Rugby season has started again. Exciting! That means that it’s time for me to have childish temper tantrums, swear at the TV and weep in submission as my beloved Sharks conspire yet again to concede 20 handling errors every match away from King’s Park.
Our opening two matches of the season provided losses against the Bulls and Stormers so utterly pathetic that I spent the rest of those evenings muttering expletives under my breath about Anton Bresler and his magnificently dodgy mullet. In the build-up to last Saturday’s game against the Lions, however, I wondered if there might be a beer suitable to quenching the unavoidable dispair of watching Dale Chadwick go off of his feet at the ruck three times in ten minutes. The fact that I might also be able to recommend an alternative to Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day made this challenge even sweeter.
So, during my visit to CQ Tops last Friday night, I picked up a couple beers with suitably Natalian/Guinness-esque colour palettes, as well as a quart of Castle Milk Stout, in order to test their soothing potentials.
First up was a beer I’d never tried before: Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. Apart from a tantalizing name, the joyous purple and gold of its label possesses an allure as yet unattained by many South African beers.
The Young’s label is part of Wells and Young’s Brewing Company, a wonderfully intricate independent brewery from Bedfordshire in England. The result of a number of mergers, buy-outs and other wranglings, Wells and Young’s is the UK’s largest independent brewery. It matches modern brewing efficiency with traditionalist excellence, brewing dependable, high-quality beers that are sold widely.
Although the Bombardier and McEwan’s brands (bought from Heineken last year) are perhaps the company’s most widely-known beers, its large portfolio of cask ales is the subject of most beer drinkers’ plaudits. The Double Chocolate Stout is one of Wells and Young’s most celebrated beers, being rated in the 98th percentile of all beers on Ratebeer.com. This sort of reputation is probably why it has been imported into South Africa in the first place, but although Ratebeer is an excellent barometer of beer quality, some bottled beers don’t make the trip down from the UK very well.
Happily, this bottle of Double Chocolate Stout was virginal in its freshness. Milk chocolatey on the nose, it follows with burnt roast, burnt coffee and cacao on the palate. It feels luxurious on the mouth, and gives one a remarkable feeling of satisfaction. Deep and rich, but not overcomplicated.
It looks a treat too, pouring inky black with a tan lingerie-like lacing: a brilliant beer, but perhaps too sexy for rugby. By far the best of all the Young’s beers I’ve tried to date, I yearn to have this on tap.
Following the Double Chocolate Stout would be an unenviable task for any beer, but Darling’s Black Mist stood up to it very well, mostly likely due to a rare ability to deliver richness and bite while retaining lightness on mouth and gut.
I’ve repeated sung Black Mist’s praises before. Pouring a dark ruby-brown, it’s hoppy, bittersweet and lightly unctuous with light notes of aniseed, caramel and roast. The only ale out of the trio, it’s more conducive to daytime drinking due to its soft carbonation, lighter mouthfeel and its slightly lower alcoholic content at 5% a.b.v. (It’s also lighter than one of my favourite sunny day drinks, the Darling Bone Crusher.) It’s not a particularly complicated beer – following Darling’s tendency to create above-average beers that can still appeal to the conservative drinker – but that increases its value as a steady-sipping beer for sports.
As the game reached its latter stages, my housemates and I broke out the quarts of Castle Milk Stout, an inexpensive staple for most South African beer lovers. At 6% a.b.v., it’s the strongest beer of the trio, as well as the beer with the heaviest roast backbone. It’s definitely a beer suited for later in the evening: full on the mouth with silky carbonation, it noticeably sits on the stomach. Its profile of heavy-roasted malt, coffee and lactose-y milk chocolate can round off a sweet victory, or take the edges off another defeat.
Happily, on this occasion, the stout made a decent victory more sweet. All three black beers bring something different to the table: Black Mist, quirky and easy-drinking; Double Chocolate Stout, sweet and indulgent; Milk Stout, dependable and satisfying. Depending on the time of the game and your budget, choose accordingly.
This evening the Sharks take on Queensland in Durban. It also being St. Patrick’s Day, I’ve now got twice as many reasons to stock up again – win or lose.
Graham Paterson is an illustrator. He is also my housemate.
He moved down from Durban at the beginning of this year to move in with me and a few of our friends. Despite initial suspicions that he couldn’t cook, he surprised all of us tonight by making the best pizza any of us have ever had – on my terrible excuse for a braai, no less.
Here’s how he did it.
First, make this easy pizza dough from Jamie Oliver (link) and roll it out into 25-30cm rounds. It’s inexpensive and relatively easy.
If you can, roll your bases approximately 5mm thick. (You can make them thinner if you want, but seeing as we use an old Milk Stout quart as a rolling pin, it’s about the best we can get. The thinner they are, the easier they’ll cook on the braai.) Stab the rounds with a fork a few times to make sure they don’t shrivel up when they go on the coals.
After they’ve rested for a bit, braai your rounds on semi-hot coals for about three minutes on each side. Just par-cook them: make sure to get a little bit of colour on each side, but also make sure that the dough stays mostly raw.
Once they’re charred, thinly spread tomato paste on one side of each base. In this instance we used plain tomato paste from a tube, but a homemade Neapolitan sauce would also work well.
Lightly sauté some onions and whatever toppings you want for your pizzas while they cool. When your toppings are lightly cooked, spread them on the bases and add a thin layer of mozzarella on top. (Don’t bother using expensive cheese with this recipe – the smoke from the braai will likely overpower any light notes in good buffalo mozzarella. On saying that, however, blue cheese would work excellently.)
