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.
On Friday night, for reasons numerous and uninteresting, I found myself wandering around Green Point’s Cape Quarter, a wonderfully esoteric and weirdly upmarket shopping plaza. It was Argus weekend and my parents were in town. We, along with a group of 15 of my father’s cycling teammates and their wives, were looking for a restaurant that would accommodate a throng of tired Port Elizabethans and shorts-and-slops-wearing Durbanites.
In the folly that ensued outside an Italian restaurant that involved much gesticulating and menu-waving, I ducked off to the Cape Quarter Tops to stock up on some beer for the weekend.
Franchise bottle stores are usually much the same. They stock a limited choice of beer, usually dictated by the whims of their suppliers and an undemanding market, at OK prices. Beers outside of the SAB and Namibian Breweries stables are treated with suspicion, pushed into one corner of the cold room where harlequin arrangements of imported lagers slowly grow stale.
But bottle store chains are beginning to wise up to craft beer. Pick ‘n Pay Liquor stores around Cape Town more often than not now stock beers from Boston Breweries and Jack Black. Some stock a greater range of imported beers from Brewers & Union (sold at much more reasonable prices than at their beer “salon”), Liefmans, Erdinger, and so on. It’s progress, but finding real specialty beers can still be a problem. Although craft beer is intrinsically about locality and range, sometimes it’s nice to find bigger labels from further afield in a convenient spot.
Places like the Cape Quarter Tops fill that need.
Although the liquor-addled appendage of South Africa’s Spar Store of the Year is home to an impressive array of wines and spirits, especially for a franchise store, its craft and imported beer fridge is a host of rather unexpected delights. In addition to local beers from Darling, Robson’s, Jack Black, Mitchell’s and Boston, you’ll find local craft cider from James Mitchell and Eversons, imports from the UK from Young’s, continental European beers from Faxe, Brewers & Union and abbey brewers Maredsous, and a whole lot more. The stock changes regularly; for a South African shop, the amount of choices verges on abundant. As a one-stop place to find a rich selection of beer and cider locally, this store has few rivals.
It feels odd to give praise to a Tops for being an exceptionally good place to shop for beer. But within every chain of stores there’s a need for a flagship, a fulfillment of vision in one place. Having fridges like this one in more chain bottle stores in South Africa would do wonders for our smaller beers in our still-conservative beer-buying culture. I suppose this one is a good start.
Cape Quarter Tops, Cape Quarter Lifestyle Village, 27 Somerset Road, Cape Town
I spent the week before Christmas in Dundee, Scotland’s fourth city, home of the RRS Discovery and my mother’s hometown. Dundee is a world leader in biomedicine and biotechnology, but not much else, least of which in cuisine: pie on a roll is a staple (though personally well-loved) meal.
Forty minutes from Dundee’s gray- and brown-brick streets and foggy river (the River Tay is well-known for being the subject of one of the English language’s worst poems) is St. Andrews, the home of golf and a town more liberally bestowed with architectural beauty. Hell, Prince William went to university here - as did his now-wife, Catherine Middleton. (Admittedly, I’m only mentioning Kate Middleton to bring up memories of her sister’s perfectly symmetrical behind, of which my housemate is quite a fan.)
I traveled there with my family for a day trip on a day that turned out to be rather miserable. Although we’ve had an unseasonably mild Christmas in the UK, St. Andrews always seems to be windy. (It’s what makes its golf so menacingly difficult.) Luckily, there was a wonderful bottle store in the centre of town that I could seek refuge in.
Simply put, Luvians is the best bottle store I’ve had the pleasure to step into. Luvians works with 16 suppliers to bring a comprehensive selection of British and international beers to their well-stocked shelves. Expect to find local rarities, small batches and (almost) inexhaustible variety here. And if you’re overwhelmed (as I was), it’s good to know that their staff really know their beer, whiskeys, and - pleasingly - their cigars, too.
There’s also around a dozen good bars in St. Andrews. The Keys Bar on Market Street was a nice warm hole, but it unfortunately lacked cask ales, something which usually makes or breaks my perceptions of a British pub. The staff were lovely, however, and the banter between the local patrons was entertaining and welcoming. St. Andrews, though undeniably a tourist and student town, has a thriving and warm local community of football lovers and arguing families, and not just golfers and posh boys.
The dearth of ales in the Keys was mitigated not only by the locals, but also by the two local stouts recommended to me by Jamie, the helpful, knowledgeable and friendly bloke who helped me at Luvians. First was Black Isle’s Hibernator Oatmeal Stout. Spicy-toasted and a little porridgy, the roast on this organic stout lends both a satisfying creamy mouthfeel and a pleasingly unrefined finish to it, which would be pleasing enough if it didn’t also come alive with touches of dried dark fruit, burnt coffee and toffee. Despite its heaviness in flavour and 7.2% a.b.v., it’s an oddly refreshing beer, prickly and tongue-smackingly tasty. It’s a very good stout, and unlike anything available in South Africa.
Luckie Ale’s Russian Imperial Stout, made about 30 minutes from St. Andrews in Cupar, is even better. A relatively unknown beer, it pours an impenetrable black with a lacy brown head. Get stuck in: it requires a slow and savouring drinker to decipher it. Although I hear it differs noticeably from batch to batch, my bottle abounded with heavy-roasted oatmeal and cereal, as did the Black Isle Hibernator – but this was deeper, accompanied by strong coffee, a little chocolate (sweet, not cacoa-ish) and a nuttiness that developed the more I sipped at it. It’s well-rounded, soft on the mouth but deep on the palate. By the end of it, I needed a nap – and napped happily I did.
Needless to say, like Luvians Bottle Shop, both of these beers are highly recommended.
If you live in Durban North and have a hankering for craft, Buxton’s at La Lucia Mall have more than sixty different beers from all around the world on their shelves. There’s a range of good KZN craft beers, as well as beers from as far away as Argentina, China, India and the Indian Ocean islands in their cold room. Look out for their selection of UK craft beers too: they usually pick the best.