West End Brewery itself started its life down on Hindley Street in the city of Adelaide back in 1859 and it wasn't until 1980 that it moved location to its current site, formerly the home of Torrenside Brewery and Southwark Brewery.
During that 120 year progression, West End Brewery, Kent Town Brewery and a wine and spirit business merged in 1888 to become the SA Brewing, Malting, Wine & Spirit Company and finally in 1894, after selling off the wine and spirit business became South Australian Brewing Company.
The company today is owned by Lion Nathan (since 1993) which is one of Australasia's largest food and beverage companies employing over 7,000 people in Australia and New Zealand.
At Thebarton, many iconic brands of beer as well as cider are produced, mostly all by automated methods, including robotic equipment. In fact with state-of-art equipment and technology, the production only requires around a total of around 150 employees, compared with 500 in the days when the entire process was manual.
Hayley, one of the Brewery site tour guides who was very welcoming, took me around the various production areas, including the malting, milling, mashing, lautering, fermenting, conditioning and packaging processes.
What struck me was the distinct lack of human presence in some of these areas, although sound-proof control rooms exist for staff to keep a keen eye on the process and ensure the products are top quality.
Consistent manual tests are also carried out on the products to ensure premium taste and that they all have the correct mix of ingredients.
Apart from West End brand, other iconic products include James Boag, James Squire, XXXX, Swan, Hahn, Kirin, Guinness, Kilkenny, Southwark and Tooheys, most of which are produced for the local market with some distributed to other parts of Australia.
Nathan Lion, the parent company, I was interested to learn also make wine, spirits, pre-mixed alcoholic, non-alcohol beverages, soy, juice, dairy including cheese and yoghurt, although not at the Thebarton site.
The 90 minute tour commenced with the showing of a video outlining the entire process before we walked around to view. I found the video professionally put together and explained in a straight forward manner via a "fast- forward" graphic representation of each stage of overall production.
It's always interesting to see the raw products that make up beer, and samples were available to touch including barley and hops.
Who knew barley can be produced in different flavours and colours, some quite dark and others in a light brown hue, the diversity used to produce different types of flavours and styles in beer.
The hops come mainly from Tasmania and arrive in pellet form.
The second video which Hayley showed me was one highlighting the packaging of the many products, before we ventured down to see the process in action.
When you think that modern technology can produce up to 42,000 bottles per hour dependent upon the product, the mind boggles!
The final video gave an historical account of how the copper kettle was restored, which is now displayed in the glass area facing Port Road, a testament to the heady days of brewing the old fashioned way.
The tour requires you to wear a safety vest and goggles and, in the packaging area, also ear plugs, due to health and safety requirements.
The piece de resistance is the tasting session at the end of the tour in which 4 different products are on offer to try. These are complemented with some cheeses, which are said to best fit the particular type of beer.
I tried only three products due to the fact that I would be driving - the first was the well-known West End Draught, complemented by Mersey Valley Cheese. West End Draught is a full-bodied flavoured brew and little has changed in the formula used to make it.
The second beer was a James Squire Pale Ale called "150 Lashes" so named as James Squire reportedly stole ingredients to make some of Australia's first batches of beer, his punishment being 150 lashes and 2 barrels of ale. This particular Pale Ale was launched in 2011 and had hints of passionfruit and grapefruit as well as citrus.
In case you are wondering, apparently it goes well with brie or camembert as well as lean cuts of meat or seafood.
The final tasting was a James Squire "Constable Copper Ale", promoted as a mid-strength beer with around 3.4% alcohol per volume. The colour is deep golden and it is known as an English style ale. The taste had hints of floral, citrus and earthy and the website suggests it would wash down well with lamb or rich red meat.
I was heartened by a large company still making time to give back to the community by way of its community fund, which has now raised over $2 million outsourced to various charities including St Vincent de Paul, Brompton Bowden Community Centre, Fred's Van Aldinga Project amongst others.
Most of this money has been raised by the introduction of the West End Water Fountain which produces spring water, coming all the way from the Willunga area. For a $2 gold coin donation for each access to the spring water and judging by the line-up of cars seen on any day of the week, you can see how West End have managed to reach this incredible goal.
As you may be aware, West End have been involved with other community engagement projects including the annual Christmas Riverbank display (since 1959) and the West End Chimney SANFL tradition (since 1954) and are sponsors for sporting organisations such as SANFL, SACA, West End Redbacks, Strikers as well as the West End Slowdown and Lawn Bowls.
Overall this is a great tour run professionally and certainly gives you a sense of how a large brewer operates and functions.