Wig and Pen calls last beers after 24 years in Canberra

Well Canberra, it looks like the days of debriefing after work over a couple of Wig and Pen pale ales could soon be over. The microbrewery is calling last drinks after more than two decades in the capital.

Wig and Pen owner Lachlan McOmish opened the city's first microbrewery in 1994. Photo: Karleen Minney

Wig and Pen owner Lachlan McOmish opened the city's first microbrewery in 1994. Photo: Karleen Minney

The tavern and brewery is officially for sale, but unless there's a miracle between now and December 31, the pub will cease trading at the end of the year. The Wig and Pen's 16 staff will be out of work.

Owner Lachlan McOmish said it was a difficult decision to close the doors on the iconic Canberra watering hole, but he had never recovered financially from the brewery's forced move from Canberra House to the ANU in 2015.

The Wig and Pen tavern and brewery opened at Canberra House in 1994, but was was forced to move due to redevelopment of the building. It was offered a lifeline to relocate by ANU school of music director Peter Tregear, and for the past four years has operated out of Llewellyn Hall.

"When we moved our clientele decreased by around half and, while I expected that, what I didn't expect was the huge cost of problems with our fit-out," Mr McOmish said.

Mr McOmish on site at the Wig and Pen's original location at Canberra House. Photo: Melissa Adams

Mr McOmish on site at the Wig and Pen's original location at Canberra House. Photo: Melissa Adams

The pub needs a new owner, he said, someone prepared to inject new energy and apply a sound business model to a venue with a "stellar reputation nationally and internationally".

"It's got a wonderful team assembled and everyone would be very interested to see the place pass into new ownership," Mr McOmish said.

"The way in which the market has shifted really means you need to get bigger, to be just a beer pub is not the type of model that works.

"There are a number of business models which could work and be extremely successful but I'm not in the position to access those models.

Wig and Pen brewers James Paisley and Justin Wilkes when the brewery started bottling its beer in 2017. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Wig and Pen brewers James Paisley and Justin Wilkes when the brewery started bottling its beer in 2017. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

"It needs to be part of a larger group to really reach its potential."

The pub's IP - including its name - and brewing and labelling equipment is included in the sale of the business. (Wig and Pen started bottling its beers in-house 12 months ago.)

Mr McOmish's vision for the Wig and Pen in 1994 was simple: "a place where people could come and enjoy a really good beer, really good conversation and be able to enjoy the products of the craft industry".

In 2012, it was named Australia's best small brewery at the 2012 Australian International Beer Awards.

"There are three things that have made the Wig and Pen a really great place - number one, it's a really good product," Mr McOmish said.

"Number two, it's a nice venue. A venue which, by using a range of management styles, we've managed to keep from having problems - we've never really had a fight here in 24 years.

"And number three, it's got really good people - on both sides of the bar. The staff have always been really good, the staff have been looked after, and the customers have been an absolute pleasure.

"I'd like to say to all the staff, past and present, a very big thank you and also to all the patrons past and present - a big thank you and I'll remember you always."

Mr McOmish plans to retire to the south coast. Last drinks at the Wig and Pen will be called on December 31.