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.
Camelthorn Red Ale and shitake mushroom dumpling from the Old Biscuit Mill’s Neighbour Goods Market. Although Camelthorn’s Fresh is the market’s best low-alc morning tipple, the American-influenced Red Ale sits well on a hangover-less stomach. Subtly hoppy and smooth with hints of grapefruit and currants, it’s a bright beer for a bright morning.
Hanno from Camelthorn also has the best tattoos in Southern African beer by a mile, too.
The time for the Keg King Open Tap Night is almost here. On 31 March at the German Club (6 Roodehek Terrace) in Gardens, Cape Town, eight brilliant craft beers, Eversons Cider and Castle Milk Stout will all be on tap. After a taster of each, attendees can drink all the beer they want - until the kegs run dry, that is. Tickets cost R200 before the evening, and, depending on your enthusiasm, perhaps your dignity afterward.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for tickets and further details.
Saints on Kloof Street is Cape Town’s newest burger joint. This Gardens portmanteau of rock ‘n roll, bike culture, Camelthorn beers and endless varieties of hamburger, replete with tattoo ceilings and a staircase printed with the lyrics from the last stanza of Stairway to Heaven, is well considered, exquisitely styled and, perhaps surprisingly, has its act together - especially so for a place that’s only been open for a week.
The place might seem familiar to some: Saints was once known as Angels, a bike and burger bar named after the father of the owner, a man by the name of Angelo who had a vowel lopped off his name in a mix-up in immigration. It was serendipitous, a lucky pun that cashed in on decades of biker folklore.
That was, however, until a group of Hell’s Angels came into the semi-eponymous bar one evening and threatened it with a trashing if the name wasn’t changed. Cue a renovation, a renaming and a reopening.
Happily, the rebirth of Angels seemed to had quelled the tempers of real life Angels. On Friday night they decided to turn up and show their support for Saints. The backfire of hogs echoed around upper Kloof. Residents leaned out their cars to take photographs of Harleys, beards and gloriously grimy leather vests. A good burger in Cape Town is becoming a dime a dozen, but a story like this certainly isn’t.
Happily, Saints’ burgers are very good, too. A menu of Jukebox Classics offers recommended pairings of patties, condiments and toppings under riff-heavy titles like Smoke on the Water and Heartbreaker, but potential permitted burger and topping combinations range literally in the hundreds. (Probably as numerous as the amount of songs on the free jukebox next to the main downstairs bar.) Saints currently offers half a dozen different bun varieties, but that will likely change as the menu is refined over the next few months.
Saints are the only pub in Cape Town to host a bank of taps full of brews (seasonals included) from Camelthorn, Windhoek’s (and Namibia’s) only craft brewery. Custom-made craft taps like the ones here seem to be coming into vogue in the city, adding personality to bars too long characterised and cartoonified by hulking SAB taps encrusted with frost and gaudily advertising. The taps may be from Italy, but the beer is closer to home.
Camelthorn’s Schwartz, which I had never tried before Friday night, is an excellent opening beer, sweet with touches of toffee and burnt sugar, medium feel and easy drinkability. Although the Helles (under the name of Saints Lager here) has been my go-to Camelthorn for months, the star of the show here is definitely the Weizen. Probably Southern Africa’s darkest weiss, it’s lacy, tart and satisfyingly fresh. Although one would probably say the bottled version of the Weizen is merely a decent example of the style, fresh from the tap it’s a much lighter being, making it perfect for pairing with heavy burgers.
Another good pairing option – and possibly Saints’ greatest asset – is their chipotle chili ketchup, manufactured for them to their own recipe by Bushman’s Chilli Co. Don’t let the label fool you. It’s more tangy than in-your-face hot, but resisting pouring lake-like puddles of it onto your plate is a struggle nevertheless.
Saints won’t likely change the world, but it’s a bike and rock ‘n roll bar with just the right amount of cheese and just the right amount of refinement - something that holds true for their burgers, too. Although it still has its kinks to work out - kitchen staff mixing up orders aplenty so far - initial signs are very good.
Hell, if the Angels like it, I’m in.
