A Devil’s Peak Brewing Co. beer is finally readily available to the public. The First Light Golden Ale is now on tap at Banana Jam Café in Kenilworth, and it’s lovely.
Clear yellow-gold with a two finger-thick head, First Light is full-bodied and creamy, and predominantly hoppy and light orangey on nose and palate. Although the nose is quite soft, the palate is rounded off with soft hints of mango peel and acidic naartjie. It’s lively and sprightly, and finds the holy balance between fullness and refreshment with ease, making it perfect for sessioning.
I’d been looking forward to this pint since I became acquainted with the guys from Devil’s Peak at the Cape Town Festival of Beer last November. It was worth the wait. First Light is a thoroughly thoughtfully-made ale, satisfying and wholesome. Good job, guys.
There’s always the slightest bit of apprehension when I discover something’s become defictionalised – you know, when a company buys the rights from a film studio to make their fictional product into something real. It’s problematic: Wonka Bars can’t actually be as good as they are in Charlie’s universe, and a real-life Sex Panther cologne can’t actually have bits of real panther in it, as wonderfully perverse as that sounds.
Fictional products often reach some kind of unattainable perfection. That’s the sticking point. Well, for most of them anyway. Duff Beer is a glorious exception: Matt Groening, the creator of the Simpsons, created Homer Simpson’s drink of choice as a parody of commercial American lagers. It’s cheap, poorly made and, with the help of its muscle-bound mascot Duffman, its advertising is everywhere in Springfield.
But now it’s real (sans Duffman, unfortunately.) German brewery Eschweger Klosterbrauerei began brewing a licenced Duff premium lager 18 or so months ago. Sure, beers by the name of Duff have been brewed in a handful of countries – Mexico, England, Australia and the US to name a few – but many of those are mere Duff namesakes, and not Springfield Duff. Duff Brewery in Dunedin, New Zealand, for example, started brewing a beer called Duff long before the Simpsons even began. Unsurprisingly, it was threatened with legal action by the Simpsons’ American network Fox – despite Groening stating he would never license the trademark himself – and so it was forced to change the beer’s name to McDuff.
While there is a Belgian version of Springfield Duff, it doesn’t look very authentic. Only one brewery brews an authentic real-life version of the beer Homer once described as “the beer that makes the days fly by”, and lucky me, I was given a couple six-packs of it by my brother for Christmas. Due to its worldwide appeal, it can be quite difficult to get hold of. It’s no surprise it’s popular: it looks very much the real deal.
But what about the beer itself? Although Springfield Duff is supposed to be bland and a wholly corporate product – the several varieties of Duff, such as Duff Light and Duff Dry are actually the same beer in the Simpsons universe – real-life Duff is a much better pale lager than most commercial lagers. For one, it has wonderful mouth feel, and a satisfyingly medium carbonation, even out of a can (which is the way I admittedly drank all of my share, just like Homer Simpson.) Flavourwise it’s nothing special – thin corn maltiness carried by the slightest bitter tinge; it’s definitely common denominator stuff.
But it’s really not that bad. It’s inarticulate, sure, but its fictional self, not to mention its fictional drinkers, aren’t very articulate either. It’s profoundly inoffensive on nose and palate, and that can’t be said for many American macrobrews. Duff Beer might be corporate clear and slightly weak, but it’s great fun and a far cry from the Miller High Lifes and Coors Lights it was made to make fun of. Even a fictional beer brand known for being swill can’t emulate the dross that comes out of the world’s biggest macrobreweries. It’s funny. (Or sad, I can’t tell which.)
That’s the problem with bringing fictional products into real life: even if it’s supposed to be bad, it simply can’t live up to its reputation. Maybe that’s a good thing in this case.
Eschweger Klosterbrauerei Duff Beer; 330ml can; 4.7% a.b.v.
Pros: A great novelty, as well as a drinkable, sessionable pale lager.
Cons: Slightly disappointed that it wasn’t genuinely shit.
I spent this past fortnight in my hometown of Durban unwinding, recharging and catching up with friends after a long and difficult past few months. While I was there I decided to revisit a few beers I used to enjoy at home before I moved down to Cape Town, mostly just to see if my good memories of them still held up now.
Shongweni Brewery’s Robson’s East Coast Ale was a beer I used to drink often on holiday, so it was one of the beers I picked up from my local bottle store on my way home from buying ingredients for the fifteen bunny chows I decided to make for my mates last week. (For non-Durbanite readers, you might need to know that a bunny chow is a quarter- or half-loaf of bread hollowed out and filled with curry. They’re bliss. And I made vegetable masala bunnies – the obvious choice, really.)
