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.
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
Today, Suip! and Homebru.net proudly present the Best Beer on the Table Award 2011.
The Southern African beer world doesn’t have many awards. Most praise handed to South African beers or breweries is, well, meaningless. It’s awarded by hack food writers in ill-considered feature pieces or given out at bogus competitions to which only multinational breweries are invited. (Has anybody even heard of those events at which Carling Black Label conveniently wins “gold medals” every few years?)
Real beer needs real awards. This is where the Best Beer on the Table Award comes in.
The winners this year will win a small trophy and a lot of recognition from our readers. They will also receive our own stamp of approval that they are welcome to use whenever or wherever they want. Although this might seem like only a fun small bit of recognition at the moment, in a couple of years we hope this award can be significant, to brewers and the drinking public alike. As craft beer continues its exponentially upward rise in this country, we hope to expand this award to include Brewers’ Choice and Drinkers’ Choice awards, as well as our critical choice (which we hope to expand with other beer writers coming on board), as a reflection of the camaraderie that (mostly) exists within the craft beer communities of South Africa and Namibia.
The jury this year consists of Nick Mulgrew (Suip!) and Joakim Löfkvist (Homebru.net). Our nominations are, in no particular order:
A lot could be said about all these beers, but we keep our reasons short. Some are delicious, some are plain innovative, and some are helping to bridge the ever-widening chasm between craft beer and popular beer.
This year it wasn’t an easy choice, but after a lot of thought, three stood out above all others.
Second runner-up: Devil’s Peak King’s Blockhouse IPA
First runner-up: Triggerfish Hammerhead IPA
The Best Beer on the Table 2011: Bierwerk Aardwolf
Last year was a tremendous year for innovation – coming from within South Africa’s brewing ranks and also with international help – in the burgeoning craft community of the Western Cape, and our three winners reflect that fact.
The American-influenced stylings of Somerset West’s Devil’s Peak Brewing has brought forth four brilliant beers, with the Blockhouse IPA garnering the most superlatives, including an award from the Cape Town Festival of Beer – and now they lay claim to our second runner-up award.
Eric Van Heerden leads Triggerfish’s homegrown experimentation. Joakim calls him one of South Africa’s best microbrewers, and he’s probably right. The Hammerhead IPA hits all the right visual and olfactory notes, as well as being a knock-out on the palate. It’s full-on but, crucially, it is never overpowering. Its balance is impeccable, and for that it wins first runner-up.
Two IPAs, though? Although that might seem excessive, it should go without saying that the IPA isn’t South Africa’s strongest draw card. You could probably count the amount of good pale ales in South Africa on one hand - and that’s not an exaggeration. That’s what makes the success of Devil’s Peak and Triggerfish’s brews that much more startling.
Our winner, however, is not a pale ale. It is something more dark and slightly more mysterious, in both conception and execution. Bierwerk’s Aardwolf is a five-malt, espresso-stained masterpiece from Christian Skovdal Andersen. It’s not only what much of the international beer community considers to be the best craft beer in South Africa (it’s SA’s top-rated beer on Ratebeer.com), but also what we consider it to be as well. It’s irresistibly morish and deep, rewarding the slow drinker with its veins of vanilla, its lingering and deliciously bitter coffee finish, and its almost kaleidoscopic spectrum of roast and malt notes. Locally, it takes not only the coffee stout - a favourite of seemingly every newcomer to the craft world - but also the stout to new heights.
Special Innovation Award: Bierwerk Renosterbos
Bierwerk’s Renosterbos is some kind of mad scientist beverage alchemy. A barleywine brewed from SAB pale malt and Southern Promise hops, along with liberal amounts of golden syrup and yeast from both Rochefort and Da Chouffe breweries in Belgium, Renosterbos was aged in Brettanomyce yeast-infected red wine barrels, supplied by an unnamed Western Cape winery, for seven months.
The results were spectacular: a knock-you-down-after-one-glass sort of brilliance that hasn’t been seen in any other quarter of this country all year. Andersen is returning to South Africa soon. Let’s hope 2012 brings more of that same brilliance, both from him and other brewers, newcomers and old hands alike. We can’t wait to see what’s in store.
Congratulations to our winners. Your prizes will arrive shortly. Regular Suip! resumes Monday.
