Many South Australian beer drinkers have put a red, black and white tinny to their lips at least once in their life. West End Brewery is a local institution. It bathed Hindley Street in barrels of the gold stuff from as early as 1859, supports SANFL footy and cricket, and turns on an annual Christmas lights display on the Torrens riverbank. It is a brand cemented in the bones of Adelaide.
But how is the frothy stuff actually made? We embarked on a West End brewery tour to find out. With a promise of beer tastings and cheese munching at the end, it makes for an easy sell. Plus their large and shiny copper kettle draws the eye – we’re like magpies, we like shiny things.
We are greeted by Shae Grundy, a final-year chemical engineering student at Adelaide University who moonlights as a brewery tour guide. Heading into the brewhouse, the humidity, heat and smell of toast hits immediately.
“It gets really warm in here. Sometimes in summer, it can feel cooler outside,” Shae says, laughing as we strip off winter layers. “We’ll start the tour in the brewhouse, where you learn about the craft of brewing. You’ll get the opportunity to taste some of the ingredients that we use and see the brew in action, in the vessels.”
Shae gives us the chance to munch on the malt and have a whiff of hops they use in their brews. It’s uncanny – you can almost taste the beer they will become. “You can definitely smell the potency of the hops and how that affects the flavour profile of the type of beer.”
According to West End technical brewer Tony Jones, unusual and newer varieties of hops are an ‘in-thing’ at the moment “We’re certainly using a lot of different types of hops these days – the new varieties that are being grown in Australia are used for their aroma components as well as their bitterness,” he says.
“We’ve been doing some different styles of beer in recent times, but I’d have to shoot you if I told you what they are.”
Just don’t ask him about new beers on the horizon. “We’ve been doing some different styles of beer in recent times, but I’d have to shoot you if I told you what they are. Very top secret stuff! But certainly, we are doing a lot of dry hop beers for the craft brands that are within our portfolio.”
It’s nice to know that a 158-year-old brand is still keeping up with the cool kids.
“We’re also bringing in new US varieties [of hops] – there is a very big craft beer revolution going on in the states.We find a lot of the American hops grown these days are quite unique, with different flavour profiles. We tend to incorporate those in our newer styles, particularly the part of the market that is progressive and looking for something different in their beers.”
Innovation in the craft of beer brewing is far more accessible to the historic brand now, thanks to the refurbishment of the site in 2015. State of the art technology allows for production of about 120 million litres of beer each year.
It’s impressive to see. Witnessing the speed of the bottling and canning rooms is staggering. “I think people are often amazed to see how fast everything does run,” Shae says, as we finish up the tour in the purpose-built bar over a cheeky brew “Once you learn the capacity of beer we can produce each day and over the course of a week – and to see those final bottles and products coming out – it’s impressive,”
The tour takes about 90 minutes, incorporating the entire beer production process from start to finish. It’s a fascinating tour, even if you’re not (whisper it) a beer drinker.
The tours run Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with an 11am and 1pm tour. You can book as an individual or as a group, with large group bookings flexible. Anyone is welcome, with soft drinks on offer for under agers. >> westenddraught.com.au
What’s your flavour? Let us know your favourite beer that you’ll be sinking come Friday in the comments, below.