I know it’s not beer-related, but I thought I should let you know that Hello Sailor on Lower Main Road in Observatory does one hell of a vegetarian breakfast in one hell of a beautiful space for R30. That’s all, really. Such a good start to my Sunday.
South Africa’s oldest wine farm is streaked in gold and sepia,its roses and vine winding up and across hills. Farmhands on tractors chug by and stir around the entrances of centuries-old cellars. Groot Constantia is an estate made for postcard vistas; the culmination of colonial dreams and pastoral adventure.
That, and it’s a bloody good spot for a beer festival.
Last night was the official media launch for the Hop and Vine Festival, a winter beer and wine celebration to be held here on the 20th and 21st of July. More specifically, it will be hosted by Simon’s @ Groot Constantia, a gorgeous bar and restaurant tucked round the back of the estate. Here, media, brewers and other Cape beeries mingled and chatted while the chefs of Simon’s exhibited their food and beer pairing expertise and the various organisers of the festival outlined what attendees can expect.
And what can you expect? Simply put: a beer experience unlike nothing South Africa’s yet seen.
"Beer and wine have long been far apart," said organiser Greg Casey, "but we want to bring them closer. A lot of beer people have never been wine drinkers, and because of that they’ve missed out on a lot. The reverse goes for wine people, although it’s also because we only had lager in this country for a lot of years."
"Really, they’re very similar," he continued, "and this venue presents an opportunity to bring those two worlds together and to celebrate both."
Along with the liquid wares from seven Cape-based breweries (the festival proper will more than double that number), the food was exceptionally good. Highlights included cumin boerekaas and pungent gruyere from Constantia Cheesery, and the lip-smackingly confluent beer-and-food pairings of the chefs at Simon’s, the best of which being the peppery punch of the grilled swordfish, accompanied by Valley Brewery’s London Ale, and the classic pseudo-sophistication of local oysters washed down by Triggerfish Empowered Stout. Salty-sweet goodness.
But do you know what the best bit is? You can experience all of this – the setting, the beer and the food – at the Hop and Vine Festival. With live music and food exhibitors in tow, it’s likely to be the classiest beer experience, in the finest possible surrounds, that you’ll get for a while. (That said, the scheduled reggae band and black IPA from Valley of the Skulls should get things quite appropriately shook up.)
Get your tickets right now from Quicket.
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!
My apologies to Mark and Martin from Keg King for how criminally late this post is. Thanks for putting up with me.
A little over six weeks ago, at Cape Town’s German Club, a little bit of pandemonium broke loose. Ten breweries, some small, some large, some teetering on the verge of collapse, pledged over 40 kegs of beer to everyone’s favourite portable party merchants, Keg King. Two hundred people booked off their Saturday nights and bought tickets to an all-you-can-drink pour-gåsbord: Keg King’s first ever Open Tap night.
The way it works is simple: pay R200 for a ticket, of which there are only 200, receive a branded beer mug on the night, and drink to your heart, your brain and your liver’s desire. Some acquaintances of mine fretted at the price when I asked them to come along with me, but, realistically, you’d spend about R200 on a bender at any craft-serving pub or dive in the Cape. This is just streamlining the process, creating a slick, safe occasion for beer indulgence with no queues, no fuss; just a lot of beer and a lot of happy faces.
The beer came from a variegated assembly of Southern African breweries; Darling, Jack Black, the then-recently-closed Paulaner, Mitchell’s and Camelthorn to name a few. Castle Milk Stout and cider were also provided by SAB and Eversons.
Surely the evening’s highlight, however, was the offering from Devil’s Peak. King’s Blockhouse IPA is definitely a frontrunner of the latest batch of Cape IPAs: like its new labeling, it’s equal parts regal and understated, but certainly lets loose with a well-rounded hops rush. It was a knockout in more ways than one: my only remaining memory after four pints of the stuff was a conversation in slurred French with the Congolese taxi driver on the way home.
As for the atmosphere, it was certainly more genial and lighthearted than my own, already rather high expectations. Potential disaster was avoided with a Stormers victory in the big-screen Super 15 clash against the jacaranda-hued Bulls.
And with that, the party really begun.
In the end, Keg King’s first Open Tap was well organised, well patronised and, happily, very well stocked. It was a night for two purposes, really: the first, an opportunity for the party-seeking public to become acquainted with some new beers and, secondly, getting hammered on them all. Even with the amount of people drinking such a remarkable amount of beer, nothing turned sour. On a backdrop of Bundesliga and wood panelling, new friends were made and instantly forgotten, and a new kind of party took shape.
And I thought it was smashing. Have another one soon, alright?