(Photo by Joakim Löfkvist)
So, this Friday my Swedish SA beer conspirator, Joakim Löfkvist (writer of Homebru.net and the most active reviewer of SA beers on Ratebeer, where he goes under the handle of Jolo), and I will be announcing what we deem to be the best three beers we’ve tasted over the past year. It’s what we call The Best Beer on the Table Award, and it’s very illustrious, I assure you. We might even make a couple trophies or something.
We nominated three beers each and, from those six, selected what we deem to be the best three. Although we will each be announcing our winners on Friday, I thought I would let you know what my nominations were, as well as explaining my choices. Of course, this is all highly personal and subjective, but, you know, that’s beer for you. So without further ado, my three nominations are:
1) Bierwerk Aardwolf (Cape Town)
There’s a lot to say about Aardwolf, but I’ll try to keep it short. Gaining almost universal acclaim from beer lovers both here and in Europe upon its release (it’s currently the highest-rated South African beer on Ratebeer) it can be difficult to get hold of - I was very grateful to receive a four-pack sent from its brewer, the immensely talented Dane, Christian Skovdal Andersen, via Boston Breweries’ Chris Barnard, at whose premises Andersen brewed it. Made with dark grains and roasted African coffee, Aardwolf is a knockout: pleasingly sweet, a tiny bit bitter; deliciously laced with tones of espresso, a touch of vanilla and a dozen other things - and yet it retains a wonderful sense of balance usually not seen in most coffee stouts. Soft on the mouth, it rewards slow drinking, cellaring and savouring. Although Bierwerk’s other beers, especially the superlative Renosterbos, flirt with brilliance, it is Aardwolf that is most accessible. It is simply ingenious, delicious and the work of some very talented hands. Andersen is going to be involved in more projects in South Africa this year, including, I hear, a new brewery in Woodstock. After collaborations with Boston and Camelthorn, hopefully Anderson will be able to show us what else he has hiding up his sleeve.
2) Devil’s Peak King’s Blockhouse IPA (Somerset West)
Relative newcomers Devil’s Peak King’s Blockhouse IPA is the best pale ale I’ve had all year. Last year’s Cape Town Festival of Beer had 100 beers on show, but the highlights were undoubtedly the Somerset West brewery’s quartet of American-influenced brews, which included a knockout imperial stout. (I use “knockout” both metaphorically and literally, as my memories of the CTFoB became significantly more hazy after a halfpint of it.) The sessionable, refreshing and tantalisingly bitter King’s Blockhouse was the best of the four, however. Devil’s Peak is ultimately looking to get South African palates accustomed to excessive hopping and high bitterness, but this is a delectable compromise: an exceedingly tasty introduction to American-style IPAs, tailored for the adolescent South African palate. It’s also a perfect mealtime sip. From what I’ve been told, Devil’s Peak are looking to move to Cape Town city proper into bigger premises sometime this year. Such a move promises big things and, if this beer is anything to go by, we can just hope those promises are fulfilled.
3) Darling Bone Crusher (Darling/Cape Town)
Finishing off my trio of nominations isn’t South Africa’s best beer – but it’s probably South Africa’s best beer in a lot of people’s minds. Darling’s Bone Crusher, brewed at Boston Breweries in Paarden Eiland, is a modern witbier that I keep coming back to. It has an eye-catching label and an unforgettable name. Most crucially, however, it has good marketers: Darling’s people are tireless in their promotion of their product, catalysing their brewery’s rather startlingly quick rise to relative popularity. (Boston chief brewer Chris Barnard once said to me, in good spirits but with some exasperation, that he continually finds that people on the other side of the country know of Darling, but not his own brands - even though Darling brews at his premises!) But setting it apart from most other breweries that rely on marketing nous, Darling actually have a good product to work with. A light, crisply tart and refreshing wit, Bone Crusher is a not only a good craft beer, but an accessible and unpretentious one, too. If anything, it’s an indication of what a popular craft beer in South Africa could look like in years to come. (That is, if this doesn’t become that beer itself.) While some breweries revel in esoteric projects, Darling seems to be sensible in their innovation: if any one small brewery is to bring local craft to the South African mainstream, there’s only one contender for it as far as I see it at the beginning of 2012. There may be better beers available than Darling’s, but there is sure no better package – comprising great identity, great beer and great marketing – in this country than them right now.
As you may have noticed, my three nominations are all from the Western Cape. This may be unsurprising to some, but it might make others feel indignant. Is this Cape-centric?
