It might be the beginnings of another glorious summer down here in darkest Africa, but up in the States, home of occupation protests and Guy Fieri, things are getting decidedly frigid. One thing that keeps forever aflame, however, is the age-old debate about pumpkin ale, probably the most famous of all American seasonal beers.
Everyone has a favourite style, perhaps even a favourite seasonal, but no beer style is as divisive as the pumpkin ale. Not common in South Africa (Boston’s delicious Van Hunks Pumpkin Ale is the only South African pumpkin ale that I know of being sold right now, and even that’s only available on tap in one bar in the country), the US is home to hundreds of variants of the style; some are sweet, some savoury; some rely on spices, some other on an organic pumpkin taste. Most crucially, however, some love it; many others loathe it:
”I hate pumpkin beers,” wrote my friend and Washington City Paper beer writer Orr Stuhl. “Even picking a ‘favorite’ — say, Dogfish Head’s — is like picking a favorite airborne illness.”
Dogfish Head, probably the most famous of Stateside craft brewers, make probably the most famous pumpkin ale, their Punkin Ale, of which they sell 400 000 cases, more than any other beer they brew, including the ones they brew year-round. Yep, that’s right, they only brew the Punkin Ale for sale during October and - if they’re not sold out by then - early November. They, like most pumpkin ale brewers, take the beer’s “seasonal” tag deadly seriously.
In any case, if you’d like a nice overview of pumpkin ale in the States, head over to this article from the Atlantic. If you like the sound of pumpkin ale, either get to Banana Jam in Kenilworth to try out some Van Hunks, or wait a month or so until Boston begin the bottling process for their new brew. Hey, the States may be saturated with em, but I think we can handle a more liberal supply of pumpkin ale around here. What do you say?
Just as I had thought I had temporarily run out of beers in my immediate vicinity, those lovely people at Boston Breweries sent me through some today to review for you, dear reader.
My satisfaction at what I thought was going to be a sample pack quickly turned into laughter as I beheld what was inside. I think this is going to be a very interesting month. A month in Beer City. Population: me.
Here lies my assignment for the next while: taste and review each of these beers brewed at Boston Brewery, in addition to my usual updates. Phew.
The first five beers here are, from left to right:
• Boston Lager; Boston’s premium lager brand; 4% a.b.v.
• Hazzard Ten Ale; a rather dangerous-looking American-style strong ale; 10% a.b.v
• Johnny Gold; a classy-lookin’ weiss; 5% a.b.v.
• Whale Tale Ale; a light ale; 3.5% a.b.v.
• Naked Mexican; a pale lager, which I reviewed on Monday (link).
These five are exciting enough, but what has really got me champing at the bit to get stuck in are these three beers from Bierwerk, a line of beers brewed at Boston and sold in Denmark and Italy, as well in SA. I have never tried any of these before and apparently there are only a few cases still around of them.
These three are:
• Aardwolf, a coffee-infused stout made from five different dark grains, molasses and roasted African coffee; 8.5.% a.b.v.
• Vlakvark, a traditional English bitter made with South African barley and hops; 3.8% a.b.v.
• and Renosterbos, which sounds so amazing I’m not really too sure where to start. Technically a barleywine, it’s an ale brewed with cane sugar and fermented with both ale and wine yeast strains. It is then aged in red wine barrels for seven months. 11% a.b.v.
Needless to say I am very excited to try these all out. The fact that all of these beers - along with their Van Hunks Pumpkin Ale and the beers of Darling Brewery and Jack Black - are all brewed at Boston’s premises in Paarden Eiland is really quite something. If anything, it is a huge indicator of the incredible variety of beers being produced by micro- and macrobrewers just even in the Western Cape.
In my opinion, there’s no excuse to feel restricted with your beer choices around in South Africa - you just need to do a little searching, and you’re bound to find more quality beers in more styles than you first thought. This represents only a small portion of what there is around here, and an even smaller proportion of what is possible.
So, I’d like to extend my sincerest thanks to Chris and Russ at Boston for their sending these all through to me today, and also to Christian from Bierwerk. Guys like you make doing this blog a real pleasure.
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?