Royale Eatery, inarguably Cape Town’s most revered burger joint, has a new house beer. Brewed by newcomers Citizen Brewery - a small start-up that has at least one of the eatery’s Berolsky brothers involved - Royale’s Amber Ale is a WYSIWYG amber; soft and sweet with an apricoty, light hop profile.
It’s a good beer to pair with Royale’s undercelebrated fish and vegetarian burgers, where its sweetness spars with the sour pickle of the Winks-Newman, or the fresh salmon-and-salsa combo of the Jenghis Khan. Lightness also means it can sit in the gut next to a big burger with little discomfort.
On the whole, it’s a welcome addition to the beer lists of both Royale and the fairy-light, wood-clad Waiting Room upstairs, glistening favourably next to the staling B&U oeuvre that has occupied half of the beer list space here for a while. That said, I was taken aback by the price - R35 a pint, half the price of a double Classic Royale.
That said, it’s good to see local craft here at last, even if the price leaves something somewhat unsavoury in the stomach. Luckily it’s still a good quaff, and seeing as this was seemingly only the second keg of this brew put on tap, hopefully a view of things to come from a Cape craft newcomer sneaking in the back door.
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.
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
The Lobby Hair Shop in the Woodstock Foundry on Albert Road is Cape Town’s newest barbershop. The culmination of coiffeur Craig Johns’s ambition to have his own classic barbery – complete with old-style extra-comfy chairs – is a slow-paced community space, and a monument to great taste in décor, typography, music and, of course, well-priced classic cuts.
Craig isn’t busy now, but judging by the quality of his work and conversation, he will be soon. Head in for a great cut without the salon fuss (men and women are both welcome) a good chat and - perhaps best of all - a cold Tafel Lager while you wait.
The Lobby Hair Shop is at 160 Albert Road, Woodstock. Call 021 825 3714 for reservations.
Gentrification is a wonderful thing. Among the social upheaval of the past twenty years, South Africa’s cities haven’t exactly had the best time. Urban decay and mismanagement, coupled with middle class exoduses, left some of the country’s most historic suburbs to wrack and ruin. Modernist buildings fell apart in Berea; tenements in once-cosmopolitan Hillbrow became steadily more unsavory, and Woodstock became as chipped and worn as the famous “rustic” wooden frames now manufactured in its side streets.
But just like in other turbulent cities in the Western world, these areas are increasingly being given a new lease on life. Young professionals in creative fields seek out inexpensive and spacious studio space in old industrial complexes; developers buy up worthless lots and build apartment blocks next to West African superettes. They reappropriate the crumbling façades, give the old buildings a lick of paint and restore pride to a downtrodden area.
Then they charge you R50 for a sandwich.
But the new Woodstock Lounge in Roodebloem Road is an example of gentrification done right. Last year this place was a wreck: dark, grimy and, in co-owner Juliet Manderson’s words, “in serious need of TLC.” Juliet and her husband Paul bought the old lounge, which first opened its doors in 2004, in December last year and gave it a thorough makeover.
It takes its moniker seriously: everything here is sourced from Woodstock. Picture frames? Woodstock-made. Cutlery? Woodstock-sourced. Cushions and upholstery? Done in Woodstock. Renovations? The dude lives down the road. The pictures on the wall? Vignettes of the suburb past and present.
"We wanted a place for Woodstockers to go to and feel at home," Juliet enthuses. "So, its all about Woodstock – which is why the pizzas have been named after the streets!"
The floors are original Oregon pine. The lounge is a spacious; the space comfortable and conducive to conversations within and between tables. Light streams in from the street from new high-lintilled windows. Old Beetles chug down off of the N2 down Roodebloem past the lounge. It’s a community restaurant; a place cautiously representative of an outer-City Bowl renaissance.
And the food? Pared-down, but still substantial. Tapas and pizzas from the reconditioned pizza oven are the go-tos, but they also offer burgers, salads and pasta. One might tentatively call it refined bar food, uncomplicated and ideal for sharing.
Unfortunately, the craft beer selection isn’t as good as next-door neighbours Jamaica Me Crazy – Banana Jam Café’s little brother – with only Jack Black Lager and Pale Ale on tap, but co-owner Paul assured me the Lounge will be better-stocked in the near future. “The demand’s certainly there,” he admitted with a half-smile.
As is the demand for pleasant, unpretentious community lounges, which the Woodstock Lounge undoubtedly – and adequately – addresses. With a distinct sense of place, it bridges the gentrified dichotomy of dive bar and trendy eatery. Roodebloem Road is coming alive again and, judging by how full Woodstock Lounge has been since it opened a fortnight ago, it looks to stay that way for quite some time.
The Woodstock Lounge
70 Roodebloem Road, Woodstock
Phone 021 448 3338 for info and bookings
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.