Well, no. It simply reflects things the way they stand now. Although breweries like Shongweni Brewery (Shongweni), Gilroy’s (Roodepoort) and The Little Brewery on the River (Port Alfred) continue to delight, the Western Cape is the epicentre of South African beer at the moment, with more breweries more readily creating new, more innovative beers – both Triggerfish’s oeuvre of great beers, of which Joakim is a big fan, and Boston’s Van Hunks Pumpkin Ale spring to mind almost immediately – to try make inroads into what is still quite a small market. It’s the one place where beer consumers are opening up to new options more than anywhere else in South Africa. That said, 2012 is set to be a huge year for local craft, with a handful of new breweries set to open in the coming months. Perhaps as craft’s reach and influence begins to extend throughout the country, brilliance and innovation will begin to come from new, unexpected places.
Anyway, the winners will be announced Friday! In the meantime, check out Homebru.net in the coming days to hear Joakim’s side of things. Also, what do you think? Am I right? Completely wrong? Absolutely stupid? Let me know here or @SUIPEXCLAMATION.
The Cape Town Festival of Beer took place this past weekend. What was supposed to be an orgiastic, transcendentally brilliant smorgasbord of delicious yeasty delights in the shadow of Table Mountain translated into what was, in effect, a nice enough weekend with some great beers and great people.
The vast majority of things about the festival wee good: smaller breweries were granted an opportunity, however limited, to show off their products to a diverse crowd; the venue was laid out well and the grass of Hamilton Rugby Club provided plenty of comfortable makeshift seating; the weather held up (albeit with a lot of wind) and the atmosphere was pleasant.
But a festival initially touted by its website as “the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere” it was not. It was surprisingly compact and unrefined: a few large plastic gazebos and a covered stage, littered with the same benches and picnic tables we last saw at SAB’s Oktoberbierfest. In fact, the whole thing suffered from a distinct lack of personality. Signage was rather spartan and the event’s logo was, well… What does a cartoon fraulein in front of a South African flag say about beer in Cape Town? Or anywhere in South Africa for that matter? Judging by the infrastructure by itself, the Cape Town Festival of Beer could have been anywhere in South Africa. It bought into an Oktoberfest mentality, where the focus is more on “festival” than “beer”.
SAB erected a massive Black Label branded bar in one corner that was disappointingly well-patronised, with women wearing Black Label-branded fraulein uniforms to remind everybody, in case they forgot, that although there are a hundred beers here, BLACK LABEL IS THE SPONSOR AND DID YOU KNOW THAT IT HAS SO MANY AWARDS GUYS.
The sponsorship of the event speaks volumes about their attitude towards local beer culture, laying bare what seem to be some remarkably strong insecurities about their products: instead of letting the beers speak for themselves, they sponsor a beer festival (which no doubt is also supposed to show their support for smaller breweries) then slap their own product’s branding on everything inside it. Of course, I’m not naive: such events need sponsors, infrastructure and dedicated organisers, but looking at the omnipresence of SAB branding, it wasn’t surprising that some breweries chose not to attend. What’s the point of showing off your own wares if the risk of SAB hijacking the event of which you’re trying to be part is ever present?
But I’m happy to say that they didn’t. The beer was spectacular. Although I will write a more in-depth piece on the beer later this week, I feel it’s necessary to point out the excellence of Devils Peak and Triggerfish Breweries in particular. In fact, I don’t think it’d be outlandish to suggest that Devils Peak’s beers are all serious contenders for the best beer in South Africa at the moment. Their IPA in particular is full, fruity and with a restrained bitterness to fit the South African palate, and their stout garnered an endless stream of superlatives from the puckering jowls of those who were able to get a sip of it.
The food was good, but the luchadore hats were better.
Unlike the WLRB Fest, the crowd at which tends to be rather homogenous (read: hip and white), the crowd here was diverse in age, background and attitude towards beer. I saw a man in a Dogfish Head T-shirt very seriously quaffing the most obscure beers on offer not ten metres from a bunch of guys playing beer pong on the picnic tables, and it was all good. Bad attitudes were absent, and I didn’t see any fights – the open layout of the gazebos and the substantial grassy courtyard area did well to relieve any potential congestion – although I did see a number of men that must have had rather substantial hangovers the morning(s) after.