Chuck your pizzas on the braai, and cover with the lid. If you don’t own a Weber, cover it up with a cardboard box lined with aluminium foil like we did. This way the coal chars the bottom of the base and the heat trapped in the lid or box cooks your toppings and lightly melts the cheese.
For best results, only put your bases on the braai after the coals have been burning for anywhere between 70 and 90 minutes. Any earlier and you could risk charring the undersides of the base a bit too much. It won’t ruin the pizza, but the char might be too strong for some.
When the cheese is lightly melted and the bottom lightly charred, cut and serve.
Enjoy with any beer you wish. I chose Castle Milk Stout: the char on the base and the heavy roast on Milk Stout’s malt went together like a dream.
This recipe might seem like difficult work, but it is a lot more rewarding (not to mention a lot cheaper) than ordering pizza in. The dough is probably the most difficult part, but once you’ve made pizza dough a few times, it becomes second nature, even to an unnatural cook like me.
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.
Castle Milk Stout, at the risk of sounding clichéd and patronising like so many Castle TV spots, is a real South African classic. Brewed in South Africa and Tanzania, it has been drunk throughout sub-Saharan Africa out of its iconic blue and gold cans for scores of years. I drank it with frightening regularity myself when I was living in residence at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, usually while sitting around a hookah on cold, rainy weekend afternoons with a few buddies. It’s Everyman’s stout - light and smooth with hints of cocoa, tree nuts and slight toffee undertones. Even out of old cans it was never metallic or overly bitter, although it tended to have a very slight, whispy aftertaste of cigarette smoke. Its humble drinkability is probably what made it a mainstay throughout Southern and West Africa.
And Vietnam. Yeah, it’s also brewed in Vietnam. Forgot about that.
But something quite incredibly has recently happened to Castle Milk Stout. Some remarkably misguided man in SAB’s marketing department decided that it would be a great idea to market Castle Milk Stout as an aspirational brand targeting, well, the aspirational class: Black Diamonds. A traditional mainstay of the black working class is now being positioned towards the fast-growing, affluent black upper-middle class and those who one day want to be part of it. It strikes me as odd, and I can’t quite figure out the reasoning behind it: are sales of Milk Stout simply decreasing in low-income demographics, or are SAB trying to target Black Diamonds who are looking to their roots or seeking to maintain some form of working class legitimacy?
I don’t know. I’m not SAB, and I’m not a Black Diamond, so I can’t answer those questions. I can only drink beer.
Part of SAB’s rebranding of Castle Milk Stout is its countrywide release (or re-release) of the beer on tap. I suppose it’s to put Milk Stout in direct competition with Guinness at the taps, but the reasons could be numerous.
What does matter is that it is a dramatically different beer when poured fresh from tap. God, is it nice. I managed to have a full 500ml draught of the stuff while at SAB’s Letterstedt Pub, and I was very satisfied with it.
Castle Lager and Castle Milk Stout are both made with a not insignificant amount of maize added to the malt and hops. Windhoek Lager from Namibia sneakily derided SAB beers in a well-known advertising campaign in which Hollywood actor Louis Gossett Jr. explains that Windhoek Lager is made using only hops, barley and water - and “no other stuff”. One infers from the advert that “other stuff” probably means some sort of chemical, and that Windhoek is a purer, superior beer because they don’t taint their beers with such things. (And also because they got Louis Gossett Jr. to come in and do a killer ad campaign.)
But there’s a problem with that assumption: you can’t really add chemicals to decent beer. What Windhoek was meaning, in a rather underhanded way, was that they don’t add maize, which SAB uses in most of its beers, with different ratios of malt to maize in each of its products. Sacrilege to many beer drinkers, but many megabrewers do it this way.
Milk Stout uses a slow-roasted dark malt, instead of Castle Lager’s light malt, with an appropriate amount of maize to deliver a sweet, but definitely not sickly-sweet draught. The “milk” in the name “Milk Stout” comes from, according to my copy of Michael Jackson’s (disappointingly, not that MJ) Pocket Beer Book 2000/01, added lactose. It looks terrifically inviting, pouring ink black with a delicious looking tan-coloured head that takes a good minute or two to settle.
Having it come straight out of a keg does wonders to the aroma. It suddenly comes alive with coffee notes accented by the deep roast of the malt. The added maize keeps the stout relatively light, and all facets of its bitterness, sweetness and creaminess are augmented by extra carbonation. It goes down very well.
The head stays thumb thick all the way down like a decent stout should. In fact, this isn’t “like” a decent stout. It is a decent stout. I like it much better than Guinness, which is the go-to stout at most South African bars and, although SAB seems intent on remarketing it to an emerging class, to me it will always be Everyman’s. It’s cheap, dependable and delicious.
Castle Milk Stout Draught; 500ml draught; 6% abv.
Pros: great bouquet and palate; my God is it creamy; very drinkable.
Cons: draught not readily available in SA bars; questionable new marketing campaign; will make you incredibly fat.
Oh, and one last thing: SAB’s Letterstedt Bar is terrific. I hope they open it up to the public at some point, as, with its pool tables, warm decor and fresh draught, it’s bound to do well. There’s plenty of great memorabilia around from the early days of Ohlsson’s and SAB, and there’s plenty of room.
However, my opinion is probably skewed because it was very sparsely populated when I visited it: I would imagine that the atmosphere could also be awful, especially on rugby or cricket match days at Newlands. Right now you can only go there via appointment, or after an SAB Brewery tour, but word is that it will be open to the public at some point, so time will tell. There won’t be any craft beers within a mile of it, but if you’re someone without a palate for craft, or you just want to shoot a game of pool in a nice setting, it’d be worth a shot.