The Fritz team learnt how to brew our very own beer with the gurus at the iconic Wheatsheaf. Read on…
It’s 8am and the streets surrounding The Wheatsheaf are quiet. There’s something brewing inside the historic Thebarton pub. Or at least it’s about to. Co-owner and co-founder Jade Flavell is a bundle of energy. She’s excited. A brewing session is always a buzz (she and partner Rose Bartholomeusz brew an average of twice a week). This time, there’s a new brew on the horizon and it smells like fritz spirit.
“Today we’re brewing a fritz-inspired beer,” Jade says with a grin. “We’ve brewed some pretty strange beers over the years. On paper, they sound quite ridiculous but the end result has to be a good, well-balanced, drinkable beer – if for no other reason than I’ll have at least 600 litres of it to sell, and that’s too much for me to drink.”
The idea for a fritz beer happened over a few frothies, as many good ideas do. A majority of Fritz team members are regulars at the character-packed pub and when they approached Jade with the hair-brained idea, she (surprisingly) said yes. “We thought it was a lovely idea. One of the joys of having a little brewery is flexibility,” she says. “We can be fast and light, we can potentially have a chat about a recipe, develop that recipe, brew it tomorrow, and potentially drink it in five weeks.”
Jade, Liz O’ Dea and Emily Trott (who sadly passed away in 2016) took over the pub in 2003. “We’ve been here for nearly 15 years, running the pub as a beer specialist venue, live music venue, and old school quirky pub. We always had a beer focus and then about six years ago we decided to take the beer side of things seriously and build our own brewery.”
It was an opportunity to make their own concoctions. “We thought, ‘Well, I’ve got plenty of dodgy beer theories that I’ve developed… it’s time to start playing. We built the brewery [Wheaty Brewing Corps] nearly four years ago now, and have been brewing crazily ever since.”
They rarely brew the same thing. “We’re small batch, high turnover, super fresh, and very prolific. We’ve brewed about 195 batches and over 90 different beers in those batches including lots of collaborations and today is obviously one of those.”
Quirky brews are often one-offs and poured at the Wheaty during certain times of the year. Like Bluestocking, a beer brewed in collaboration with Adelaide Roller Derby and released for International Women’s Day. Butterfly pea flower was used to give it a deep purple hue. “It was a pretty straight forward American wheat beer, so very clean, very light, quite dry, with a little bit of hop character to it.”
When they released a Farmers Union Iced Coffee inspired beer it went bonkers on social media. “It was a white stout. It looks like an IPA [with a] nice, tight creamy head, but it tastes like iced coffee. It had that really deep roast character, a little bit of sweetness, a little bit of chewiness… but looking at it you would think it would be light and hoppy, not deep, roasty, sweet, and rich. I do like messing with people’s heads, and perceptions, and expectations in that respect.”
Like the time she brewed an anchovy series. The experiment was in honour of godfather of Italian brewing Leonardo di Vicenzo, from Birra del Borgo. “He was coming to Australia and we were going to brew together… so what shall we brew?”
They decided on the pungent little fish because Leonardo’s father comes from a fishing village. “Why not?”
They used the anchovy as a salt substitute and brewed a series of four beers. “On paper, it looks ridiculous but to people tasting it, they wouldn’t be aware there was anchovy in there unless we told them (which obviously we did). It was just the saltiness and the savoury character. that came through”
Wheaty Brewing Corps doesn’t do novelty for novelty’s sake. It has to taste good. “It’s still got to be good well-balanced beer. We don’t do crazy stuff just for the sake of it because there’s enough of that, and there are enough novelty beers that are damn near undrinkable. I want to be able to sit down and have a fancy, and enjoy it, and be surprised by what’s in there.”
The Wheaty also collaborates with other brewers, honey producers, berry growers and coffee makers. “Today it is just a conceptual collaboration. Beer inspired by fritz rather than brewed to taste like fritz. Much to some people’s disappointment, I’m sure.” She laughs.
“There is no meat in this beer. No earlobes or arseholes as they say. It’s inspired by fritz so we’re hoping for a fritz-pink beer. We’re using hibiscus to achieve that aim rather any animal parts.”
Good news for The Wheatsheaf’s vegan and vegetarian clientele. “I like the idea of doing something we haven’t done before, which was adding hibiscus to an otherwise fairly conventional hoppy pale ale. We brew lots of hoppy IPAs, APAs and XPAs but to play with that beer, which is otherwise quite conventional and make it look unconventional… I like messing with people’s heads a bit.”
Ideas often form from a cheesy pun. “I’m a big fan of cheesy pun,” Jade says. “We’ll come up with a name for a beer, and then design a beer around that pun. That’s a kind of silly way to develop ideas and recipes but I take the development of the recipe very seriously beyond that initial silliness.”
