How many family-owned, independent bottleshops can boast a range of around 1200 different beers? In the words of a wise scribe from the past: not many, if any.
But there is one, standing tall in our nation’s capital. When it comes to beer, Plonk in Canberra is a bottleshop of impressive proportions, with rows of bottles and cans of all styles showing how far we’ve come from the monochromatic Australian beer scene of yesteryear.
When Plonk first opened in 2009, the craft beer scene hadn’t yet exploded, and the bottleshop’s focus was on international beer, with only around a third of its range spanning the 25 or so craft breweries in Australia at the time. Now it’s a different story: approximately 70 percent of the portfolio is Aussie craft beer, with the remainder covering the rest of the globe – predominantly British, German, Belgian, Japanese, New Zealand and American.
Another change came about in 2019, with the Plonk range becoming available for Australia-wide delivery from their online store. It’s one that has its beer offering split into more than 50 categories, although if that’s too overwhelming you can always opt for one of the curated mixed boxes; they put out a seasonal box every three months, plus holiday boxes for Father’s Day, Advent and Christmas. Alternatively, you could simply stick to the recent releases section, but with up to 20 new arrivals each week, this could turn into a dangerous addiction.
As for the brick-and-mortar store: have you ever wondered what 1200 beers looks like? Even among those of us whose beer experience is long and colourful, the reality is that few will have actually been in the physical presence of that many different beers at the same time. Thus, when you enter Plonk’s flagship store in Fyshwick, it’s hard not to be impressed.
The International Beers section is the first to catch your eye: aisle after aisle of beer laid out before you, arranged first by country and then by brand. It’s easy to navigate whether you’re a visiting diplomat longing for beers from home, or a local chasing a steady supply of Rodenbach.
It’s not until you swivel your head to the right that you see the Australian section: a wall running the entire length of the store, displaying beers from across our great southern land. Obviously, not all independent bottleshops are in a position to give continued support to so many local breweries. But then, not all independent bottle shops have the floor space Plonk does.
The Australian beers are organised by style rather than brewery, so you can sift through a boatload of pales to make your pick, or scan the sours before you decide on whether you’re feeling like something hoppy, something peachy, or something apricot-marigold-almond-y. (While you’re on this side of the store, the same expansive wall has branded glassware from around the world filling the uppermost two shelves; talk about a glass ceiling!)
If you make it to the back of the shop before overloading yourself with beers you’ll come up to a wall of fridges. Pride of place is given to beers from Canberra and surrounds, from cornerstone breweries BentSpoke and Capital, to German-inspired Zierholz, gluten free brewer Wild Polly and the tall tinnies brought in from Jindabyne Brewing. Off to one side, the cool room door beckons with the words: “Enter here to the magical world of Beerania”.
Of course, Plonk isn’t restricted only to beer. Those after wine, spirits and cider are all well looked after, particularly those in the market for Canberra-produced wines or for gins and whiskies outside of the ordinary. It's an all-round approach that's been noticed too: in 2019 alone, they were named Runner Up in the Liquor Store Of The Year category at the ALIAs and a finalist in the Retail Drinks Industry Awards too.
The Fyshwick store finds its home inside the Fyshwick Fresh Food Markets, with neighbours including a bunch of butchers, bakers, fishmongers, fruit and veg shops, delicatessens and more. The whole precinct is open Thursday to Sunday from 9am to 5.30pm, but people make the most of those times to visit all the various shops. It’s common practice for customers work their way through the vendors, choose all the ingredients for their meals and dinner parties over the next week, then end up in Plonk for advice from the well-trained staff regarding the drinks that will best match each course. But it’s also not unusual to see a beer lover wandering the store on their own, slowly picking out 24 singles with an intense level of concentration once reserved for browsing the video store.
Because whether it’s in one of the Plonk stores (there’s a second in Belconnen, with a smaller yet still more than ample beer selection) or via the website, the same question stands: how do you choose one beer, let alone four or six or 24, out of 1200?
With difficulty. With patience. And with the understanding that this will probably not be the last time you buy beer from Plonk.