The Canberra brewing scene has long been as idiosyncratic as the city it calls home.
For a long period, brewing in Canberra meant pretty much one thing: the Wig & Pen, a tiny tavern-based operation that was pushing the boundaries of what beer could be well before most people working in craft breweries today knew what hops were, let alone that beers could be aged in barrels.
Today, with the Wig & Pen now one for the history books, mention ACT and brewing to an Aussie beer lover and they'll most likely come back with BentSpoke and Capital, the big-hitters who've been helping the territory punch above its weight, most notably when the Hottest 100 rolls around.
Yet, since 2005, Zierholz have built a solid fanbase of locals for their predominantly traditional European-inspired offerings, while Wild Polly, who started releasing their gluten-free beers in 2019, also call ACT home. Others have come and gone, too: the likes of Wignall, Braddon Brew and Pact Beer, the last of which won Champion Gypsy Brewery at the 2017 Australian International Beer Awards.
For all that, it's understandable that those who don't live there – or don't have reason to know better – might think of the capital as a two-horse town, a perception a couple of new arrivals will be hoping to change.
Late in 2022, Ale Mary released their first beers, and in April this year Canberra's brewing community grew again when the team at Cypher Brewing first welcomed the public through the doors of their Gungahlin home.
It's been launched by a group of Canberra locals, Jeff Wilson Shipley, Rachelle Loosen, Benn Masters and Leo Valenzuela, who bring diverse backgrounds with a shared passion for homebrewing and craft beer to the business. Their aim, according to head brewer Matt Thiele, who joined them from Capital, is "to bring good beer and a good atmosphere to the people of Canberra and anyone that wants to come and visit."
"They got got together and started spit-balling the idea of opening a brewery," Matt says of the founders, "and just did it.
"Gungahlin is a big up and coming space. The light rail comes in and finishes here from the city, and goes directly past the brewery, which is really good for us. There's a lot of residential sites around and plenty of businesses."
In terms of what the Cypher team is using to entice them inside, the plan is to keep much of the offering rotating – a fruit sour, pale, pilsner and IPAs of various ilks hit taps in the opening weeks – with the intention being to seek feedback from the local community so they can tailor beers to their desires.
Charged with making that happen is Matt, who took the chance to move from lead brewer at Capital to head brewer at Cypher as a means of advancing his career in the industry.
"They've given me the reins and are letting me do what I like," he says. "I give them a heads up on what's coming out and they let me run with it. I was brewing core range beers a lot at Capital but now I can build a core range and do a lot of specialty stuff too."
The brewpub gives him 12 taps to play with, although when we spoke they were still sharing tap space with other indie brewers while they built up the range of Cypher beers. They're looking at adding a cider and ginger beer over time, as well as bringing in a mobile canning operator ahead of investing in a canning line so they can hit the wider market.
That said, the aim is to cater to locals first and foremost.
"We've very community based down here," Matt says. "We want to let the community have their say, to be very inclusive, and want everybody to come down here and feel comfortable."
As they approach their two-month anniversary, we invited Matt to tell us more about himself and Cypher as part of our long-running Who Brews...? series.
Who are you?
Matt Thiele. I've been brewing commercially for eight years, and was a homebrewer/tradesman previously.
Why do you brew?
I love all aspects of beer, from creating to consuming. It’s a wonderful industry to be a part of. Some days are tough, but they are always worth it.
Was there a beer or a moment that set you on the path to becoming a brewer?
Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA, Stone Ruination DIPA and Hofbrau Original have been big beers for me, especially about ten years ago when I really started getting into how beer was made.
What’s the inspiration behind the brewery name?
Jeff: We’d talked a lot about names but, ultimately, it actually came about by accident.
We were on a Zoom call with all of the founders, throwing around ideas – mostly puns around brewing and beers, malt and grain. Then someone suggested "Side Bar" and video calls being video calls, I couldn’t hear them properly and I thought they said "Cypher".
That then led to a debate around what it could mean as a name, and someone said: "It’d be like cracking the code or unlocking the secrets to great beer", which we loved. So the tagline kind of came first, and cemented the name for us.
What beer in your lineup best represents you and why?
Our IPA at the moment shows a lot of newer techniques when it comes to hopping methods, and our Pilsner shows we can keep it classic. Torn to choose, but I’ll go with the IPA. Lots of fun to brew and very tasty.
If you could have any person in the world join you on a brew day, who would it be, and why?
Tough one for sure. Not...
[Firestone Walker brewmaster] Matt Brynildson!!
With Vinnie Cilurzo [Russian River], Sam Richardson [Other Half] and Kelsey McNair [North Park]on the bench.
If anyone drops in on brew day, what are they most likely to hear blasting from the speakers?
Power Trip, Revocation, Sylosis, Spiritworld, Soen, In Flames, Gary Clark Jr, Marcus King, Mastodon, ACDC, UFO, Joe Bonamassa, The Cold Stares, Zach Bryan, Chris Stapleton, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and many, many more...
What beers are in your fridge right now?
Mountain Culture x Finback DIPA collab, Cantillon Gueze and Cantillon Drogone – in the cellar that I’m saving for a special occasion, Pilsner Urquell, and some Capital Brewing low fills that ended up in there somehow, lol.
What would be your desert island beer of choice?
Which local beers have blown your mind in recent weeks?
In terms of Aussie brewers, I’m always into what Mountain Culture and Range are brewing. Hop Nation are always releasing an awesome range of great beers.
Fox Friday and Working Title are two breweries I have recently discovered. Wildflower is also one of my favourites. Along with Capital and BentSpoke, who have really put Canberra on the map in terms of great beers.
Is there a particular style, ingredient, or trend in beer you'd like to explore further?
New and exciting innovative hop products are blowing up at the moment. Being able to increase hop flavour and saturation without making beers overly astringent and unpalatable is always a plus in my book.
Where can people find your beers?
Only on tap at the brewery at the moment. Which will change very soon. We have plans to get our beers into cans ASAP.
Our taproom is open Wednesday to Sunday and the kitchen is always fired up and ready to feed the masses.
Where do you hope your brewery will be ten years from now?
It’s been an exciting journey so far just to get the first brews in tank and the doors open to the public. I hope we are doing much of the same, really.
As long as we are keeping the locals happy and impressing the visitors I’ll be happy.
Cypher Brewing is at Unit 3/35 Hinder Street, Gungahlin. You'll find it alongside 1300-plus and counting breweries and good beer venues in the Crafty Pint app, designed to help beer lovers find their nearest good beer wherever they are.