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.
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
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
I had a housewarming on Saturday. I recently and very happily moved into a large house in Woodstock with three of my childhood mates and one lovely woman after a year living on the mess of traffic and chip packets that is Rondebosch Main Road. We’ve worked very hard on the place: converted surplus building materials into tables and benches, battled with unstable curtain rails and painted a massive chalkboard wall, á la (500) Days of Summer. A celebration was in order, so my housemates called up their friends and put up an event on Facebook.
I called up Keg King.
Keg King is a Cape Town-based business that supplies draught beer for just about any kind of event you can think of. They supply weekend markets with local craft beer, run their own bar in the Cape Quarter, educate beer novices with their College of Beer evenings and supply starter kits for the budding homebrewer. They’re also really nice guys, to boot.
Despite the multifaceted nature of their business, using Keg King for private events is simple. Choose from a wide and still expanding list of keg options (including selections from SAB, Namibian Breweries, Mitchells, Camelthorn, Darling, Boston and Jack Black), how many kegs you want and whether you want a one-tap or two-tap unit.
Call them, place an order, and they deliver straight to your door.
It’s no frills come party day, either. Keg King delivers a compact cooling unit attached to a no-spill tap. Your keg and a small canister of CO2, which powers the pouring, are then attached within minutes. No plug points, no wastage, no mess.
Now all you need is 50 people and an iPod filled with awful dubstep.
We got one 30-litre keg of Jack Black lager for the party – nothing fancy, but something that we thought would please most of the crowd. And please it damn well did. The beer was fresh and ice cold, and the revelers loved filling up their own cups.
Fuel for a great evening, and the first of many keg nights to come.
All in all, the benefits of Keg King are numerous. It makes large parties easy, even for the more discerning drinker: there is simply no better way to bring 50 litres of your favourite microbrew into your house. It’s a gloriously simple and efficient system. Plus, it doesn’t leave hundreds of bottles and cans lying around the house.
Keg King operates in Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Durban. Visit http://www.kegking.co.za, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to order your keg and let the beer and good times, quite literally, flow.
There’s a well-worn staircase off the sidewalk towards the top end of Long Street. Down a dark corridor, barricaded by a broad-shouldered, black-suited bouncer, these stairs used to mark the entrance to Zula, a bar and live music venue which was the clown car of Long Street: no matter how full it already was of straight-fringed girls and James Dean-coiffed boys in second-hand leather jackets, it would always get fuller.
Sensing a need for larger premises, Zula relocated to more spacious and grandiose settings literally a few blocks down the road half a year ago. For months club-goers wondered what would take its place.
Gone is the floor worn down from thousands of pairs of tapping sneakers and pointy shoes, the wide, shallow stage and dark walls. In its place is light, light and more light. The staircase is surrounded by heart-stenciled walls. Tobasco bottles and pepper shakers hang from the ceiling as chandeliers. Brick walls and concrete floors against pastel blue walls. Gone is the smoke from hand-rolled cigarettes. Instead the scent of dough and napolitana sauce wafts around the patrons.
This is Sgt Pepper. (Lonely hearts jokes mercifully absent.)
It’s spacious and airy, eschewing the dinginess and busyness coveted by so many Long Street eateries. An open-plan kitchen looks over a handful tables. Through a door off of the main dining room is a small bar, in which tutu-ed men in the midst of long bachelors’ parties can sometimes be found. A foosball table awaits next door. The balcony is long and simple – almost unembellished save for the mismatched chairs and exterior metalwork.
It’s another one in a line of ‘refined’ rock ‘n roll eateries, not completely dissimilar to Saints, only one street away, and which I reviewed last week.
It loses to Saints on beer, though. Sgt Pepper’s beer selection is passable – SAB bottles and Jack Black, Milk Stout and Black Label on tap – but it’s partially made up for by a pleasingly inexpensive and varied – if not particularly nuanced wine list. House wine is R15 and quaffable. An inexpensive and inoffensive alcoholic option is always well received.
But it’s not as if the food is nuanced, either. Resorting to the classic pizza/pasta/burger/salad-based menu, Sgt Pepper relies on variations on a theme and not outright innovation. Pleasingly, what they do is very good. Pizzas are thin-based and crack delightfully with each bite. Toppings are generous, cooked well and combined in simple, effective combinations. (The Pappa Prawn is king, littered with chunky and juicy crustaceans and smothered in fresh and sweet chili. It’s really good.) It could all be best described as rustic, reasonably-priced and completely suited to the venue’s atmosphere and aesthetic.