Saints Burger Joint
84 Kloof St (opp. Hoerskool Jan van Riebeeck), Gardens, Cape Town
Saturday mornings south of the city are really only for one thing: heading to the Neighbour Goods Market at the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock. Well known for its quirky boutiques, trendy restaurants and palatial furniture stores set right in the middle of what generally isn’t the greatest area of Cape Town (and for being the venue for the last three We Love Real Beer festivals), the Mill becomes the scene for a market of local fresh produce, fashion, delicious breakfasts and lunches, pet stuff and - well - beer.
Hundreds come every week. It’s wonderfully gentrified and hip. Sometimes it gets a bit full and the crowds get impatient and snarky, and the queue for the only available ATM snakes through the designer market, but the food and people-watching is good enough to make up for those faults. I’ve tried paella, mushroom skewers, flatbread, The World’s Best Sandwich and all manner of cakes and pastry - all have been scrumptious, and usually served by someone so pretty or handsome that it actually makes you self-conscious.
But craft beer is the name of the game here. On any given Saturday you’ll find Boston, Camelthorn, Paulaner, B&U, Jack Black and Eversons, most at reasonable prices. (No prizes for guessing whose beer has a generous markup.) A word of warning, though: a decent lunch and beer can total to a hundred bucks, plus any of the other enticing goods on sale. I usually withdraw only what I intend to spend, otherwise I’m in like a magpie and blow my month’s budget in a couple hours’ worth of Bacchic splendour.
With summer and the main tourism season coming round, the Mill is bound to get packed every weekend, with rucksack-wielding foreigners and hungover locals alike shoving you out the way in their pursuit of local pesto and pecorino. Get there early though - say, 10 - and you’ll have a much more pleasurable experience. Grab a morning beer, a foodie breakfast and bask in the remarkable haircuts, flawless complexions and frowning foreign faces of Woodstock’s once-weekly haut monde experience.
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.
A humble apology: I know I have been silent these past two days. But it’s been for a good reason, apart from the fact that my last days as a postgraduate student are looming dark and menacing.
By way of apology, please find here The Unofficial We Love Real Beer Fest Drink Guide, in which I - with a great deal of conjecture and not a lot of skill - will attempt to lay out your best beer options for Friday evening’s festival of everything that is good about beer, food, women with unnatural hair colours, overpriced bruschetta and button-up shirts.
(In case you weren’t aware: the superlative We Love Real Beer Festival is having its latest incarnation this Friday evening at the Old Biscuit Mill on Albert Road in Woodstock. Entrance is R50 with a free branded pint glass on entry. The experience, however, is priceless: plenty pretty people, plenty delicious beer and food, plenty great times.)
So, without further ado:
THE UNOFFICIAL WE LOVE REAL BEER FEST DRINKING GUIDE
First tipple: the daylight supreme
I’m assuming you will arrive at WLRB after work, unlike me, as I have no job. Although the festival begins at 4 p.m., it will likely only kick off in earnest at about 6 p.m., just as the sun begins its slow descent under the horizon. Table Mountain starts darkening against the sky; the city begins to come alive for the first of many warm weekend nights.
Getting aquainted with the WLRB Fest hall, the same one used for the Neighbour Goods Market every Saturday morning, you find a beer that is remarkably apt for such a time as this: Camelthorn’s Sundowner. A light Marzen-style beer, it abounds with spiciness and freshness. Marzens are usually the stock and trade of the traditional Oktoberfest, so this beer is well-suited to the time of year and the spirit of this festival. You’re impressed. Further, it’s Camelthorn’s summer seasonal, so you figure you best start maximising the time you have to enjoy it.
And enjoy it you do: you sip your Sundowner, looking over the darkening surrounds of Woodstock and beyond, anticipating what remains of what should be a most excellent night.
Second tipple: A failed male fantasy
But you need food now. Your thirst admirably quenched, you mill through the crowds to find nourishment. You haven’t eaten yet today. You’ve been saving all your money up for expensive beer. Food just equals money taken away from beer, but you realise your attempt to minimise non-beer-related expenses is ultimately quixotic. You head for some man selling a steak sarmie for R200, but instead settle in the crowd surrounding an incredibly pretty girl selling vegetarian wraps. Befuddled by her light dimples and doe eyes, you buy a butternut and feta phyllo wrap from her for R50. She hands it over to you, cradling it with her long delicate fingers. She smiles and delivers a cheery, somehow sultry “thank you” and sets her gaze on the next man clutching his money in sweaty palms. You try to catch her eye again but no, she has already moved on.