But on seeing those men, it chilled me to think that most of these people drove here. Any festival which brings together thousands of people to drink intoxicating beverages should be amply cognizant of how these people get to and – more crucially – get home from it. The organisers did really well to remind people not to drive home drunk and to take home taxis or use hired drivers, but those options are expensive, often costing hundreds of bucks. So what about all that public transport, funded by taxpayer money? Well, I took the MyCiti bus from Gardens to Stadium station for R5, but then promptly wandered around lost in Green Point for 45 minutes because there was no physical signage for the festival near the venue, and no addresses or information on its website to aid people unfamiliar with the area. It was a – literally – painful oversight.
You might think I’m being overly critical or sour, but let me assure you I actually did have an excellent time at the Cape Town Festival of Beer. I drank a lot of good beer, had a lot of fun, and met a lot of very passionate people, people like Lucy Corne, who endeavoured to, and succeeded in, drinking 100 beers over the Festival’s three-day weekend; the ever-happy Mark from Keg King; Greg and the rest of the guys from Devils Peak Brewing; Kevin Wood from Darling Brewery, who seemed to be making a roaring trade; and, as ever, my friends from the Beer Garden, Rouvanne, Lenny and Jamie. I also struck up a good email correspondence with Martin, one of the main men behind the Cape Town Festival of Beer, but unfortunately didn’t get to meet him in person. (Thank you for the tickets too, Martin.) These people are all excellent.
But I don’t think LCD, Black Label-adorned fests are not what the good beer-drinking and beer-loving population of South Africa need 100% of the time. Of course, most of us don’t really know better, but that’s only because we’ve seldom experienced better. We’ve seldom experienced festivals (perhaps with the exception of WLRB) in which people have been thoughtful about creating an identity for a festival which matches the spirit of the place in which it is held. We’ve seldom experienced a festival at which cheap public transport is adequately utilised so that the threat of drunk and dangerous driving can be maximally eliminated. We’ve seldom experienced a festival at which all brewers feel comfortable, and all breweries have an equal place. That’s what it comes down to: it can’t be a city’s festival of beer if some of its biggest craft breweries pull out because they feel uncomfortable participating in it.
A year ago, I would have thought the Cape Town Festival of Beer was the greatest thing in the world. Now, I still think it was a roaringly good time, efficiently organised with the best intentions and populated by people who never fail to put a smile on my face, but I can’t escape the fact that it revealed to me the dearth of concerted consideration in these large, seemingly corporate-oriented events, even if they are streamlined, well-run and an established status quo.
We have brilliant people, and brilliant beer with personality and passion in excess – so, may I beg the question, why can’t we have festivals that are just as special?
Do you live in Johannesburg? According to my Google Analytics, at least one of you regular readers do! So, dear reader, I suggest you get yourself down to everyone’s favourite bunting-clad beer-loving coffee shop Wolves (3 Corlett Drive, Illovo) to have yourself a little tasting of beers from one of my favourite local microbreweries, Darling Brewery.
I’m not 100% sure on the pricing, but it’s free entrance from 4:30pm this Friday 25 November - at the time that Wolves usually calls Beer O’Clock. How fitting!
Durban is braai city all year round. When it’s rainy in Cape Town and icy on the Highveld, Durban continues to churn out pearlers every week. Sometimes the sunlight seems a little too white to be sunlight, and the palm trees look like they were extracted from a movie set. I love it. It’s good to be home.
My mates convened a braai in the middle of the week. I made up some lentil patties (much to their chagrin) and brought along Darling’s Bone Crusher to try out.
Bone Crusher is what I guess to be a Belgian-style witbier. I say I guess because I was too distracted by the label to read it, although it is very attractive with its hyena skull and (unintentional, but hilarious) reference to a rapper I listened to when I was 13.
I ain’t never scared. (link for extra lols)
Anyway. Bone Crusher was passed around the table, and while some didn’t like its bitterness, my friends who liked witbier enjoyed it. I did too. It’s flavoured with orange peel and coriander, and explodes with bitter fruit – mostly citrus – on the palate. It has a bouquet of citrus to match, with slight toffee and spicy twangs. It has a light, spritely carbonation and a light body to match. Seeing as it’s 6% a.b.v., this is impressive, but also slightly worrying, not least because the high-rising, fluffy head it pours with is so inviting. So if you’re a fan of witbier, I’d treat this one with care: it’s stronger than it seems.
