Hidden away in a light industrial park on the edge of Kommetjie, Valley Brewery has been turning out solid and dependable beers for the past six months or so. Metalworker and chief brewer Glenn Adams has precision-built his brewery, in all of its stainless steel glory, from scratch. His ethos in construction carries onto his beers: he oversees the entire process himself, from cracking the grain to washing his kegs.
After some tentative first steps with his London Ale and Valley Weiss – both meticulously constructed examples of their respective styles – Glenn has released a new brew, the Dublin Dark.
And? Well, like his previous two beers, the Dublin Dark is dependable, uncomplicated and easy-drinking. This time, however, it’s a biscuity, well-bodied bitter with an everlasting light tan head and clean finish. While hopheads might find this a tad light on the palate, it still manages to deliver a rounded hop punch that’s best enjoyed at slightly warmer temperatures. (Think 15 degrees, rather than fresh out the fridge.) Its lightness and 4.5% a.b.v lends itself well to drinking with food, going down especially well with stodgy eats.
Still on track, then, Valley is producing clean, reliably good beers that, unlike some more well-known Western Cape breweries, aren’t toyed with by their maker from month to month.
That’s not to say that Valley isn’t experimenting, however, as there’s news of a collaboration brew with the esoteric brewmaster of Joburg’s Three Skulls Brewery, Jonathan Nel, on its way. Nicknamed “Valley of the Skulls”, their Cascadian Dark Ale is going to be available at next month’s Hop and Vine Festival, on 20/21 July at Simons @ Constantia.
So, if you weren’t going to be there already, I think you’d better change your plans.
Valley Brewery Dublin Dark, 440ml bottle, 4.5% a.b.v.
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!
Porcupine Quill Brewery in Botha’s Hill, KwaZulu-Natal is one of South African craft beer’s hidden players. Tucked away in a sleepy corner of the Valley of 1000 Hills, Quill’s is an artisan’s paradise, comprising a deli, bakery and brewery, all fastidiously local-minded.
Quill’s range of eleven beers, under three different labels, aren’t very widely known or widely available. Although I had tried and reviewed one of their beers before (link), the full spectrum of their liquid exploits had eluded me for some time. So, when the opportunity arose to try out ten of their eleven beers at Banana Jam Café not too long ago, I took to it with enthusiasm.
Since there are a lot of beers, I’m not going to try review them all; rather, I’ll provide some rough tasting notes for each beer under each Quill’s brand, as well as notes of approval or disapproval.
Some preliminary notes, however: even though Porcupine Quill attempts to brew a large range of beer types, they are mostly brewed using flower hops, giving many of their beers a samey bitterness profile; floral and prickly acidic. It works well with some styles that they brew, and not so much with others. Attempts to taste the whole range like I did tend to descend into a pit of undistinguishable and strange bitterness; not bad, but it makes it tough to discern different flavour profiles between each beer towards the tail end. (The alcohol content is potent too, so watch out if you’re trying to session!)
But anyway (ratings out of 5 stars):
Quill’s, the flagship range of 5 beers. Most variety of styles and quality.
Karoo Red (5.5% a.b.v.): A light body of sour fruit overrided by sharp, almost prickly hoppiness. Finishes clean and tart. **1/2
Namaqua Blonde (4.5% a.b.v.): Light citrusy body with hints of mango and melon, follows through sharp with citrus zest; ends with slight burnt roast. Different, but entirely pleasant. ***
Blackdog Bitter (6% a.b.v.): Lacy. Molasses on the nose with some milk chocolate and burnt coffee; follows with sharp sweetness and burnt coffee on palate. Light-medium body. Best of the range. ***1/2
Flat Tail Ale (8% a.b.v.): Vanilla on nose; follows through with overbearing, thistle-prickly hops. Light body, light palate; packed with alcohol. **
Didn’t taste because of unavailability: Kalahari Gold (4.5% a.b.v.).
Dam Wolf, an “extreme beer” range of three beers. High alcohol content links all three.