Realising you have, yet again, been had by a beautiful woman, you search for something to wash down both your wrap and the stinging pain in your heart. You head to Mitchell’s and grab a Forester’s Draught: hoppy, refreshing and always dependable. It goes well with any food and has never let you down. You wash down the average wrap with relish, one eye on the hazelnut-tressed siren that lured you to a foodie doom being chatted up by her bearded, fedora-hat-wearing boyfriend.
The world is not fair.
Third tipple: Something different
Broken-hearted, you turn your attention to the matter at hand: you’re here because you love beer, not a wrap-toting harlot in a high-waisted skirt, bent on delivering her goods to any man with a handful of cash. You try to scope out something different. It’s 8 p.m. now: the Old Biscuit Mill is filling up fast. Brewers & Union are surrounded by rich men with cash to blow on imported beer; Jack Black’s inundated by people asking for free draught glasses, having already smashed theirs on the pavement; everyone at Camelthorn is now speaking German and communication with them has become impossible.
You retreat to the dark corners of the hangar hall, where you find Karoo Brew. Starved of love and attention, you order their Karoo Honey, a honey ale containing all the depth and sweetness that the girl of your dreams briefly promised but never delivered. You leave the hall and stand outside in the cool spring air, sipping your honey ale. Its maltiness sits wonderfully in your stomach, blanketing what remains of the wrap of deceit.
You wander around, chat to some acquaintances, and start to feel good. In the midst of a conversation with your graphic design buddies about visual onomatopoeia in this campaign they’re doing for some NGO-or-something-I-don’t-really-know-what-it-is, you spy a gaggle of your ex-lovers chatting in the corner. You try to ignore them, but you can’t. Curious, you sneak a glance at them. You never knew they were friends. They look at you out the sides of their eyes, giggling. Perhaps they are talking about your common bad flatulence, or your underwhelming skills in bed. Whatever it is, it’s about you, and it’s not good.
You suddenly feel yourself sucked out from all that goodness and all the love that surrounds you. You are plunged into the depths of dispair.
Fourth tipple: the depths of dispair
Darkness. Blackness. Dark blackness. You may have a BA in English and Philosophy, but you are suddenly unable to find the words to describe the starless, moonless gloom that has enveloped your soul. You stumble back inside the hall, clutching your beer glass, searching for something that will speak to the shadows residing inside your heart.
You find Darling Brewery. You spot black bottles. They have what look like ravens on them. Perfect.
“I’ll have three of those please.”
“Three Black Mists right up.”
Black motherflippen Mist. You clench your beers threefold and head back out into the night. You sit alone. You start sipping. They’re delicious. One by one you slick back the inky, inky stouts. Their deep malt echoes through the hollow recesses of your psyche. The fullness of its mouthfeel begins to seep through your veins.
It’s your own little dark rite. Your friends surround you. Their faces morph in various shapes. Their voices ring in your head demonically. They pick you up, their shoulders slung under your armpits. Your teeth gnash; unintelligible words spurt forth from your mouth. You drop the empty bottles of Black Mist. They shatter on the brickwork.
Your ex-lovers look towards you with vindication. You realise they were right about you. It’s the last functioning thought that you have tonight, a night of soul-searching and disappointment. Another installment in a line of low-rent tragedies.
But you drank good beer, at least. In this you take solace as you are bundled into the back of a taxi and a Francophone man with three teeth and a hearty laugh drives you to your matchbox apartment in Gardens.
Well, needless to say, that didn’t turn out how I initially expected it to. In any case, my suggestions are that you try something new on Friday - especially the Sundowner and the Black Mist, which, all joking aside, are great beers - and have an enjoyable time. But please - please - don’t drink and drive. And don’t look the vendors in the eye.
See you Friday! :D
Watching my beloved Springboks continue their imperious march towards their third world title last Saturday, I cracked open a Bokbeer by Windhoek’s Camelthorn Brewery that had been sitting in my fridge for a couple weeks. I enjoyed it, so, in celebration of the clash between Camelthorn’s homeland of Namibia and the Springboks in the Rugby World Cup today, I’ve decided to review their seasonal winter brew.
