Almanac Life: The West End Brewery and me

To this country kid life often appeared binary. Lillee or Thommo, Holden or Ford, Port or any other team, and my Dad, no, all dads, drank West End Draught or Southwark beer.

 

I remember our back lawn, the old Buffalo grass with microscopic leaf barbs that’d make your legs itch. Summer and the sprinkler would be on, with that comforting hiss that was anything but reptilian. By the swing was an ancient lemon tree and down from this I’d play backyard cricket with my sister even though she’d insist she was not out caught behind by the automatic wickie if in her crease. Every time. She was persistent and Mum having refereed the argument, I’d then race in to bowl as fast as my pool-cue legs would allow.

 

Late afternoons wandering about the garden, watering his tomatoes, Dad would sometimes open a Southwark echo. The green of the label was intriguing; almost emerald, almost regal, vaguely Germanic with the stylised stein and almost many different evocations that were beyond my mind’s innocent migrations.

 

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Nowadays, at the Broady in Glenelg South, with fifteen beers on tap, I always scan the offerings before getting the usual, and for that brief moment the cluster of choice is faintly paralysing, in a hugely privileged, first-world way. But from my late teens I recall that there was no real choice. I just ambled into the golf club bar or the pub and, like everyone else, had Draught.

 

My only decision was glass size and the Kapunda Golf Club was a butcher (200ml) venue while after cricket each of the six pubs- The Prince of Wales, Sir John Franklin, Clare Castle, North Kapunda, Railway and Allendale- was schooners or mugs with handles (285ml) and only with West End Draught. All of this was barely considered. I may as well have wished for the sky to be another colour.

 

We’d get up in the dark for the Adelaide Oval one-dayers on the Australian Day long weekend. It was the triangular series era so Saturday might be New Zealand against the West Indies and then on the Sunday and holiday Monday they’d play Australia from 10am.

 

Three or four cars- maybe Woodsy’s 180B, Bobby’s Torana and my HQ Holden- would go from Kapunda to Gawler in the gloom, and we’d train from there (through Womma), walk down King William Street, and line up at the Victor Richardson Gates as the heat was climbing from the bitumen.

 

Once in we’d scramble to the southern mound about half-way up, and down from the Duck Pond. This was a marquee erected annually just inside the mesh fence at long-on, and it signalled that along with our foam eskies loaded with vodka-infused watermelon (we are all fruitarians, Officer), greasy bottles of Reef Oil and Adidas Mexico shorts all was right at Adelaide Oval for another summer.

 

Although we didn’t frequent that part of the ground, from the Scoreboard Bar there’d be the day’s first factory whistle as the stem was eased out of a barrel. First keg done! This was always by 8.05am and there’d be a bigger roar than a Roo Yardley screamer at point, or Rodney Hogg trapping David Gower plumb. And this’d continue, every few minutes, sounding like Proud Mary steaming down the Mississippi. Every eighteen-gallon drum was West End Draught.

 

In 1992 I flirted with Southwark. It was a nostalgic, almost ironic phase, but a nod to my past. The bottle had been rebadged with a dark blue motif replacing the green death label, and each carton came with a (free) glass mug. I still have two of these and they’re the best beer tumblers I never bought. On hot afternoons I sometimes fetch one out of the freezer while I’m on the tongs. Southwark has never been poured into one.

 

Then one day in a pub, maybe in Kimba or Kapunda, other beer taps appeared. Suddenly, they were just there. Foreign lagers like XXXX and VB (Queensland and Victoria are different beer countries) and extra-terrestrial beers like Boags and Cascade. It was also when Coopers first entered my world. Suddenly, the old dichotomy had collapsed just like Skyhooks v Sherbet. I didn’t glance back. West End Draught was now a black and white tele with a coat hanger antenna next to the Jumbotron of Sparkling Ale.

 

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Recently at the Glenelg Footy Club I ventured to the bar during half time on a sunny April afternoon. It’s a Lion Nathan premises (unlike Norwood Oval which is Coopers) and standing behind a beanied Centrals supporter I noted a specials poster

 

West End Draught cans $5.

