Hot air ballooning and a festival for beer-lovers in Canberra

There she rises … one of Balloon Aloft’s pilots, Ewan Roberts, applies the heat.
There she rises … one of Balloon Aloft’s pilots, Ewan Roberts, applies the heat.

I know now why a Sydney band called themselves 50 Million Beers. They’d just been to a beer festival.

So have I. The 11th Canberra Craft Beer and Cider Festival. And I feel as though I’ve had 50 million beers as well.

I know, too, why master brewer Chuck Hahn declared many years ago that he needed a glass of cleansing white wine. He’d just conducted a lengthy beer tasting.

Well, I’d just sat and sipped (or was it slurped?) my way through two of them. Lengthy ones. At the 11th Canberra Craft Beer and Cider Festival.

The 11th Canberra Craft Beer and Cider Festival … took over the street for the first time.

The 11th Canberra Craft Beer and Cider Festival … took over the street for the first time.

But to get serious, though. Just for a moment, though. The Canberra Craft Beer and Cider Festival is held annually at the Mercure Canberra, a lovely original-Canberra hotel in the now inner-city leafy suburb of Braddon.

This year, in fact just a couple of weeks ago, the festival took over one of the adjoining streets for the first time, simply because it had grown to more than 50 exhibitors and was definitely what you’d term a mainstream event.

There were a few exhibitors from the ACT, but they mostly came from all over the country … and they brought with them some fine brews indeed. The beers and their following made it easy to see why the big guys, like Carlton, were running scared and buying up a few of the more successful small guys.

And quite a few of the customers made it off the street into the exhibition area for the formal tastings and masterclasses, the first featuring three small-scale producers of IPA (aka India Pale Ale), talking about the future of their particular beverage. It’s my favourite beer so it wasn’t too hard to attract me into a spare space … and, believe me, there weren’t many.

What it’s all about No 1 … dispensing Bent Spoke at the Canberra Craft Beer and Cider Festival.

What it’s all about No 1 … dispensing Bent Spoke at the Canberra Craft Beer and Cider Festival.

It also wasn’t hard to keep me there for the second masterclass. I had a seat and a few glasses of IPA to keep me entertained, after all. And the special guest was the afore-mentioned Chuck Hahn, who I knew from previous encounters was one of the most eloquent speakers on just about any beer-related topic.

And today his subject was especially close to my heart — matching beer with food. I write regularly about wine, but I also love a beer or two, and not simply as an after-work beverage, but also in a meal situation.

Chuck presented a range of samples demonstrating how different beers complemented — or indeed clashed with — different foods and his discussion offered plenty of cause for contemplation.

All in all, it was great day. Do add the next one, on Saturday 16 March 2019, to your diary. Or just keep an eye on www.canberrabeerfest.com.au or www.mercurecanberra.com.au.

I was a bit like a dog in a forest … which stop next?

I was a bit like a dog in a forest … which stop next?

Canberra has also immediately become one of my favourite places for hot-air ballooning, offering, as it does, the fairly rare — or unique, indeed, for Australia — combination of still air, provocatively designed modern cityscape, magnificent public architecture, bucolic rural surrounds and at times quite dramatic and threatening natural landscape.

It does require an early rise — think 4am — but it’s definitely worth the weary, perhaps bloodshot, eyes to witness all the rewards.

That early rise also guarantees the opportunity to help inflate the balloon and get it airborne — something that’s a huge part of the experience.

 A Balloon Aloft craft over Canberra … offers a magnificent spectacle.

A Balloon Aloft craft over Canberra … offers a magnificent spectacle.

As is the communal breakfast — and the celebratory glass of bubbles — afterwards.

And, in between, there’s the exhilaration of floating quite effortlessly and calmly on the breeze, and absorbing all that’s around you.

I thumbed a ride with Balloon Aloft, which operates a couple of balloons most mornings over the national capital and much enjoyed an exhilarating early-morning experience.

Canberra from the air … the national capital offers countless opportunities for scenic shots on a fine, still morning.

Canberra from the air … the national capital offers countless opportunities for scenic shots on a fine, still morning.

“We’re now passing the new Parliament House. You’ll notice the balloon rising due to the sudden hot air.” And that’s my dad joke, not part of the commentary.

John Rozentals was a guest of the Mercure Canberra.