As one would expect, Camelthorn’s Bokbeer is an old fashioned weizenbok, or dark wheat beer. This kind of beer isn’t very common in South Africa, so you might need to know that a “bok” or “bock”, which is a general German term for a dark, highly-fermented beer, is a beer style that can come in many different colours and strengths. It can get confusing with maibocks, doppelbocks, weizenbocks and just plain bocks all in the mix. Traditionally, however, they are usually dark and contain more than 6.25% a.b.v.
Weizenboks are also usually served in autumn and winter, so - along with the very convenient visual pun it makes with the national animal of Namibia, the gemsbok, on the Bokbeer’s label - it would make sense that this would be Camelthorn’s winter seasonal.
True to form, it pours a deep dark brown with a high-rising creamy head that takes an unexpectedly long time to dissipate. Even though I drank it a bit warmer than ice-cold1, the aroma isn’t much to write home about, mostly consisting of deep malt and a bit of banana. That said, it sips beautifully. Malty, smooth and just the littlest bit sour, it’s a very enjoyable beer. I’m usually not the hugest fans of boks, but I think that might have something to do with the scarcity of good examples of the style in SA. Happily, Camelthorn’s offering readdresses the balance.
Too many of these delightful little bottles and you’ll end up on your ass but, while watching the Springboks put the Welwitchsias to the sword - sorry Camelthorn guys - that’s maybe what you’d like.
Camelthorn Bokbeer, 300ml bottle, 7% a.b.v.
Pros: Deep, smooth and satisfying; good example of underutilised beer style.
Cons: Even for a seasonal beer, it was rather difficult for an average consumer to get hold of.
1 It helps to drink some kinds of beers at slightly warmer temperatures, otherwise the flavours and aromas of the beer are slightly suppressed. I’m not talking about drinking them warm, but drinking at about 10 or 12 degrees (as opposed to 4 or 5) can heighten the flavour of a beer tremendously. That’s why Castle Lite needs to be served ice-cold: when it’s warm, it tastes crap.
A little while back at the last Real Beer festival at the Old Biscuit Mill, I tried a Camelthorn beer and really enjoyed it. Being a bit ignorant, I asked the bartender, “So, where are you guys from?”
“Namibia,” was his reply. A bit dumbstruck, and a little tipsy, I sheepishly walked away clutching my weiss. I thought Namibia was all Windhoek Lager, but man, was I wrong.
Camelthorn Brewery, founded just over three years ago in Windhoek, was Namibia’s first producer of craft beer and, as far as I’m aware, still the only one of its kind. They brew beer designed to quench the thirst of any beer lover in that baking hot country and, even though I live in much more temperate climes, I think they do it quite well.
I picked up their Helles, which is an unfiltered lager, and was quite pleased with it. It pours in a shade somewhere between low-carat gold and English mustard with a very thin head. It has an agreeable hoppy aroma and is light and sweet on the palate. It isn’t the most complex beer, but what it lacks in complexity it makes up for in an amazing ability to assuage thirst.
I had it with a butternut and porcini mushroom risotto I made and, while they weren’t particularly complementary - that’s my fault, obviously - I would still recommend drinking the Helles with food. A combination of lightness and a smooth malty mouth feel makes it satisfying without making you feel full, and it finishes with a bitterness that is incredibly slaking. Combine that with consistent, pleasant carbonation, and you have a winner.
I have one small gripe though: it was R15 for a bottle-conditioned 300ml. I know it’s not the most expensive beer, but it just feels like it’s a tad on the pricey side. I don’t know if that’s the fault of the liquor store or Camelthorn themselves - or even just me being a miser/student - but it makes me the tiniest bit reluctant to just knock one back with dinner on a regular basis.
But on the other hand, it’s an incredibly satisfying beer - I suppose that’s the best thing you can ask from a lager, isn’t it?
Camelthorn Helles Unfiltered Lager; 300ml bottle; 4.5% abv.
Pros: Light and smooth; makes for satisfying sipping; good with food.
Cons: A tad pricey.
MASTERCHEF ADAM REPRESENT