The East Coast Ale’s golden tones and connection to the place I grew up in – in name and Shongweni Brewery’s proximity to it – taps into the rich vein of feeling I imagine most people have for their hometowns. I hadn’t had it for quite a long time, but I remember it being sweet, foamy, soft and utterly drinkable.
But retrospection is often rose-tinted. Despite my fond memories of it, Robson’s East Coast Ale turned out to not be one of Shongweni’s best. Don’t get me wrong: it’s probably above average compared to most South African micros, but I’ve had better things from both Shongweni Brewery and others since I last tried the ECA.
The ECA is a blond ale made with Brewers Gold and Challenger hops, and pours yellow-orange with a quickly-dissipating, finger-thick white head. With the unusual promise of soft yellow fruits on the nose – mango and pear especially – what follows is surprisingly unnuanced: a little thin maltiness, a slight sweetness and just the tiniest bitter pinch (Shongweni Brewery rates ECA at 25 IBU). Its thin carbonation and soft mouth feel make it drinkable but unfortunately it’s not the most satisfying beer, especially when compared to Robson’s West Coast Ale and Durban Pale Ale.
That said, it goes down well with a bunny and, with a light body and 4% a.b.v., it’s certainly sessionable, if you’re that way inclined.
Shongweni Brewery say that “the people of [the East Coast] are exciting, diverse and full of energy and optimism. We wanted to capture this spirit of the East Coast in our beer and we think we have.” But with a lack of any praise-worthy nuances, maybe the East Coast Ale doesn’t speak so well for my childhood home – especially when the West Coast Ale is an almost universally celebrated beer – but maybe it isn’t meant to be the cosmopolitan option. Golden and easy-going is what best defines the East Coast anyway.
Robson’s East Coast Ale, 550ml bottle, 4% a.b.v.
Pros: Gorgeously golden; easy-drinking; very good with heavy food.
So, Jack Black's Pale Ale. One of the two newer beers available in the Jack Black range (the other being the JB Pilsener), it’s about to be featured in an upcoming issue of one of South Africa’s largest-selling men’s magazines as one of six local craft beers you, y’know, just have to try. But why, out of all the wonderful beers in South Africa – complex, deep, eye-watering, silky or even just plain and simple – would they choose this one? I had to find out and, to be honest, I’m still not sure of the answer.
Everything about the beer is plain. Sure, Jack Black is known for its rather utilitarian identity. It works well. It sells well. It’s memorable and the association of the name in many people’s minds with a famous actor has probably helped them a hell of a lot. But as much as I’ve generally liked Jack Black Lager as an easy-sipping simple beer, this just seems like Version 2.0 of the JB Lager to me.
And it’s such a shame too. The JB Pale Ale’s crisp copper tones set up some high expectations, but its wispy caramel and toffee aromas give way to what is, quite frankly, an underwhelming palate. Its thinness, small bubbly head and maltiness is eerily similar to the same qualities present in JB’s original beer. It’s odd. There’s very little in the palate to distinguish it from the lager, and almost nothing to distinguish it as a pale ale of any kind – Indian, Amber or otherwise. It has very little bitterness, very little mouth feel and not enough flavour. If you had given my draught to me without saying what it was, I’d be nonplussed. It suffers from a profound lack of identity.
The fact that I got to keep the glass the beer was poured in - it’s R20 for any JB 330ml draught + a nice fluted Pilsner glass at the Old Biscuit Mill – was just about the best part of drinking it. I’ve heard that the JB Pilsener is a much better effort at expanding their already well-known brand, but this offering doesn’t exactly make me champ at the bit to try it.
Jack Black Pale Ale, 330ml draught, ?% a.b.v.
Pros: Looks crisp; enticing light aromas.
Cons: Doesn’t deliver substantially on any front; too plain; just not a good execution of any discernable style of pale ale.
This is the coast near Port Alfred. It’s beautiful. Recently I travelled there to write a story for school about the Wharf Street Brew Pub and the Little Brewery on the River, Port Alfred’s microbrew/brewpub combination. Situated right on the River Kowie, which runs through the town, the Brew Pub and Little Brewery stand within an old stone building that used to be Port Alfred’s old harbourmaster’s offices, as well as its town hall. It’s beautiful, rugged and full of history. I suggest you go visit it, should you ever find yourself along this beautiful piece of Eastern Cape coastline.
