At any point over the past fifteen years or so, if you were getting into beer in Australia in any serious manner there was something that would come your way in one fashion or another: a rite of passage; some sage words of advice; or a name that would crop up in conversation far more than chance would dictate.
However it manifested, the central message was the same: there was a pub in Adelaide that was truly incredible and if you were genuinely interested in experiencing the best of beer venues and sampling great beer in excellent company then why the hell weren't you already booking the next flight to South Australia?
That pub was The Wheaty (or the Wheatsheaf Hotel, to use its official title), a corner pub in the Adelaide suburb of Thebarton, just a couple of kilometres outside the city centre and closer still to the West End Brewery. And, however much anyone hyped it up, they were always going to be selling the experience short.
It was taken over in 2003 by three friends, Jade Flavell, Emily Trott and Liz O'Dea, who instantly set about putting their stamp on things. And, to a great extent, that meant introducing a beer (and whisky) offering not found elsewhere in the state – and rarely anywhere in Australia. Out went beers from the major breweries and in came any from the tiny band of independents in existence in Australia they could persuade to send beers to a city where only one venue was interested in buying them.
The place was renovated too, retaining the bones of a classic Aussie pub but gaining a layer of artistic appeal, and steadily began creating its own piece of folklore.
By the time The Crafty Pint was taking shape, The Wheaty was spoken of by many leading figures in the industry as the best pub in Australia – and it was easy to see why. Not only was the rotating tap lineup – a mix of locals and hard-to-source internationals – of the sort seldom found in Australia a decade or so ago, but the staff were equally welcoming and knowledgeable, the whisky list exciting, the events innovative, the passion palpable, the experience wonderful.
While very much the work of a trio, at the heart of it was Jade Flavell, or Wheaty Jade. Today, after Liz left the business and Trotty passed away from cancer, she is the sole owner – the "benevolent dictator" as she puts it – and continues to plot a path that keeps the pub at the cutting edge of the beer world.
There are far more taps than ten years ago – particularly when the relatively recently added container bar in the beer garden is open – but also far less breweries pouring through them. That's with good reason: having brewed the odd 50 litre collab with visiting brewers on her homebrew kit, Jade launched the Wheaty Brewing Corps in 2014, somehow squeezing a 600 litre brewery into the rear of the pub, adjacent to the tin shed that's hosted hundreds of bands, comics, artists and beer events over the years.
Steadily, WBC beers started taking over the taps to the point where, other than for special events – such as the launch of a new collab between Jade's team of female brewers and another brewery – you'll likely only find one or two "outsiders" on offer. I heard some grumbles about this in the early years from people who bemoaned the fact you could no longer go there to sample rarities from interstate or overseas. The counter-arguments are strong, however: for one, other pubs and bars now pour such beers, so The Wheaty doesn't need to; and, as highlighted by the Champion Small Brewery trophy at the 2017 Craft Beer Awards, they're making shit hot beers that cover everything from killer gose to excellent IPAs, classic pilsners and brekkie stouts, so you'll not be lacking options.
There's also been a strong focus on independence since well before it became such a high profile issue complete with its own national association. And also a focus on inclusivity: the crowd at The Wheaty at anytime will be one of the most diverse of any pub in Australia.
Above all, it comes down to Jade, one of the sharpest, most knowledgeable and generous spirits in the industry. If you ever want to learn more about beer in Australia, or whisky, or take a deep dive into politics, or be reminded it's always possible to be a better human, set aside some time for a chat with her next time you're in Adelaide. Just make sure your brain's engaged as the wisdom and ideas tend to come at you thick and fast!
There have been some incredibly hard times for her over the last half decade: Trotty's passing and health issues of her own, including a back issue so severe she had to keep running the pub while lying on the floor of her office upstairs pretty much every hour of the day, among them. Yet, if you'd been watching from the outside, all you'd have seen was a pioneering pub continuing to evolve and find ways to remain one step ahead of the game.
Throughout it all, there's never been any attempt to reach beyond The Wheaty's four walls, other than to entice brewers, distillers and artists to showcase their talents there, and drinkers to come and enrich their palates and their souls. Instead, the mission has been to ensure that, within those four walls, what the team is doing is never short of excellent. In this era where we're turning ever more to the hyper-local, it's an ethos that feels very prescient too. What's more, they've been able to influence and inspire thousands from that corner plot in Thebby.
Onya, Jade. It's been a utter joy knowing you over the past eleven years. Here's to all the good times yet to come!
WHAT'S BEEN YOUR HIGHLIGHT OF THE PAST DECADE?
The beer scene has been phenomenal in terms of growth, diversity, quality and sheer weight of numbers, especially relative to 17 years ago when we first started the Wheaty. For the most part it's really exciting and positive.
We were a pub before we were a brewery, and I've been really excited about the rise of hospitality within the beer and brewing scene, creating a social drinking community and environment: thinking drinking. There are also forces pulling in the other direction that are encouraging a race to the bottom and the next five to ten years will be entertaining, if not a little fraught.
Personally, building our own brewery and starting the Wheaty Brewing Corps has been a real highlight: to be able to collaborate with some of my beer heroes whose beers we've poured over many years and release those beers knowing there are only twelve kegs of that beer on Earth is pretty special. It's been great to pick the brains of the best brewers on the planet and that speaks to the generosity of the industry. The brewery has allowed us to continually evolve, to effectively be masters of our own destiny. And to play. Lots.
Obviously, winning Champion Small Brewery at the Craft Beer Awards was phenomenal and came in the midst of a pretty tough time for The Wheaty and for me personally. Swings and roundabouts…
WHAT'S SURPRISED YOU THE MOST ABOUT THE AUSSIE BEER SCENE?
One is the fact it took so long for craft beer to catch on. And, two, that once it happened it went off like a skyrocket. It took a while to wind up but then went crazy.
The pursuit of the shiny new thing, the race for unicorn brews and the infantilisation of beer have been less than positive trends.
We're certainly in an era where the Empire has struck back and that will be a challenge of the next decade: how will independent brewers respond? I'm surprised it took Big Beer so long to realise the threat of craft; then, when they did, they hit back hard. Brewery sellouts are certainly damaging to the beer industry in many respects but it also challenges us independents to do better – and to convey to punters why ownership and independence matter. And that where you spend your money matters.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE HEALTH OF THE BEER INDUSTRY AS WE APPROACH THE END OF A REMARKABLE DECADE?
The beer industry is extremely healthy in one sense – proof of that is the number of small breweries being acquired. If we weren't doing so well and being a threat to Big Beer we'd be left to tinker in our own backyards – though I suspect we are pretty safe in that regard!
Awareness and education among punters has gone through the roof too. The normalisation of craft beer warms the cockles of my heart – and keeps the industry on its toes.
WHAT'S YOUR NUMBER ONE GOAL FOR THE COMING DECADE?
To make more stuff in-house and to do it more sustainably.
AND, IF YOU HAD ONE CHRISTMAS WISH FOR BEER IN AUSTRALIA, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
That we get to a point as breweries where big enough is big enough and the primary focus is on getting better rather than getting bigger. That we’re here to take part; not to take over – or be taken over.
To hang onto that notion of quality and community as that will give the industry longevity. Shiny new things come and go, eventually they’ll be NEIPA’d in the bud. But genuine community, good hospitality and quality are timeless and will always win out in the end. I hope.
We're opening a door on Crafty's Advent Calendar every morning up until Christmas Day and you can find them all here.