So, what can I tell you about the Olympics? Not much, I’d bet. There are hundreds of better writers here with sharper eyes, better knowledge and – oh yeah – media accreditation.
It’s my first time at a Games, and it’s wonderful. I’m already familiar with London as my brother has been living here since 2008, but this a London new to me and, I suspect, to almost everyone else: efficient, uncongested and friendly. For the first time in history, strangers are speaking on the tube in English about things other than future participation in knife fights. Locals are absent from the city, taking advice to stay away from the Olympics a bit too literally. Sidewalk cafés are half-empty. Instead of having a business boom, businesses are fretfully searching for their missing custom.
That, and the fact that the Olympic Park is positively sprawling, means that London is incredibly pleasant at the moment. It’s still bustling and hyperactive, still a city of too many languages and face brick and men lookbooked to death; just with an added splash of fluorescence and common purpose. Flags and nationalism and thousands of people in merchandise stores. BBC, Brittania, and people caring about rowing and the heptathlon.
It’s a glorious atmosphere, matched by the perfectly temperate air, with most days toeing the fine line between drizzle and blazing sunshine.
Which makes it great for beer. Suitably, London hosts CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival next weekend, but even inside the greatest festival of them all, Heineken’s iron fist sponsorship of the games is actually quite lax.
While the Olympic Park is home to the world’s largest McDonald’s, massive anonymised rows of vendors of fish and chips, pies, salads, sandwiches and, well, beer. The selection isn’t exactly wide: you can choose between Heineken, a Heineken-esque “lager” which probably is just Heineken, and an “ale”. That Olympic ale, however, is gorgeous mahogany and copper, with just the right whiffs of dark malt, toffee and milk chocolate to overcome a slightly watery disposition. At 3.6%, it’s outrageously sessionable during a long day exploring the stadia and installations – oh, and Michael Phelps winning his 20th Olympic medal.
Next weekend, however, I’ll be heading to Kensington Olympia to experience something a smidgen more diverse. I’m not sure exactly what I’ll find at the Great British Fest. The organisers bill over 800 real ales, ciders and bottles from around the world, all available under one rather large roof.
The real ale community in Britain is enormously progressive, pervasive and ever-growing, and now I get to have a peek at its grand gathering.
I am giddy with excitement.
Friday didn’t start too well for the Hop & Vine Festival. A week that started off with four consecutive days of unseasonable warmth ended in a deluge. As torrential rain flooded the outside areas of Simons @ Groot Constantia a mere five hours before the festival’s start, everything had to be changed. The tented area was abandoned: sound equipment was moved inside, kegs hurried under gazebos and carried through the downpour. The full aggression of the Cape winter had been pent up for too long; today was its release.
But while it was damp outside, the enthusiasm of organisers and brewers under the banner of the Craft Beer Project never abated. Glasses were set up on tables, stalls erected and the first draughts pulled. This was going to be a success one way or another, the organisers said. It turned out that they were right.
Rather unlike any other large-scale beer festival yet held in Cape Town, the Hop & Vine Festival was more focused on boutique sensibilities, bringing the world of local craft beer somewhere a bit closer to the trappings of refinement most associated with fine wine.
Although food pairings, wines from local garagistes and the taking of tasting notes were talking points, the unique identity of South Africa’s craft beer landscape shone through in a number of homebrewing demonstrations and the varied spectrum of the breweries present: from American-influenced ales to north-south collaboration brews, to the most tender and quirky of tiny local operations. It was a microcosm of the finer aspects of the South African beer world, beautifully dressed and subtly indulgent. (Crayfish and weiss, anyone?)
Due to the sheer amount of beer available, coupled with other commitments, I didn’t manage to get around to everything. There were, however, a few things that caught my eye especially.
Citizen’s Alliance Amber Ale turned out to be popular with a surprisingly large number of people I spoke to. Actually, on saying that, it’s not too surprising: although it’s proven to be a bit of challenge for the Royale and Waiting Room boys to upscale their brews from the kitchen to 1000l and 2000l batches, they’re finally getting the combination of soft mouth and wholesome caramel edge they want into their final product. It’s a remarkably tasty and casual easy-drinker.
It’s not going to impress every experienced quaffer, but these are promising first steps. With an IPA in the works, along with some excellent branding and good foundations in city centre culture, I’ve got a feeling that Citizen is making some very good in-roads.