I would write more and post more photos about it here, but the story has been picked up by Getaway, and should be published early next year.
In the meantime, I’d like to review one of the Little Brewery on the River's beers. Originally I was hoping to review both of their beers, but seeing as they're only available in four small towns in the Eastern Cape's old Albany district – it's local microbrew in the truest sense of the phrase – getting hold of them is sometimes tricky. I was only able to get my hands on the delicious Kowie Gold Pilsner.
A lightly cloudy yellow-gold with a puffy white head, it looks the consummate pilsner. With wet grass and light spiciness on the nose, and a palate to match, it’s a refreshing springtime beer. And like a good pilsner, it finishes dry and slaking, managing an excellent balance between hoppiness, earthiness and tartness.
Brewed by Colin Coetzee, a 72-year-old ex-chief brewer of SAB, this is a beer that is well-conceptualised and made with a lot of love. Shirking the scientific rigours and industrial efficiency of his previous employers, Colin’s Little Brewery has an output of only 1000l a day, and every drop of it is obsessed over. It shows in both this beer and the Little Brewery’s other brew, the Coin Ale, a flavoursome brown ale with unexpected depth and sweetness.
So far their beers are available in only 24 locations throughout Port Alfred, Grahamstown, Kenton-on-Sea and Bathurst, but it’s well worth the fuss. The Brew Pub on Wharf Street in Port Alfred is also a winner.
Just one word of warning about the Little Brewery’s beers, however: some pubs in the region don’t store their kegs very well. The beer is unpasteurised and therefore spoils quicker and far more readily than commercial beers, and some bars in the area (I’m looking at you especially, Rat and Parrot) seem absolutely oblivious to this fact. Should your beer taste offish, tell the bar manager.
The Little Brewery on the River Kowie Gold Pilsner; 500ml draught; 4.5% a.b.v.
Pros: Yellow and summery; a consummate pilsner, with delicious light spiciness and tartness; a local specialty in the truest sense.
Cons: Away from Port Alfred, sometimes unavailable and incompetently stored by bars.
Since when did you see a label that clean and pretty? Nicely considered and good looking both inside and out, Johnny Gold, Boston Breweries' take on the hefeweizen, is a slightly sweet, uncomplicated beer that's sure to appeal to people not usually so keen on weiss.
Pouring dark gold with a healthy but quickly dissipating off-white head, Johnny Gold looks good from the outset. With plenty of banana on the nose, you’d expect a lot of sweetness. It delivers.
Sweet from banana notes and slightly bitter from citrus zest, cloves and just a dash of what tastes a lot like peppercorns, Johnny Gold is a really pleasing beer. Medium bodied and softly carbonated, it finishes surprisingly long and strong, but never overly bitter.
Like its label, it’s clean cut, pretty and simple. Much the same as Darling’s Bone Crusher, the other weiss brewed at Boston Breweries’ premises, it’s crisp and refreshing. While I’d recommend both beers for a good summer weiss, I’d recommend you try Boston’s over Darling’s if you weren’t such a huge weiss fan, even though Bone Crusher is a firm favourite for weiss lovers, including myself. Johnny Gold is just somehow lighter and a tad more cheery. I can see it appealing to those people (who there are a lot of, in my experience) who usually don’t like local weiss.
Drink this with seafood or anything deep fried. It cleans the palate well.
Boston Breweries Johnny Gold Weiss Beer; 550ml bottle; 5% a.b.v.
Pros: crisp and good looking; sweet and refreshing.
Cons: might be a bit uninteresting to the serious weiss lover.
So, Bierwerk. You should know it, but chances are that you don’t. That’s a shame, because their beers are awesome.
A quick introduction: Bierwerk was a small brewing project done by Danish brewing master (and Beer Here founder) Christian Skovdal Andersen at Boston Brewery a while back. Applying his encyclopedic knowledge of Danish brewing to some pretty profound brewing ideas - well, for South Africa anyway - he created two beers that should have set SA craft brewing alight. First was the Vlakvark, an English bitter made with Southern Promise hops and home-roasted caramel malts. Next was the Aardwolf, the highest-rated South African beer on ratebeer.com: a stout made with five dark grains, molasses and roast African coffee; black as a moonless night and utterly delectable.
Although both of these beers were very well received overseas, little was spoken of them here. When I first came across Bierwerk I was slightly perplexed that I hadn’t heard of the beers before, considering that they and the rest of Andersen’s beers are held in such high regard. Needless to say, I was very happy when Chris from Boston Breweries sent me through a few four-packs a couple weeks ago. (Thanks again, Chris!)