 

It’d been decades so feeling sentimental I bought one, returned to my spot on the grass just down from the scoreboard and flipped the top. Can we locate meaning in beer? Some would argue not. I’d suggest that the answer is unquestionably.

 

I glanced around to make sure no-one was watching. A sip and it was 1986. Metallic, coarse, antagonizing. I remembered the words of my old mate Nick: “Some of our best times have been on West End Draught.” I tried to taste it as a country boy or my Uncle Des or as that dreadful default, a patriot. But my evaluation was clear. The can of beer, the inescapable Red Tin, was muck.

 

With the news of the brewery’s 2021 closure I thought of squinting farmers and dusty golfers and young fellas in utes and B-grade footballers in distant change rooms after a scrappy match, all tipping it in. But Adelaide’s a powerless town and the world now cares little for Holdens or Thommo or West End Draught.

 

Then, I think of Dad and our Kapunda backyard and a dawn train to watch a January one-dayer, and those simple, secluded times.

 

 

 

For more writing from Mickey, click HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

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About Mickey Randall

Favourite film: The Shawshank Redemption Favourite song: Khe Sahn Favourite holiday destination: Gold Coast Favourite food: steak Favourite beer: VB Best player seen: Dogga Worst player seen: Frogga Last score on beep test: 3.14159 Favourite minor character in Joyce’s Ulysses: Punch Costello

Comments

  1. John Butler says

    Mickey, I know Victorian palettes are unacclimated to your SA water, but the first time I sampled West End I must admit I wondered why on earth you’d drink that when Coopers was available.

  2. Colin Ritchie says

    Cracking read Mickey! In my beer drinking days, I always found it difficult to find a beer I liked, not that there was a great deal of choice, basically Fosters, VB or Carlton Draught. No taste, watery and unpleasant. It wasn’t until with a group of mates we started brewing our own beer in the Otways about 30 years ago. We’d meet once a month for a brew, David our leader would organise bulk purchases of all necessary ingredients and we’d spend the night on the brewing process. We’d also have tastings of previous brews and score them. David had a recipe book of beers from around the world and each month we’d brew a different one. We created some mighty fine beers and lagers, very tasty and all brewed naturally. Some of our beers won prizes in local shows etc! After these beers I could not drink commercial beer again. A good home brew will always beat a commercial beer hands down IMHO. I think that why boutique beers have been so successful in recent years.

  3. For me at least the non-availability of Coopers was an issue. It may have been on tap but not anywhere I’d travel. I’m sure Coopers decided in the 90’s to push their product out into towns and suburbs that were traditionally West End.

    From what I hear some younger folk are drinking West End cans, the so-called Red Tins and I suspect many are doing it ironically if it’s possible. As such it becomes a point of difference. It might also be part of that rite of passage, that generational nod, which includes acknowledging and listening to your parents’ music and accepting that some of it’s pretty good.

  4. With the closing of West End beer, my father, a great beer drinker, would be turning in his grave. To me, the tragedy of it all is the 94 people that have lost their jobs. I must admit to not liking any beer at all. Years ago I discovered that not long after just 1 glass I would have an urgent call to open my bowels (to put it another way – it gave me the shits). These days my alchol drinks are limited to the occasional port, Bacadi and coke or Hock, Lemon and Lime, usually with a nice dinner.

  5. La Refresh De Torrens Past Due – or Remembrance of Things Pissed. Grand evocation of time, place and taste. The Proust of the Patawalonga.
    The 60’s was just Southwark. West End was for wharfies and oafs. I think they added “Draught” to attract the new age Chappelli bogans like us.
    I was in my 20’s before I ever drank anything as sophisticated as “wine”. Stanley Spring Gully Riesling from Clare – thanks for asking. Then it was off to the races as they say – with the home bottling craze of Bleasedale reds in plastic lined 44 gallon drums and recycling bottles with lashings of sodium metabisulphite steriliser.
    The West End brewery at the top of Port Road was the Christmas diorama of spotlit reindeer and ultra white baby in crib and cave. Chimney topped in black and white or eventually double blue – with a consoling band of red and white or red and blue beneath.
    There must have been rusted out cans of blue and gold left over from 1953. Never opened again during my 30 SA years.

