In the narrow streets and burglar bars of Observatory, BeerLab are making a small name for themselves with their friendly service and small stockroom of affordable homebrewing equipment.
Although they might only work out of a tiny backroom – rest assured they have plans to expand – their shelves are packed with Coopers extract kits, all-grain supplies and little toys for beginner brewers. Find grain bags, hydrometers, refractometers, bottle cappers, flasks, tubing, buckets and even seminal brewing books all quite literally in arm’s reach.
I managed to sure up my equipment stock for only a few hundred bucks, and got bright and cheery service from BeerLab’s founder Lynnae, who said she felt she had to open her shop to supplement and supply her own brewing habit. Born out of necessity and passion for making things easier for local homebrewers, BeerLab, along with other new start-ups like ingredient suppliers Beerguevara, are showing that homebrewing can be inexpensive and accessible.
Order online from their clean and pretty site at http://beerlab.co.za. Pick-up and delivery options both available.
So, what can I tell you about the Olympics? Not much, I’d bet. There are hundreds of better writers here with sharper eyes, better knowledge and – oh yeah – media accreditation.
It’s my first time at a Games, and it’s wonderful. I’m already familiar with London as my brother has been living here since 2008, but this a London new to me and, I suspect, to almost everyone else: efficient, uncongested and friendly. For the first time in history, strangers are speaking on the tube in English about things other than future participation in knife fights. Locals are absent from the city, taking advice to stay away from the Olympics a bit too literally. Sidewalk cafés are half-empty. Instead of having a business boom, businesses are fretfully searching for their missing custom.
That, and the fact that the Olympic Park is positively sprawling, means that London is incredibly pleasant at the moment. It’s still bustling and hyperactive, still a city of too many languages and face brick and men lookbooked to death; just with an added splash of fluorescence and common purpose. Flags and nationalism and thousands of people in merchandise stores. BBC, Brittania, and people caring about rowing and the heptathlon.
It’s a glorious atmosphere, matched by the perfectly temperate air, with most days toeing the fine line between drizzle and blazing sunshine.
Which makes it great for beer. Suitably, London hosts CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival next weekend, but even inside the greatest festival of them all, Heineken’s iron fist sponsorship of the games is actually quite lax.
While the Olympic Park is home to the world’s largest McDonald’s, massive anonymised rows of vendors of fish and chips, pies, salads, sandwiches and, well, beer. The selection isn’t exactly wide: you can choose between Heineken, a Heineken-esque “lager” which probably is just Heineken, and an “ale”. That Olympic ale, however, is gorgeous mahogany and copper, with just the right whiffs of dark malt, toffee and milk chocolate to overcome a slightly watery disposition. At 3.6%, it’s outrageously sessionable during a long day exploring the stadia and installations – oh, and Michael Phelps winning his 20th Olympic medal.
Next weekend, however, I’ll be heading to Kensington Olympia to experience something a smidgen more diverse. I’m not sure exactly what I’ll find at the Great British Fest. The organisers bill over 800 real ales, ciders and bottles from around the world, all available under one rather large roof.
The real ale community in Britain is enormously progressive, pervasive and ever-growing, and now I get to have a peek at its grand gathering.
I am giddy with excitement.
Friday didn’t start too well for the Hop & Vine Festival. A week that started off with four consecutive days of unseasonable warmth ended in a deluge. As torrential rain flooded the outside areas of Simons @ Groot Constantia a mere five hours before the festival’s start, everything had to be changed. The tented area was abandoned: sound equipment was moved inside, kegs hurried under gazebos and carried through the downpour. The full aggression of the Cape winter had been pent up for too long; today was its release.
But while it was damp outside, the enthusiasm of organisers and brewers under the banner of the Craft Beer Project never abated. Glasses were set up on tables, stalls erected and the first draughts pulled. This was going to be a success one way or another, the organisers said. It turned out that they were right.
Rather unlike any other large-scale beer festival yet held in Cape Town, the Hop & Vine Festival was more focused on boutique sensibilities, bringing the world of local craft beer somewhere a bit closer to the trappings of refinement most associated with fine wine.
Although food pairings, wines from local garagistes and the taking of tasting notes were talking points, the unique identity of South Africa’s craft beer landscape shone through in a number of homebrewing demonstrations and the varied spectrum of the breweries present: from American-influenced ales to north-south collaboration brews, to the most tender and quirky of tiny local operations. It was a microcosm of the finer aspects of the South African beer world, beautifully dressed and subtly indulgent. (Crayfish and weiss, anyone?)