I’ll be reviewing the Aardwolf and Vlakvark in time, but I want to focus on a third beer that Andersen made for Bierwerk, the Renosterbos, which hasn’t gotten very much coverage at all. In fact, this blog contains the only mentions of it on the internet. (I guess I can call this my first exclusive?) Further, it is unlike anything I have ever drank before.
Renosterbos is a barleywine, a traditional style of English strong ale - the name apparently comes from its propensity to be as strong as wine - that Andersen made in collaboration with a local winemaker, who would prefer to remain anonymous. They provided Anderson with some of their old wine barrels that were infected with brettanomyces. In layman’s terms, brettanomyces are a type of yeast that, if they grow in large quantities, can greatly spoil wine; in Andersen’s words, “is something the wine makers fear and some beer makers (like me) love.”
Brettanomyces (or Brett) produces four different compounds when it grows in wine, substantially altering the palate and bouquet. Andersen wanted some of these “funky flavours” to add complexity to his brew.
So, after brewing with SAB pale malt and Southern Promise hops, a not-insignificant amount of golden syrup and fermented with yeast from two Belgian breweries (from Rochefort and Da Chouffe), the beer was aged in those Brett-infected wine barrels for seven months.
So, what does all this leave you with?
To be technical: a brown-ruby-ish beer with minimal carbonation and the thinnest of thin laces; port-like notes from the long fermentation, but also with twangs of sour fruit, tartness and sharpness like you’d expect from red ale; full-bodied with sweet undertones finishing sour; high-alcohol content but oddly enough still smooth and drinkable; not too cloying, not too deep.
I were to be frank, I would only describe it as spectacular. The imagination that Andersen put into the conception and brewing of this beer stands evident: not only does the Renosterbos give your taste buds a fulfilling workout, but also - to someone like me who is a relative newcomer to brewing - provides you with a vast re-conception about what beer can be. It’s a fantastic beer.
Renosterbos wouldn’t be for everyone, and it certainly would stretch most people’s palates. While I don’t think that’s a negative in this case, I still don’t know if people would catch onto the idea and embrace it. It also isn’t a perfect beer, but it’s obviously brewed to push some boundaries, and although I’m not sure this is boundary-pushing fare for Andersen, it certainly is for craft brewing in South Africa.
Unfortunately, it isn’t very readily available. My remaining three bottles have a best before date of May 2016. I think, for once, I’m going to leave a good beer alone for a while. It will take a lot of self control.
Bierwerk Renosterbos, 550ml bottle, 11% a.b.v.
Pros: imaginative; delicious; one-of-a-kind; other superlatives.
Cons: I only have three bottles left.
For my last of my Camelthorn reviews for a while, I picked up their Red, an North American-style ale that I had heard lots about but had never gotten round to tasting until now.
Upon releasing their Red Ale, Camelthorn boasted that it would “alter the Namibian beer landscape forever”. A big claim, but with World Beer medalist Marty Velas accompanying Camelthorn in brewing one of his most famous styles, it didn’t seem too unreasonable. Made with hops from Oregon and a lot of ambition, this beer speaks a big game.
Somewhere between amber and red in colour, the Red pours with very little head, but retains a nice white lace the whole way down. Imperiously malty and almost a touch too hoppy, it’s a very flavourful ale and, by many accounts, a good example of a style that is very prevalent in the USA.
Like all of Camelthorn’s offerings, it has pleasant full mouthfeel and a finish that lingers gratifyingly. It’s not an ale that will appeal to the masses, but it’s a must for ale lovers, particularly those that require a good punch of sharpness to slake their thirst.
It’s not my favourite of Camelthorn’s - the weizen and bok are more to my tastes - but it’s more of the same high quality and ambition I’ve come to expect from them. Another satisfying and commendable brew.
Camelthorn Red Ale; 300ml bottle; 4.5% a.b.v.
Pros: Big flavour; full-bodied and liltingly slaking.
Cons: May be too hoppy and a touch too sharp for some tastes.
This might sound incredibly presumptive, but I would hedge a large bet that most young, unsheltered people in Cape Town have at the very least heard of Royale Eatery on Long Street. As such, I’m not going to ramble on too much about it, but for those of you who haven’t heard of it, consider this a decent recommendation.
