coupled with a technique of supercooling the liquid resulting in impurities forming crystals too large to fit through the filters, the resulting liquid is a simple combination of pure alcohol mixed with purified water produced via reverse osmosis.

What can we expect in the future from Underground Spirits? Any teasers?

We hope to initially make as big of a presence in the local hospitality industry as possible. We’re planning on organising pop-up style events and run masterclasses to let the public know what makes us unique. Eventually we will expand across Australia and look to selling internationally as the demand and exposure increases.

In terms of our product range, we are currently in the process of making a smooth and rich coffee vodka designed for use in affogatos or espresso martinis. We’ve also just barrelled our first batch of whisky which we are incredibly excited about, so fingers crossed it will taste good when we decant it in about 4-5 years.

If you had 24 hours to showcase the best of Canberra to a visitor, what would be some of the things on your itinerary?

As I’m a Canberran born and raised, I consider myself a bit of a “Canbassador” and think there are many places (especially that have popped up recently) that are worth checking out. The first that comes to mind is the new Capital Brewing Co brewery in Fyshwick which is incredibly impressive and you could happily spend the entire day there. For a more relaxed arvo I’d head up to the National Botanic Gardens and experience the native Australian flora. If it's a weekend I always like to go out and visit our good mates at Bar Rochford on London Circuit in the City for some incredible food, delicious wine and cocktails and awesome vibe before hitting the dance floor at our favourite late night spot, Knightsbridge Penthouse in Braddon.