Due to the sheer amount of beer available, coupled with other commitments, I didn’t manage to get around to everything. There were, however, a few things that caught my eye especially.
Citizen’s Alliance Amber Ale turned out to be popular with a surprisingly large number of people I spoke to. Actually, on saying that, it’s not too surprising: although it’s proven to be a bit of challenge for the Royale and Waiting Room boys to upscale their brews from the kitchen to 1000l and 2000l batches, they’re finally getting the combination of soft mouth and wholesome caramel edge they want into their final product. It’s a remarkably tasty and casual easy-drinker.
It’s not going to impress every experienced quaffer, but these are promising first steps. With an IPA in the works, along with some excellent branding and good foundations in city centre culture, I’ve got a feeling that Citizen is making some very good in-roads.
Friday night saw the first public appearance from the League of Beers, a new start-up, six months in the making, that hopes to make the full landscape of SA craft, along with great lines of abbey beers and other craft imports, everywhere in the country. Like Citizen, LoB is heavily brand-focused, and it paid off in a lot of passing interest. Founder Rob Heyns is one hell of a friendly guy, and he went to great lengths to explain his shipping solutions and packaging to anyone who asked.
Aside from the abbeys and a range of beer from KZN’s Quills Brewery, LoB was selling a relatively new pale lager from Stellenbrau, brewed using equipment transplanted from the old Luyt Brewery in Ballito, KZN. I sometimes forget that a significant amount of people, for whatever reason, enjoy pale lager more than other styles. There’s merit to that: Camelthorn’s unfiltered Helles, for example, is oppressively refreshing on a hot summer’s day.
Stellenbrau lager isn’t the old Luyt recipe, but it sticks to a more South African style of pale lager than anything European. Happily, however, it retains a good light malt backbone, decent feel and a woody flavour profile that makes it deeper and more enjoyable than the swathes of lean and weak macro pale lagers that most characterise the style in SA.
It was also wonderful to see the culmination of possibly South Africa’s first North-South collaboration brew, between Jonathan Nel from Johannesburg’s Three Skulls Brewery, and Glenn Adams from Kommetjie’s Valley Brewery. They mixed dark malt and a few heavy handfuls of cascade hops to make Valley of the Skulls, a black IPA that turned out excellently balanced, much like the rest of the delicious Three Skulls suite of IPA, saison and blonde.
It was at about 10 o’clock that I began to lose my bearings a bit. Surrounded by roaring fires and live reggae, I suitably gave into indulgence and that gorgeous blur of memory that seems to occur after your fourth stout. I had originally wanted to talk about Devil’s Peak’s brilliant new Silvertree Saison and Triggerfish’s new Russian Imperial Stout, but I lost my notebook and my pen and resigned to write about them at some other point.
I gave into enjoyment, and I think that’s the key here. Just before I walked out of Simon’s into the slightly-receding rain to the car that was to take me home at the end of the evening, I turned and had a good look at what was left at the festival floor and the bar: smiles. A lot of smiles.
Bringing the worlds of beer closer to the fineries of wine culture requires a good sense of fun, balance and perspective to make sure that craft beer retains its implacably fun identity while appealing to new audiences and continuing its upward climb to the mainstream. Organised by some of the best brains in local craft at the Craft Beer Project, the Hop & Vine Festival succeeded in its mandate. It was a cherry-picking of the best of both slightly-estranged alcoholic worlds; an exhausting tangle of everything good that grows with tendrils.
Pro tip: destroy your palate with a Devil’s Peak King’s Blockhouse IPA (IBU: 56) and a Sunrise vegetable roti (SHU: around 1 million). Rounded bitterness and pricks of citrus and pine from the King’s Blockhouse will prime your tongue for what is to come once you unwrap the mummified beast: a burning assault of quasi-pickled cabbage, carrot and green bean, all wrapped up in doughy warm roti goodness.
At the end of it, your stomach will feel like it has endured a short but brutal North African coup d’état, and the only movements you’re likely to make for the next hour will be moans of pain-laced pleasure.
It’s S&M for your intestines, so 50 Shades of Grey that shit up and do it. The beer’s more expensive than the roti, but I’ve been eating these forearm-sized rolls of pure carb-gasm since I was 16, so I’m not going to stop anytime soon. I have, however, found its natural partner. The King’s Blockhouse is the only beer I’ve had that not only stands up to a Sunrise veg roti, but enhances it. Sure, there are bitterer IPAs out there – Triggerfish’s excellently pungent Titan IIPA comes to mind immediately – but something about the full spectrum of KB’s bittersweet floral-citrus-resin palate brings the pairing to an overwhelmingly indulgent fast food fruition.