Somewhere in between boho chic and eclectic café, Royale is unadulteratedly Cape Town. Even their menus are attractive. Known for their superlative burgers and milkshakes, Royale is a place where the food is morish, the waitresses pretty and the tables sought-after. During the afternoon and early evening it’s pretty relaxed, but come here at night and could be hard-pressed to find a table.
Luckily, on the third and fourth floors of Royale’s Long Street premises is The Waiting Room, a bar at which, well, you can get a drink and chill while waiting to get into Royale. It’s a beautiful spot in its own right - with a rooftop liberally swathed in fairy lights - and quality folk acts play there regularly.
The beer choice at Royale is better than most. They have the whole Brewers & Union range as well as a handful of beers from SAB. Interestingly, they offer Laurentina, a Mozambican beer made by SABMiller for which I have tepid feelings, and a Portuguese beer called Super Bock which, disappointingly, is neither a bock nor super. Despite a failure of nomenclature, it’s an OK beer. It has a decent malty backbone for a pale lager, but I think a lot of people might be disappointed in it, given its name.
Any bock-related disappointment, however, is swiftly mitigated by pure burgery pleasure. They are burgers that, in Royale’s words, “make your soul tingle and your dreams come true”. I agree. You can choose between normal fries, sweet potato fries, potato wedges or a mixture of two to accompany your burger (I usually get the sweet potato fries). All of the burgers I’ve tried so far - the Cosa Nostra, the Santori and the Baa Baa - have been delicious, but seeing as this was the first time I’ve come to Royale since I stopped eating mammals and concentrated rather on decimating our local fish population, I ordered something new: their Thai fish burger, which at R66 was entirely satisfying. They have over 50 burgers to choose from to suit any tastes or dietary preference.
Royale also do salads, pizzas and a few other things but, as any Royale regular will tell you, the burgers are where it’s at. They’re not cheap, but they’re certainly worth it.
For a pleasant meal with minimal fuss - and plenty of opportunity to people-watch - Royale Eatery’s a great pick, with good atmosphere and a great location in the middle of town to boot. Line your stomach before a big night on Long Street, or just relax with a beer and burger during the day. It’s all good.
While trying to finish off my Honours thesis on - you know - journalismy things last week, I had two sudden realisations. Firstly, I had not eaten Mexican food in at least three days. Bad move. Secondly and perhaps more relevantly, I realised that I had never reviewed a beer brewed by Boston Breweries, a brewery that commands a decent amount of influence around the Western Cape. Silly me. To remedy this in one fell swoop, I went to Pancho’s in Observatory for some enchiladas and jalapeno poppers, as well as a couple draughts of Naked Mexican.
Founded in 2000, Boston produce about 32 000 litres a month, and - unknown to many - their premises also act as the brewing facilities for Jack Black, Darling Brewery and Bierwerk. (Although they all brew at the same place, they are all different breweries run by different people, who make beers with different ingredients.) As such, their premises see the beginnings of many of this part of South Africa’s favourite beers. They also deliver cases of their beer anywhere in Cape Town for free, which I like. (You can order online here - they also deliver nationwide for a small fee, which is useful seeing as I don’t think their beers are sold anywhere outside of the Western Cape.)
Anyway, to summarise my findings for the night: chili poppers are good and Boston’s Naked Mexican is a great beer to wash down stodgy and spicy food. One of two lagers Boston makes, the best comparison I can think of to their Naked Mexican is Corona Extra, which doesn’t really sound like the best thing a beer can aspire to, but I must say that this is much better than Corona. Pale yellow with a paper-thin and bubbly head, it’s lightly malty and liltingly hoppy. For once, an uncomplicated beer works: it finishes clean and leaves a refreshed palate. It also sits lightly in the stomach. That’s not to say it’s watery or boring as Corona is. The Naked Mexican just knows what it is and what it does.
A nice surprise is that it’s R20 a draught, and that’s at a restaurant not exactly known for being cheap. In many ways it’s similar to Jack Black: same price range, similar competent execution of the pale lager style. (They’re brewed in the same place, after all.) The Naked Mexican sits much lighter with food though, and I have a feeling that it might be an underwhelming beer without eating alongside it.
On the flipside, I have a feeling it’d be the perfect poolside beer for antics during 35 degree summer afternoons. I definitely plan to test that hypothesis in a couple months.
Boston Brewery Naked Mexican, 500ml draught, 4.5% a.b.v.
Pros: Clean and refreshing; light as bubbles; well-priced.
Cons: Made with imported malt. Why?