Craft beer feature

Adelaide David and Goliath gain from different visions

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Jade Flavell pours a glass of Wheaty
Jade Flavell pours a glass of Wheaty
Two breweries from opposite ends of the craft beer spectrum in South Australia have been making waves on the national stage.

With production heading towards 3m litres a year in the wake of a big win for its IPA at the Australian Craft Beer Awards last week, Adelaide’s Pirate Life Brewing is now anticipating the arrival of new tanks at its Hindmarsh brewery this month. 

These will help double the number of countries it exports to to eight by the end of the year. It is also looking to build a new brewery to sustain its long-term growth. 

Elsewhere in the city, the Wheaty Brewing Corps has been celebrating being crowned Australia’s Best Small Brewery.

Born in the backyard of the Wheatsheaf Hotel in 2014, Wheaty makes beer almost exclusively to be sold and drunk in the pub and doesn’t plan to change its model any time soon.

If someone wants a beer they give me money and I put it in the till. I’m not chasing customers for three months to pay their bills​,” head brewer and co-founder Jade Flavell said. 

With two business partners, Flavell bought the rundown Wheatsheaf in 2003 and spent 11 years driving the South Australian capital’s emerging craft beer scene. 

The trio decided to start brewing their own beer and the Wheaty Bewing Corps was launched in July 2014 in the form of a 600 Litre Brewhouse with three single-batch fermenters. 

It had always been our plan to build a brewery and we had to make a decision whether we would put in a kitchen or a brewery. We made the right decision​,” Flavell said. 

I’ve got plenty of dubious beer theories that I’ve been testing out over the past 14 years and to be able to subject paying customers to them is a lot of fun​.” 

The Wheatsheaf typically has six taps pouring out Wheaty brews. It has recently installed a shipping container bar for weekend and the owners expect to have a beer truck on the road by the Australian summer.

Since it opened three years ago the brewery has produced 80 different beers from about 170 batches. 

Some of the more off beat brews produced alongside regulars such as IPAs, Stouts, Saisons and Bitters include an anchovy IPA and a whisky barrel-aged breakfast stout. 

Flavell said in-house retail was the only way a brewery of its size could be profitable and took the complications of logistics and distribution out of the equation. 

However, she said while there was no intention to enter the wholesale market, the brewery is looking to add a couple more fermenters to stabilise its own supply. 

If we like them and if the punters like them then we brew them again. Market research is the front bar​,” she said. 

We figure it doesn’t get much fresher than drinking it in the shadow of the brewery in which it was brewed​.” 

Likewise, Pirate Life began brewing in Adelaide in 2014 with father and son team Michael and Jack Cameron, and their brewer mate Red Proudfoot. 

Pirate Life
Pirate Life's Mosaic

Their hoppy West Coast-style beers in a can proved an instant hit and production reached 2.3m litres in the last year. It is expected to hit 3m litres soon. 

Released in 500ml cans nationally in June, Pirate Life’s Mosaic IPA has quickly become a regular in the stable and took the hotly contested IPA category at the Craft Beer Awards. 

Chief executive Mick Cameron said the IPA, made using Mosaic hops, displayed a defined intensity that showcased the variety. 

We’ve got a rockstar team of brewers and to be able to be able to produce a single-hop variety like Mosaic with such balance and intensity of flavour is fantastic​,” he said. 

Two and a half years ago we started with Jack, Red and myself and we’ve now got 41 staff on the books and are planning to build the new brewery in Port Adelaide so there’s a lot going on​.” 

Pirate Life recently launched Pirate Dog Red IPA in a collaboration with Kiwi brewery Parrot Dog Brewing. It is also looking to release a pilsner in time for the summer Down Under. 

Cameron said market share had grown steadily over the past two years and Pirate Life aimed to grow again from its current 6% to capture an 8% slice of the national craft beer market by the end of next year. 

We are positioning ourselves as a premium craft beer brand, as do three or four other producers around Australia. I think there’s a real good opportunity there at the premium level as there is with the premium wine and spirits industries​,” he said. 

We’re still growing. We’ve got new tanks coming in the week after next, which will give us a 40% capacity on that and it will allow us to open up some more markets within Australia and focus a bit more on export​. 

We’re currently in New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore and the UK, and we look forward to launching in Sweden and Norway before Christmas, and Taiwan and Vietnam about the same time​.” 

Pirate Life decided on putting its beers into cans to keep the product fresh, cold and making it easier to transport and export. 

We’ve had containers going off to the UK now for six months. We go over to taste the beer as it comes off and we’re not pulling up any issues at all​,” he said. 

We do a lot of work in the brewery to keep our dissolved oxygen levels as low as possible and the beer has been really well received in all markets. It’s a testament to how the boys brew and how we treat the beer from brewery to warehouse to customer​.” 

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