  6. Can we locate meaning in beer? You know we can. Whether it is Tom T Hall, and his treatise, I Like Beer (it makes me a jolly good fellow) or Plato, who without stumbling noted, “He was a wise man who invented beer” and even Lincoln, who may as well be commentating on the current fine state of affairs in the US with his insight, “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.” Without knowing it, I chanced on meaning in beer in my formative years. When confronted with a Hannan Larger I took a sip, grimaced and told my Kalgoorlie hosts, eager to hear my thoughts on their proud town’s brew: please, put me on the rack.

    AS usual MR you give us much to smile and chuckle about as well as to ponder. And always with superb lines and neat turns of phrases. Such as: Suddenly, the old dichotomy had collapsed just like Skyhooks v Sherbet. I didn’t glance back. West End Draught was now a black and white tele with a coat hanger antenna next to the Jumbotron of Sparkling Ale.

    Onya!

  7. SORRY TO BREAK IN ALMANACAS BUT OVER IN THE WORLD SERIES BASEBALL FINAL GAME, DODGERS’ THIRD BASEMAN jUSTIN TURNER ‘S CORONA VIRUS RESULTS CAME BACK POSITIVE RESULTING IN HAVING TO BE WITHDRAWN FROM THE GAME IMMEDIATELY. DODGERS WON THE SERIES 4-2. HOWEVER CELEBRATIONS WOULD BE DAMPENED BY THIS. MUST BE MANY WORRIED PLAYERS.

  8. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I’m just as concerned about the Christmas lights Mickey.

  9. Luke Reynolds says

    Mickey, there’s many hipsters in Victoria drinking red Melbourne Bitter tins just as ironically. A SA band I really like, West Thebarton, actively show their enjoyment of the red tins from your side of the border in their videos.

    I’m sorry for all who will lose employment at West End. Whether they hold up or not, our first beers are influential. VB was my first, loved it for a long time, and can actually still enjoy one now.

  10. Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting. I really appreciate your insights. And to Fisho for his news flash!

    And if I can digress too, I reckon it’s great that the Indian cricket tour has been confirmed, geo-politics and post-colonialism aside! Will Perth host a Test?

  11. Kevin Densley says

    Great, evocative piece, Mickey! It took me back to summer holidays as a youngster staying at my grandmother’s place in Largs Bay (my family made the trip across from Geelong) – this typically involved going to the Adelaide Test, too, and when I was a little older, sampling some of those beers that seemed to come from another country.

    For me, there will always be something special about those long-ago Adelaide summers.

  12. “…I always scan the offerings before getting the usual, and for that brief moment the cluster of choice is faintly paralysing, in a hugely privileged, first-world way.” This is a brilliant line, Mickey, and there are many good ones in this piece.

    My first ever time in Adelaide, on an end-of-season footy trip in the late-80’s, I decided to take the “when in Rome…” approach. To this day, I believe the pot of Southwark I had in the Ambassador was one of the worst beers I have ever tasted. And the pot of Coopers Pale Ale I enjoyed in the King’s Head was one of the best.

  13. Pot? Pot? There are no pots or middies in South Australia – Smokie. Butchers and schooners – please. When in Rome …….as you say.

  14. Thanks Kevin, Smokie and PB. Appreciate your thoughts.

    Heading off later today to the Clare Valley for our annual trip with friends. Very excited. Special limited edition First Night at Clare Coopers Sparkling Ale purchased. How lucky to have spotted these on the shelf!

  15. I believe I was in that HQ Holden. Being so hot and there being no air condtioning in that stylish parents’ car of yours, meant that the Smirnoff-ed orange juice was tempting even just after dawn.

    I agree with Rick about your beautiful turns of phrases: “the old Buffalo grass with microscopic leaf barbs that’d make your legs itch” and “squinting farmers and dusty golfers” among them. But my favourite line is this:

    “Then, I think of Dad and our Kapunda backyard and a dawn train to watch a January one-dayer, and those simple, secluded times.

    Thanks Mickey.

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