Sunrise House of Curries, Main Road, Mowbray. Don’t eat anything with prawn in it.
If you’d like to get hold of this beer, head on over to League of Beers and have it delivered straight to your door!
Roeland Street seems to have the best of many things in Cape Town: its best camera and photography shop (sleek, shiny Orms), its best bookstore (the wood-clad and gorgeous Book Lounge) and – almost certainly – its best beer shop.
Aside from the scooter and wooden figurines in the window and the alcohol quotes on the chalkboard above the till, Roeland Liquors looks much like any other hole-in-the-wall bottle store in Cape Town. Don’t let appearances fool you, however: the selection of beer I found here is unparalleled by anywhere else I’ve seen so far. Find full up-to-date ranges from Birkenhead, Devil’s Peak, Boston, Darling, all three Quill’s imprints, Camelthorn, Napier, Triggerfish, Robson’s, Jack Black and Maredsous (as well as a large selection of foreign lagers) in stock, all at respectable prices. You can also find Collective São Gabriel’s (aka &Union’s) gorgeous-looking trappist-style Touro Tripel, too, although that might set you back a penny or two.
Their selection is extensive and thoroughly exciting, the only downside to it being the frigid cold room everything is kept in. It doesn’t exactly accommodate thoughtful browsing, but – you know – it’s a small price to pay.
With a wonderfully exhaustive sweep of the Cape beer landscape, and knowledgable staff and fair prices, it’s the ultimate essential destination for any beer-lover’s weekly run.
So, total disclaimer: although this blog is supposed to be a chronicle of my homebrewing experiences (among other things), I’ve never actually brewed before. While I started Suip! a year ago as an attempt to record my successes and failures in brewing, it has only really recorded one sustained failure; namely, my failure to begin brewing.
To be honest though, brewing has seemed steeped in mystery to me for a while. The homebrew setups I had seen throughout my travels so far made me feel out of my depth. What are those pipes? How do I control the temperature of my mash? How do I get equipment? Despite meeting with the SouthYeasters – Cape Town’s largest, friendliest and most experienced homebrewing community by far – I felt I still had a lot to learn and not many people willing or able to show me what to do.
Last week, however, I took the plunge and signed up to an all-grain homebrewing workshop hosted by Beerguevara (link), a homebrewing supply store in Newlands. It was free, and I had an open morning. I arrived on Saturday, expecting a few hours in some bedraggled man’s basement being overwhelmed by techniques and equipment and complicated processes that I’d never be able to duplicate.
But, as usual, I was wrong. With nine other men, I entered into the Beerguevara realm – a sunny spacious duplex, home to the two guys behind Beerguevara, Andy and Anthony, and their equally sunny wives – and had the mystery and fuzz of homebrewing quickly stripped away.
Some people describe making beer as carefully managing a small eco-system of microorganisms. Technically that’s true, of course, but I’d rather describe it as making a very precise stew. It’s all pots and pans, timings and temperatures, steeping and boiling and tapping. Andy and Anthony have only been brewing for nine months, but what they lack in lifelong experience they make up for in openness, friendliness and an eagerness to share and discuss.
Andy and Anthony have a hands-off approach to teaching – that is, they leave it up to the attendees to do everything themselves, from the grinding of the grain through to the final tapping of the brew into fermentation buckets. The aim of the exercise is collaboration and sharing ideas, asking questions and getting familiar with new processes with the reassurance of someone looking over your shoulder and giving you pointers the entire time.
You come to learn that homebrewing can be done – and done well – with simple, inexpensive things. A cooler box for a mash tun, a plastic bucket for a fermentation tank, airconditioning pipe for an immersion cooler. Mashing, sparging, boiling, hopping, cooling, sterilizing and tapping are done with ease and common sense, all comfortably within the space of a kitchen and backyard. And their results aren’t swill, either: sweet-and-singing dubbels, in-your-face IPAs and coffee stouts all come out of this house. All it requires is patience, a little know-how and a few hundred rand for the most spartan setup.
On the shop front, their ingredients list is solid and ever-growing, allowing you to try as many styles as you have budget and confidence for. Local and German malts are kept in big plastic buckets around their dining room, and hops, steadily imported from wherever they can get them, take up their freezer space. Equipment investment aside, homebrewing is much cheaper than buying beer, even macrobrew, and the feeling of cracking open and enjoying something you’ve made yourself is an inimitable feeling. (Or so I’m told. We’ll see when I start brewing myself.)