Friday night saw the first public appearance from the League of Beers, a new start-up, six months in the making, that hopes to make the full landscape of SA craft, along with great lines of abbey beers and other craft imports, everywhere in the country. Like Citizen, LoB is heavily brand-focused, and it paid off in a lot of passing interest. Founder Rob Heyns is one hell of a friendly guy, and he went to great lengths to explain his shipping solutions and packaging to anyone who asked.
Aside from the abbeys and a range of beer from KZN’s Quills Brewery, LoB was selling a relatively new pale lager from Stellenbrau, brewed using equipment transplanted from the old Luyt Brewery in Ballito, KZN. I sometimes forget that a significant amount of people, for whatever reason, enjoy pale lager more than other styles. There’s merit to that: Camelthorn’s unfiltered Helles, for example, is oppressively refreshing on a hot summer’s day.
Stellenbrau lager isn’t the old Luyt recipe, but it sticks to a more South African style of pale lager than anything European. Happily, however, it retains a good light malt backbone, decent feel and a woody flavour profile that makes it deeper and more enjoyable than the swathes of lean and weak macro pale lagers that most characterise the style in SA.
It was also wonderful to see the culmination of possibly South Africa’s first North-South collaboration brew, between Jonathan Nel from Johannesburg’s Three Skulls Brewery, and Glenn Adams from Kommetjie’s Valley Brewery. They mixed dark malt and a few heavy handfuls of cascade hops to make Valley of the Skulls, a black IPA that turned out excellently balanced, much like the rest of the delicious Three Skulls suite of IPA, saison and blonde.
It was at about 10 o’clock that I began to lose my bearings a bit. Surrounded by roaring fires and live reggae, I suitably gave into indulgence and that gorgeous blur of memory that seems to occur after your fourth stout. I had originally wanted to talk about Devil’s Peak’s brilliant new Silvertree Saison and Triggerfish’s new Russian Imperial Stout, but I lost my notebook and my pen and resigned to write about them at some other point.
I gave into enjoyment, and I think that’s the key here. Just before I walked out of Simon’s into the slightly-receding rain to the car that was to take me home at the end of the evening, I turned and had a good look at what was left at the festival floor and the bar: smiles. A lot of smiles.
Bringing the worlds of beer closer to the fineries of wine culture requires a good sense of fun, balance and perspective to make sure that craft beer retains its implacably fun identity while appealing to new audiences and continuing its upward climb to the mainstream. Organised by some of the best brains in local craft at the Craft Beer Project, the Hop & Vine Festival succeeded in its mandate. It was a cherry-picking of the best of both slightly-estranged alcoholic worlds; an exhausting tangle of everything good that grows with tendrils.
Well, I had far too much fun at Banana Jam Café last night. Things went from good to better when fabulous owner and Craft Beer Project mastermind Greg Casey pulled out the soft and caramelly Clarens Red from the back and then, in a fit of joyous abandon, decided to mix Red Bull and Devil’s Peak Woodhead Amber Ale on the suggestion that “it’s apparently a big thing in Germany”. Ah, to be the owner of a restaurant with an endless supply of craft. (It was actually quite nice, to tell the truth, but don’t let anybody else hear that.)
Other highlights included cheesy jalapeños, potent cocktails – dubbed “bitch pops” by the girls – and me strutting around in my dad’s denim shirt, shouting “JUICE SPRINGSTEEN” over and over and over. Post-drinking events included attempting to speak Welsh and singing Craig David’s “What’s Yo Flava” a capella in the car home.
God, I love this place. You should really go.
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.
Porcupine Quill Brewery in Botha’s Hill, KwaZulu-Natal is one of South African craft beer’s hidden players. Tucked away in a sleepy corner of the Valley of 1000 Hills, Quill’s is an artisan’s paradise, comprising a deli, bakery and brewery, all fastidiously local-minded.
Quill’s range of eleven beers, under three different labels, aren’t very widely known or widely available. Although I had tried and reviewed one of their beers before (link), the full spectrum of their liquid exploits had eluded me for some time. So, when the opportunity arose to try out ten of their eleven beers at Banana Jam Café not too long ago, I took to it with enthusiasm.
Since there are a lot of beers, I’m not going to try review them all; rather, I’ll provide some rough tasting notes for each beer under each Quill’s brand, as well as notes of approval or disapproval.