Enough gasbagging. We’re here to brew. The mothership can be found at the rear of the pub. It is surprisingly compact and clean (Rose has an eagle eye for detail). Large brewing tanks rise from the floor like sparkling silver silos.
A few Fritz team members were called in to help on brew day. Jade runs a very tight ship. She has to. Every second counts. For the novices (us) her run sheet is an overwhelming, highly organised mix measurements, detailed timings, and words like vorlauf and sparge. “Let’s get started.”
Today, we’re making 600 litres of fritz beer (about 11 or 12 kegs). We start by milling the grain and send it up the auger into the mash tun (where grain is steeped with hot water to produce a sugary liquid). “We then effectively end up with sloppy porridge.”
This sits for an hour to let the enzymes break down all the complex sugars in the grain, to a point where the yeast can later chew it up and create fermentation characters, carbon dioxide and alcohol. “We create that lovely little sweet wort, which is a sweet syrup. We then run off into the kettle, re-circulate it for a little bit just to clarify it. Then we collect the wort in the kettle – up to 750 litres. We start the boil and add a few bittering hops early.”
It sounds simple. It’s not. But Fritz IT guy (and beer nut) Kris Dingey pulls his weight and manages to do some of the heavy lifting. Mostly, we just try to stay out of the way and follow Jade’s orders.
A kilo of the dried hibiscus flowers is added to the steaming, bubbling brew in what looks like a giant teabag. It basically is. The flowers can’t make their way into the actual liquid or they’ll wreak havoc on the Heat Exchanger. We also add some late whirlpool hops (Amarillo). “Which is a really orangey and tangeriney and gives it a nice citrus character.”
We also add Enigma. “It’s a great Australian hop and has almost wine-like characters.” Think tropical fruit.
“Then we knock out through the heat exchanger, bring the temperature down to yeast pitching temperature and lock in that temperature. Once we steady the temperature and we know we’re knocking out pretty well, we pitch the yeast, and then lock her up, finish knock out, and job done.”
It takes all day. As the brew winds up, and the cleaning process begins, the ladies are joyous. “We’ll leave it in fermenter for about three weeks,” Jade says. “We’ll dry hop in about a week’s time and then another dry hop five or so days after that.
Then I reckon we’ll probably add a hibiscus tea towards the end of secondary fermentation as well, before we crash cool it. Then we’ll carbonate it in tank, keg off, sit on the kegs for a couple of weeks to cold condition, and then it will be ready for launching.” She grins.
“All of a sudden it’s a thing. It takes on a life of its own. It’s quite a buzz when a customer asks for a beer that was just in your head five weeks ago. Now it’s a thing and people are enjoying it, and they’re asking for it, and when it runs out they want it back. That’s a real buzz.”
Jade has a serious case of job satisfaction. Especially since setting up the brewing facilities. “I guess there a lot to like about it. Running your own business for years means you’re your own boss. That’s just fantastic. I think I’m probably unemployable now… I’d struggle to work for anyone else because I’m so used to doing my own thing my own way.”
The hours are long and Jade says running a pub is a way of life. “We’re open every day of the week, every day of the year pretty much and for 12 to 13 hours a day. It’s always on your mind and there’s always something you need to do but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. The ability to do our own thing in our own way is worth its weight in gold.”
That includes running a pub with zero poker machines. “When pokies came in, I think one of the biggest and the worst things that they did was to change the nature of the industry. Pokies are all about stripping your customer of their funds as quickly and comprehensively as possible. To me that’s the opposite of hospitality.”
Regulars are a devoted bunch and many of them feel like family. “That sense of community is what makes The Wheaty, The Wheaty,” she says. “It used to be the case with a lot more pubs. Most pubs used to be community pubs; they were a reflection of their local communities and they worked with and for their local communities. Whether or not you liked the personality of the pub, all pubs had a personality.”
There’s no denying the Wheatsheaf vibe. Relaxed, familiar, welcoming. “Being hospitable is creating a space where people feel welcome – whoever they are. As long as they behave themselves when they’re here, it’s a safe place where people can just come and relax and meet other people who they wouldn’t necessarily hang out with. You rub shoulders with everyone from all walks of life. That’s the kind of pub that we want to create and preserve, but it’s kind of sad that it’s special.”
And of course, the beer is top notch.
The pink fritz pale ale will be available at The Wheatsheaf in mid-April and poured until it runs out. “Expect it to be a nice, easy drinking, pink ale with hibiscus. It’s got a little bit of fruitiness, a little bit of tartness, nice hoppy aromatics, and at 4.9 percent alcohol so it’s still pretty friendly with a nice, dry finish. It’s designed to be just a friendly quaffer.” As the brewing session draws to a close and patrons settle in to the pub for the evening, Jade watches on.
“It is really lovely to make something tangible and at the end of the day’s work say, ‘look at that tank of beer, we’ve made that today.’”
What whacky beer would you like to see brewed? Let us know in the comments, below.