True, Sgt Pepper isn’t exactly a top-drawer culinary or beery experience, but it still manages to be delightfully bright and a decent night out. The evolution of these rooms from rock bar to rock diner has been swift and complete. Perhaps the spirit of the old Zula is still alive here. It’ll be interesting to see how Sgt Pepper develops over the course of the coming year.
194 Long Street, Cape Town
So, Jack Black’s Pale Ale. One of the two newer beers available in the Jack Black range (the other being the JB Pilsener), it’s about to be featured in an upcoming issue of one of South Africa’s largest-selling men’s magazines as one of six local craft beers you, y’know, just have to try. But why, out of all the wonderful beers in South Africa – complex, deep, eye-watering, silky or even just plain and simple – would they choose this one? I had to find out and, to be honest, I’m still not sure of the answer.
Everything about the beer is plain. Sure, Jack Black is known for its rather utilitarian identity. It works well. It sells well. It’s memorable and the association of the name in many people’s minds with a famous actor has probably helped them a hell of a lot. But as much as I’ve generally liked Jack Black Lager as an easy-sipping simple beer, this just seems like Version 2.0 of the JB Lager to me.
And it’s such a shame too. The JB Pale Ale’s crisp copper tones set up some high expectations, but its wispy caramel and toffee aromas give way to what is, quite frankly, an underwhelming palate. Its thinness, small bubbly head and maltiness is eerily similar to the same qualities present in JB’s original beer. It’s odd. There’s very little in the palate to distinguish it from the lager, and almost nothing to distinguish it as a pale ale of any kind – Indian, Amber or otherwise. It has very little bitterness, very little mouth feel and not enough flavour. If you had given my draught to me without saying what it was, I’d be nonplussed. It suffers from a profound lack of identity.
The fact that I got to keep the glass the beer was poured in - it’s R20 for any JB 330ml draught + a nice fluted Pilsner glass at the Old Biscuit Mill – was just about the best part of drinking it. I’ve heard that the JB Pilsener is a much better effort at expanding their already well-known brand, but this offering doesn’t exactly make me champ at the bit to try it.
Jack Black Pale Ale, 330ml draught, ?% a.b.v.
Pros: Looks crisp; enticing light aromas.
Cons: Doesn’t deliver substantially on any front; too plain; just not a good execution of any discernable style of pale ale.
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.
Sometimes you just want something light and easy to drink, right? I guess that’s why most of us still like to have a draught of Hansa or Black Label when we go out with mates, right? Sometimes you don’t want to sit back and enjoy the subtleties of a beer. More often than not, beer is just a social lubricant, and that’s great. That’s why a lot of us start drinking it in the first place.
Being a full-time student, I don’t have too much money to throw about, so I usually stick to SAB draughts when I go out with mates, half because those beers are cheap, and half because cheap places don’t sell craft beer. But on the odd occasion I go for lunch at a bar that has Jack Black on tap, I like to order it.
Golden with a thick, strong head, Jack Black is immediately inviting. With an implacably fruity aroma, it delivers on the sweetness one generally wants from a commercial draught, but also provides a depth of maltiness that one doesn’t usually associate with a free-pouring, easy-drinking pale lager. As such, it tastes wholesome and gratifying.
It isn’t complex, no, but honestly, I don’t think you need complexity all the time. It delivers on its promises: a fresh, uncomplicated draught that, for many people, rises above its rivals at the taps. Unfortunately, this means that some bars tend to tack on a few extra bucks to its price, making it more expensive than SAB’s offerings.
For lunch or for just a good old half-litre of easy enjoyment on a sunny day, Jack Black draught is never a bad choice. My recommendation is that you enjoy it at the Neighbour Goods Market at the Old Biscuit Mill on Saturday mornings. Although many of my favourite brewers sell their wares there, I find that Jack Black is consistently good with practically all the food sold at the market, plus they usually have a draught special so that, for a couple extra bucks, you can keep the branded 500ml glass your beer is served in. It’s a really nice touch - I now have four of their glasses in my pantry. More advertising, I guess.
So, if you like the odd draught but you’re not the most enthusiastic drinker of anything too complicated or different, I think you should give Jack Black a go. Clean-tasting, simple and quenching, you really could do a lot worse.
Jack Black, 500ml draught, 5% a.b.v.
Pros: Superbly easy to drink.
Cons: Depending on the bar, can be expensive.