You’re probably thinking, ‘Why is he writing about West End? They don’t make craft beer.’ The honest truth is they don’t, but that doesn’t mean, the brewers, the recipe designers, the quality control staff and the packers don’t take beer seriously. Yes, West End is owned by a large corporation in Lion Co and while I don’t agree with the tap contracting philosophies that Lion Co adopts, it doesn’t mean that their beer is not crafted. I may be opening a can of worms here but at the end of the day, this company just wants to make the best beer they can; consistently. Obviously, they have a strict regimen with the recipes they are allowed to brew and this brewing job would be totally different than that of a small independent brewer but I believe there definitely is a real art in making commercial quantities of beer.
Lion Co in Adelaide are responsible for the brewing of West End, Kirin, Super Dry, James Squires, QLD’s favourite XXXX Gold, Swan and Emu just to name a few. I am not a drinker of most of these beers but the James Squires range does come in handy at some venues that don’t pour any craft. Recently I was lucky enough to be asked to have a tour of the West End facility and I was lead around by Peter Bradley (quality control brewer) and Jody Thomas (head brewer). I was impressed by the level of professionalism and passion Peter and Jody showed me throughout the tour. As we worked our way around the facility and no matter what area we were in, their desire to want to achieve great beer consistently shone through.
Previous to this brewery visit, I have been to Stone and Wood in Byron Bay, Greenwich Meantime in London and all the local SA microbreweries, so the scale on which West End brews is definitely a lot larger. We started our tour outside with the grain silos. The grain was separated into silos for pale grain and separate silos for specialty grains such as Crystal.
From here we took an elevator up to the impressive brew house area. This is the section that impressed me the most, mainly due to the sheer size of the equipment. The lauter tun itself is eight metres across, which is huge in my eyes but I was told that some larger breweries have lauters that are up to 15 metres across.
The brew house area is brand new after receiving a $70 Million dollar upgrade recently. Peter and Jody spoke about how this upgrade has improved numerous areas of their beer making, including the reducing of energy costs and improving their impact of the environment. The impact on the environment was mentioned numerous times and Jody spoke often about minimising their waste products and keeping the air clean, especially because of their inner-city location. The new equipment also helped to eliminate faults in their beer, namely DMS (Dimethyl Sulfide) which is common (but necessarily welcome) in some lagers. To detect faults and help maintain a consistent beer, West End have a sensory team that meets at 8:30am some mornings to do tastings of their products. This large room housed the mash tun, lauter tun, kettle tank, a whirlpool tank and an old copper kettle that has been revamped and put on show facing the busy Port Road. The actual kettle was another interesting talking point, again for the sheer size of it but also for the huge heating rod that ran through the middle.
From the brew house, we moved on to the fermenters which were located outside as they were too large to fit inside a building. According to Peter, there is five people that make up one brewing shift and if I remember correctly, there is a brewer, a quality control brewer, someone who looks after fermentation, filtering and maturation.
We continued our tour of the facility by entering into the packaging area where all the canning and bottling is done. Safety was paramount and as well as wearing safety glasses, I needed a high visibility vest and ear plugs. The canning lines that I have seen in action at other breweries are quite slow, filling only six cans at a time. West End’s canning line was incredibly fast and you had to move your head quickly in order to follow the speed of the line. The bottling line works fast also, bottling 42 000 bottles an hour which again is definitely faster than all the smaller breweries I have seen. I am not saying smaller breweries need such equipment, it was just interesting to compare the size and the speed of the two sets of equipment. In addition to this, all the six pack holders and cartons are robotically assembled and stacked onto pallets ready for shipping.
Once we were done in the packaging facility, we hit the bar, which was quite busy on a Friday afternoon. The bar area is a fun space, with about eight taps and a pool and foosball table. I had the James Squire Hop Thief 8 off the taps and I have never had it fresher. Drinking beer fresh from the source is always the best place to drink it and that didn’t change in this situation.
The majority of the beers that are brewed by Lion Co at the West End facility are for the masses; commercially produced lagers for people to swill and knock back with ease. They do attempt to dabble in craft with their James Squires range to endeavour to have a broad portfolio of beers. But one thing was clear to me throughout this experience, the beer needed to be made to the best of their ability. No matter what beer it was that was being brewed, West End, XXXX or a Hop Thief, Peter and Jody thrived to craft the beer consistently to the best it can be. It just goes to show, even though their beer won’t necessarily make craft beer drinkers weak at the knees, these brewers still want to achieve their best. I thank Jody and Peter for the tour and recommend this experience to see first-hand, the craft of West End.