All in all, these workshops work brilliantly as both knowledge sharing and marketing sessions. I now have the confidence to buy my equipment and get into all-grain brewing for the first time since I started mulling over the idea about a year ago. It needn’t be complicated; it needn’t be pretentious or expensive. Homebrewing is a brilliant pastime, of mash-filled airspace and the anticipation of each next step towards the goal: something made by your hands and to be enjoyed by your family and friends.
And, frankly, that’s a pretty amazing thing.
Well, I had far too much fun at Banana Jam Café last night. Things went from good to better when fabulous owner and Craft Beer Project mastermind Greg Casey pulled out the soft and caramelly Clarens Red from the back and then, in a fit of joyous abandon, decided to mix Red Bull and Devil’s Peak Woodhead Amber Ale on the suggestion that “it’s apparently a big thing in Germany”. Ah, to be the owner of a restaurant with an endless supply of craft. (It was actually quite nice, to tell the truth, but don’t let anybody else hear that.)
Other highlights included cheesy jalapeños, potent cocktails – dubbed “bitch pops” by the girls – and me strutting around in my dad’s denim shirt, shouting “JUICE SPRINGSTEEN” over and over and over. Post-drinking events included attempting to speak Welsh and singing Craig David’s “What’s Yo Flava” a capella in the car home.
God, I love this place. You should really go.
South Africa’s oldest wine farm is streaked in gold and sepia,its roses and vine winding up and across hills. Farmhands on tractors chug by and stir around the entrances of centuries-old cellars. Groot Constantia is an estate made for postcard vistas; the culmination of colonial dreams and pastoral adventure.
That, and it’s a bloody good spot for a beer festival.
Last night was the official media launch for the Hop and Vine Festival, a winter beer and wine celebration to be held here on the 20th and 21st of July. More specifically, it will be hosted by Simon’s @ Groot Constantia, a gorgeous bar and restaurant tucked round the back of the estate. Here, media, brewers and other Cape beeries mingled and chatted while the chefs of Simon’s exhibited their food and beer pairing expertise and the various organisers of the festival outlined what attendees can expect.
And what can you expect? Simply put: a beer experience unlike nothing South Africa’s yet seen.
"Beer and wine have long been far apart," said organiser Greg Casey, "but we want to bring them closer. A lot of beer people have never been wine drinkers, and because of that they’ve missed out on a lot. The reverse goes for wine people, although it’s also because we only had lager in this country for a lot of years."
"Really, they’re very similar," he continued, "and this venue presents an opportunity to bring those two worlds together and to celebrate both."
Along with the liquid wares from seven Cape-based breweries (the festival proper will more than double that number), the food was exceptionally good. Highlights included cumin boerekaas and pungent gruyere from Constantia Cheesery, and the lip-smackingly confluent beer-and-food pairings of the chefs at Simon’s, the best of which being the peppery punch of the grilled swordfish, accompanied by Valley Brewery’s London Ale, and the classic pseudo-sophistication of local oysters washed down by Triggerfish Empowered Stout. Salty-sweet goodness.
But do you know what the best bit is? You can experience all of this – the setting, the beer and the food – at the Hop and Vine Festival. With live music and food exhibitors in tow, it’s likely to be the classiest beer experience, in the finest possible surrounds, that you’ll get for a while. (That said, the scheduled reggae band and black IPA from Valley of the Skulls should get things quite appropriately shook up.)
Get your tickets right now from Quicket.
My friend Terri made this cupcake. This cupcake is made with beer, and let-me-tell-you-something, readers: it is delicious.
Boston Breweries’ Naked Mexican, their Corona-esque pale lager, is in both the sponge and white icing, and although it was just the result of a late night experiment in a kitchen with too much beer in it – as if that’s a real problem – it’s actually really good. It turns out that the ubiquitous pale lager lends itself surprisingly well to baking, but, oddly enough, it’s in the icing that the beer’s pronounced bready and yeasty notes shine though. Topped with lime zest, it’s a little summertime cake that cheered up a cold winter’s night.
P.S.: If you’ve been thinking of baking with beer, you should go right ahead! It’s great! Just a word of warning though: cupcakes made with beer tend to go stale and hard really quickly. (Unless they’re made with Guinness, which, for some reason, tends to stay moist and rich. Caveats galore!)