For many years, the craft beer scene in South Australia seemed impervious to the changes being witnessed elsewhere in the country. Sure, it had a fair few microbreweries doing their thing, from the gasoline-fuelled, no holds barred brews of Brewboys to the more traditionally-minded Lobethal Bierhaus, and from the quietly-making-top-notch-beers-without-making-any-noise Goodieson to country hangouts like Woolshed in Renmark or wine country breweries like Barossa Valley Brewing and McLaren Vale. But when it came to places in the city to pick up a wide selection of quality beers you were restricted to a couple of bottleshops and a couple of pubs.
Thankfully, times they are a-changin' with heaps of new breweries either opened (including Smiling Samoyed, Clare Valley Brewing, Prancing Pony and Pikes) or set to open (Pirate Life and Young Henrys).
And equally thankfully, on the pub front, even before the options started to expand, Adelaide's beer lovers – and its beer-fancying visitors – have long had The Wheaty, the pub that sits in the unassuming suburb of Thebarton offering salvation and inspiration to all-comers and which is regarded by many a beer expert as the finest beer bar in the land.
Now well into its second decade under the stewardship of Jade Flavell, Emily Trott and Liz O'Dea, it offers up an irresistible mix of amazing beers in bottle and on tap, hugely welcoming and knowledgeable staff, excellent wines and rare spirits, live music and comedy, food trucks and, as of 2014, its own brewery on which the ladies and collaborators from all over the world brew under the Wheaty Brewing Corps banner.
They also host SA's closest thing to a beer week, Good Beer Wheaty, which segues into Melbourne's Good Beer Week and are awesome people to hang out with. All of which means it was a rather easy decision to invite them to become the latest in our Craft Beer Heroes*.
Over to Jade (above, hugging her hopback) to reveal all...
How do you fit into the wonderful world that is craft beer in Australia?
Co-owner / Publican of the Wheatsheaf Hotel and Brewer / Chief Propagandist of the Wheaty Brewing Corps.
What drew you to work in beer?
JF: Alaskan Smoked Porter changed my life. I'd been pouring Cooper's behind bars since I was 18 but it was a pint of Smoked Porter in San Francisco over 15 years ago that opened my eyes to how complex, characterful and delicious beer could be; my obsession with good beer was born.
So when we (co-publicans Emily Trott, Liz O'Dea and myself) bought The Wheaty 12 years ago there was never any doubt that craft beer would be a focal point of the pub as the opportunity to explore and develop craft beer and culture was a major driver in us having our own pub in the first place.
How long have you been promoting beer in your own particular way?
JF: Since 2003. Our aim with The Wheaty was to create the kind of pub we'd like to drink in and hope that enough other people would like to drink there too. And they did.
Our 'point of difference' has been the result of us pursuing our love of craft beer – rather than the other way round. We're also partial to good wine, odd whisk(e)y and original live music, which gives us ample opportunity to 'ambush' punters who may have come to the pub for 'other reasons' with good beer they didn't see coming…
What was the first ever job you had in the beer world?
JF: There wasn't much of a beer world in Adelaide 12 years ago, so we decided to make our own. When we first opened it was a struggle to find good craft beer (with several notable exceptions) but now we're spoilt for choice when it comes to excellent quality, be it local, interstate or imported.
Likewise, craft beer culture has come along in leaps and bounds; early days we often had to drag punters kicking and screaming in to the world of good beer, now punters are keeping us on our toes regarding new / limited releases. Fancy by Fancy [the special glasses they offer their best brews in] we've created a monster, and punters now expect to be able to enjoy a Fancy of world class beer every time they visit the pub. And that warms the cockles of my heart…
As Wayne Coyne, of The Flaming Lips, once pondered: "Why does it matter?"
JF: Because flavour, quality, character and community matter. Because life's too short to be careless. And because I've got a habit to maintain.
What's been your proudest / happiest moment as a craft beer advocate?
JF: Seeing a customer experience their 'light bulb' beer moment gives me a buzz every time.
Opening our onsite brewery and being able to brew whatever, however and whenever we want – and being lucky enough to collaborate with some of our own Craft Beer Heroes whose beers we've poured over the years rates pretty damn highly too.
Describe your craft beer utopia.
JF: A world in which craft beer is all beer and that beer is well made, characterful, delicious & ubiquitous. In which there's a good brewery on every other corner. Where big enough is big enough and the primary focus is on getting better rather than getting bigger. A world of kegs, cans, cold supply chains and cold storage. And a camaraderie that we never grow out of…
Water, malt, hops or yeast?
JF: Bugs. And Hops. But not at the same time.
If you had one minute in which to convert someone to craft beer, how would you spend it?
JF: Horses for courses: have a chat, find out what drinks / foods / flavours they like / dislike / are interested in; wax lyrical about the depth and breadth of beer styles and flavours; give them some beers to try (with flavours / characters they do and don't 'like') and throw in an appropriate analogy or two ('Loaf of white bread vs sour dough' etc). And do it all quickly.
And if you had three beers with which to convert someone, what would they be?
JF: Depends (see above).
Contrasting beers can work a treat; a beer similar to something (beer or otherwise) they like, one the polar opposite, and one wildcard punt – all top notch examples of the style.
In my experience it's not a 'one size fits all' thing; some people who 'don't drink beer' are left unmoved by gateway beers yet light up at the first sip of Russian Imperial Stout. There aren't many people who have a genuine love for and interest in flavor who don't like beer; they just haven't met the right beer yet. It's our job to help introduce them…
Thanks, Jade. Been too long since we called in; must rectify that...
*It looks like Emily and Liz have done a marvellous job of staying off camera for the past 12 years so Jade will have to star for all three!