Some preliminary notes, however: even though Porcupine Quill attempts to brew a large range of beer types, they are mostly brewed using flower hops, giving many of their beers a samey bitterness profile; floral and prickly acidic. It works well with some styles that they brew, and not so much with others. Attempts to taste the whole range like I did tend to descend into a pit of undistinguishable and strange bitterness; not bad, but it makes it tough to discern different flavour profiles between each beer towards the tail end. (The alcohol content is potent too, so watch out if you’re trying to session!)
But anyway (ratings out of 5 stars):
Quill’s, the flagship range of 5 beers. Most variety of styles and quality.
Karoo Red (5.5% a.b.v.): A light body of sour fruit overrided by sharp, almost prickly hoppiness. Finishes clean and tart. **1/2
Namaqua Blonde (4.5% a.b.v.): Light citrusy body with hints of mango and melon, follows through sharp with citrus zest; ends with slight burnt roast. Different, but entirely pleasant. ***
Blackdog Bitter (6% a.b.v.): Lacy. Molasses on the nose with some milk chocolate and burnt coffee; follows with sharp sweetness and burnt coffee on palate. Light-medium body. Best of the range. ***1/2
Flat Tail Ale (8% a.b.v.): Vanilla on nose; follows through with overbearing, thistle-prickly hops. Light body, light palate; packed with alcohol. **
Didn’t taste because of unavailability: Kalahari Gold (4.5% a.b.v.).
Dam Wolf, an “extreme beer” range of three beers. High alcohol content links all three.
Yellow Eyes (8% a.b.v.): Cloudy yellow-orange with minimal white head. Rose and indistinguishably acids on nose; follows very acidic (whole flower Challenger hops) with little mouthfeel on palate. Lemon zest and acid at the back of the throat. Finishes quite cleanly at first, then big kick of alcohol – almost unpleasant. A lot of bite, not much flavour; a shame, because I’ve had this before and it was much better. **
Howl & Cry (9% a.b.v.): Strong ale that pours ruby-orange. Hops on nose; hops on palate with touches of sour plum and tart fig. Very alcoholic, but has flavour to back it up. ***
Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing (9% a.b.v.): Light hoppy nose; alcohol and flower hops (again) on palate, rounded off by sour berries. Finishes with light, but very complex burnt roast. Lots of different kinds of malt here. An interesting one. ***
Impala Light (5% a.b.v.): Light in every way, except for its alcohol content: light hops, light roast, light malt; too few nuances with too much alcohol, verging on insipid. *1/2
Amber Ale (6% a.b.v.): Pours coppery. Caramel on nose; sharp, clean hops rounded off with light toffee and extremely slight smokiness on palate. Unexpectedly rich, but finishes clean. Although I didn’t enjoy it when I last had it, this time it was lovely. ***1/2
Blackbuck Bitter (7.5% a.b.v.): Red berries and light roast on nose; sweet and lightly roasty on palate; finishes clean and sour. One of the few PC beers to manage the prickliness of the hops well. ***
Recommendations of the lot: Quill’s Blackdog Bitter, African Moon Amber Ale and Dam Wolf Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. A good beer out of each range; a nice symmetry there.
The final word on Porcupine Quill, then? For better or worse, a range of beers unlike anywhere else in South Africa. Definitely search them out if you’re in the area of Botha’s Hill, especially you’re a hop head.
If you’d like to get hold of beers from Quills, Dam Wolf or African Moon, head on over to League of Beers and have them delivered straight to your door!
Metalworker Glenn Adams leads a double life. Round the front of his factory in a patched-up Kommetjie industrial park, he operates an expertly-built microbrewery. An elegant setup of stainless steel, his preferred metallic medium, Valley Brewery is one in a series of new Western Cape microbreweries popping up in the nooks of South Africa’s most craft-crazy province.
While his London Ale exudes passable breadiness and admittedly not a whole lot of nuance, the Valley Weiss is sunshine: opaque, light and refreshing. Perhaps it’s not the beers, undeniably decent as they are, that are the standouts right now at Valley, but rather the uncluttered and well thought-out floorspace. From the ingenious keg washer to the most beautiful mash tun I’ve ever seen, Valley is any hobby brewer’s dream playroom.
Adams is serious about his work, however. While he begins to experiment and test the capabilities of his 300 litre system, he can rest assured he has solid foundations.
Valley Brewery London Ale is currently on rotation at Banana Jam Café, and is also available straight from the brewery in Fish Eagle Park itself. But until you get there, enjoy these photographs of an impressive-looking start-up.
If you’d like to get hold of Valley Brewery’s beers, head on over to League of Beers and have them delivered straight to your door!