I like Darling’s labeling and their beer, along with the impressive fact that Bone Crusher, and the rest of their beers, are brewed from local wheat grown in the small town of Darling itself. I think they do their little farming town proud, and judging by the reactions to their beers that I’ve seen in Cape Town, they’re making an impression in the big city.
Perhaps they should make a Big Boi Bock or an N.W.A. IPA? I’d buy it.
Darling Bone Crusher; 6% a.b.v.; 550ml bottle
Pros: Nice identity; bags of tart citrus; positively lively witbier.
Cons: Possibly too bitter to get some people hooked on this style.
Oh yes, if you can’t find Darling beers in your local bottle store, you can order them from http://ebooze.co.za like I do. :)
Last night I had dinner at a friend’s house. It was delicious, and a good time was had. At the end of it, however, I had the classic good-times conundrum: my housemate and I had a glass of wine on us both and we really didn’t want to drive home while anything less than sober. Thankfully, our host and good friend Claire drove us home. On the way from her house, she spotted a friend hanging outside The Power and The Glory, a bakery-cum-bistro-cum-bar on Kloof Nek Road. We decided to park the car and check it out.
First things first: The Power and The Glory is one of the hippest joints in town. That’s not a bad thing - it’s just the truth. You can find minor Cape Town minimalectro celebrities here, and one of the barmen was packing a very good-looking pipe at one stage. All sorts hang out here, and it’s a great place to come and people-watch.
You can drink outside, as long as your beer is placed on the windowsill between sips, so you can stand on the street and soak in the amber glow of the streetlights. It’s quite full inside, but the music’s very good and it’s not impossible to find a couch to sit on. All in all, it’s a fun place to be.
But it comes at a price.
Darling and Jack Black are both on tap: always a good sight. But beer’s expensive here. My housemate and I were scoping out the chalkboard drinks menu for something different and we decided to grab two of what was called “Versus Goliath” for R26 a pop. They were served to us, and we had a sip. Lacklustre dark lager. James liked it with it with its slightly twangy aftertaste, but I couldn’t help concentrating on the fact that we paid 87c for each 10ml we were drinking.
Disappointingly, I realised I had thrown money into yawning jaws of the Brewers & Union coffers again. I feel the need to reiterate for those who are unaware: these are not South African beers. There are dozens of beers worthy of the attention that B&U gets that, unlike B&U’s beers, are actually being brewed in South Africa, albeit with worse type on their labels and not as effective marketers.
I’ll probably get a lot of flack for saying all this, but it’s the truth in my mind. If you like their Weiss or their Berne that are ostensibly sourced from “some of Europe’s oldest family-run breweries”, then, cool, buy it. They’re not bad by any stretch of the imagination.
My point is that I feel that the seemingly universal praise they get is, in a lot of ways, quite unqualified. They might be doing something good for craft appreciation around here - and their nice little bistro in town with their prego rolls and pulled pork and good bands on Wednesdays is not a bad spot - but I feel they’re doing very little for the actual brewers, other than being behind the We Love Real Beer initiative, which, admittedly, is a very important force in Cape craft right now.
They complain that the beers brewed by SAB are “brewed for mass appeal or people not typically concerned with flavour, aroma or subtle nuances.” But craft is also about place, and the personality of a place imbued into a drink, and I’m not too sure they’ve got that down.
We had to have a minimum tab of R100, so I grabbed a Darling draught too. It was about the same price as the B&U beer (so, still not cheap) but it was a much better drink. Deep and sippable, it was the perfect pint to sink down into a couch with. I’ve got a few Darlings in the fridge at home, so expect a review of their Bone Crusher and Slow Beer soon.
“So, The Power and The Glory?”
Look, it’s an expensive place for just a drink, but it’s a go-to if you want to hang and soak up some atmosphere. And the atmosphere is good here. There are men with interesting jobs, interesting men with no jobs, guys who walk in the place clutching handfuls of fynbos for no apparent reason, and at least twenty people who were over 40. The service is decent, if sometimes slow, they sell craft and, judging by their wine list, they also sell good wine.
I hear the coffee shop/bakery/bistro side of the operation is decent, and it’s translating into a roaring trade. It’s something approximating Bay Area hip and, if you don’t take yourself too seriously and you have a job with which you can fund your night, you could do a lot worse.
The Power and The Glory
Cnr Kloof Nek and Burnside Roads, below Rafiki’s.
Hulle praat Afrikaans.