Yellow Eyes (8% a.b.v.): Cloudy yellow-orange with minimal white head. Rose and indistinguishably acids on nose; follows very acidic (whole flower Challenger hops) with little mouthfeel on palate. Lemon zest and acid at the back of the throat. Finishes quite cleanly at first, then big kick of alcohol – almost unpleasant. A lot of bite, not much flavour; a shame, because I’ve had this before and it was much better. **
Howl & Cry (9% a.b.v.): Strong ale that pours ruby-orange. Hops on nose; hops on palate with touches of sour plum and tart fig. Very alcoholic, but has flavour to back it up. ***
Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing (9% a.b.v.): Light hoppy nose; alcohol and flower hops (again) on palate, rounded off by sour berries. Finishes with light, but very complex burnt roast. Lots of different kinds of malt here. An interesting one. ***
Impala Light (5% a.b.v.): Light in every way, except for its alcohol content: light hops, light roast, light malt; too few nuances with too much alcohol, verging on insipid. *1/2
Amber Ale (6% a.b.v.): Pours coppery. Caramel on nose; sharp, clean hops rounded off with light toffee and extremely slight smokiness on palate. Unexpectedly rich, but finishes clean. Although I didn’t enjoy it when I last had it, this time it was lovely. ***1/2
Blackbuck Bitter (7.5% a.b.v.): Red berries and light roast on nose; sweet and lightly roasty on palate; finishes clean and sour. One of the few PC beers to manage the prickliness of the hops well. ***
Recommendations of the lot: Quill’s Blackdog Bitter, African Moon Amber Ale and Dam Wolf Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. A good beer out of each range; a nice symmetry there.
The final word on Porcupine Quill, then? For better or worse, a range of beers unlike anywhere else in South Africa. Definitely search them out if you’re in the area of Botha’s Hill, especially you’re a hop head.
If you’d like to get hold of beers from Quills, Dam Wolf or African Moon, head on over to League of Beers and have them delivered straight to your door!
My father’s family is from the Lake District, that most famous of verdant English counties, the beauty of which inspired Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey to write swathes upon swathes of poems. In my childhood I visited my dad’s hometown of Maryport every year. It isn’t the world’s best town - in fact it’s very grim in places - but it was where my family lived, so I have fond memories of it. We went to mass every Sunday in a dusty old redbrick church, and I had many happy childhood holidays playing with my cousins.
I suppose this is an odd way to start a beer review, but hear me out. I bought Napier Brewery’s Old Charlie Stout from eBooze.co.za yesterday (my review’s here), and it’s affected me utterly. I still haven’t finished drinking it, and yet I feel I need to write about it.
I was surprised when I cracked open the 550ml bottle. It smelt of pipe tobacco and hops. More of an
English bitter rauchbier than the sort of stout most South Africans are accustomed to. I poured it. It poured black - impenetrable black, the kind of abyss into which all life recedes. Dark mahogany gilded the edges of the glass, and a slight toffee-coloured head formed. A review of the Old Charlie draught on ratebeer.com had made me expect an “almost clear brownish orange.” This didn’t seem like the same beer.
I sipped. There was such a deep roast on the malt that I had to stop to take it in. Again, pipe tobacco and hops abounded. It was bitter, and went down smoothly, albeit a bit thinly.
And it was then I was taken back to my childhood holidays, to Maryport and the winter rain and dirt and fields and floral carpets, to cigarette-infused curtains and faux-wood fireplaces, to the electric transformers down the road from my gran’s house. To hot pots and pale gammon roasts. To black-painted chipped waist-high garden gates that squeak with each opening and closing. Grey skies, grey seas; uncomfortable pebble beaches. It gave me one straight shiver down my spine. I felt like I had had my fourth pipe of the day. It made me utterly, profoundly sad.
This may sound like a terrible thing, but it was nothing terrible at all. It was astonishing. I don’t expect anyone else to like this beer, and I don’t even think I will buy it that often because of the way it makes me feel, but it has left such an impression on me. I feel drunk and I’ve only had half a glass.
I don’t know if anyone else will feel this way about Old Charlie, his hound’s-tooth hat and decades-old argyle jumper, but if bringing up emotions through bouquet and palate and hops and roast isn’t what craft beer is ultimately about, then I think I’m missing the whole point.
How Napier managed this is brilliant. I don’t expect it to bring them awards, but it gave me something, something I’m not too sure I’ll forget too soon.
Old Charlie Napier Stout; 550ml bottle; 4.5% abv.
Pros: Dense veins of tobacco on palate and nose; smooth and somehow light; an excellent take on English bitter.
Cons: Probably not to everyone’s taste; ugly label.