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.
This is the coast near Port Alfred. It’s beautiful. Recently I travelled there to write a story for school about the Wharf Street Brew Pub and the Little Brewery on the River, Port Alfred’s microbrew/brewpub combination. Situated right on the River Kowie, which runs through the town, the Brew Pub and Little Brewery stand within an old stone building that used to be Port Alfred’s old harbourmaster’s offices, as well as its town hall. It’s beautiful, rugged and full of history. I suggest you go visit it, should you ever find yourself along this beautiful piece of Eastern Cape coastline.
I would write more and post more photos about it here, but the story has been picked up by Getaway, and should be published early next year.
In the meantime, I’d like to review one of the Little Brewery on the River's beers. Originally I was hoping to review both of their beers, but seeing as they're only available in four small towns in the Eastern Cape's old Albany district – it's local microbrew in the truest sense of the phrase – getting hold of them is sometimes tricky. I was only able to get my hands on the delicious Kowie Gold Pilsner.
A lightly cloudy yellow-gold with a puffy white head, it looks the consummate pilsner. With wet grass and light spiciness on the nose, and a palate to match, it’s a refreshing springtime beer. And like a good pilsner, it finishes dry and slaking, managing an excellent balance between hoppiness, earthiness and tartness.
Brewed by Colin Coetzee, a 72-year-old ex-chief brewer of SAB, this is a beer that is well-conceptualised and made with a lot of love. Shirking the scientific rigours and industrial efficiency of his previous employers, Colin’s Little Brewery has an output of only 1000l a day, and every drop of it is obsessed over. It shows in both this beer and the Little Brewery’s other brew, the Coin Ale, a flavoursome brown ale with unexpected depth and sweetness.
So far their beers are available in only 24 locations throughout Port Alfred, Grahamstown, Kenton-on-Sea and Bathurst, but it’s well worth the fuss. The Brew Pub on Wharf Street in Port Alfred is also a winner.
Just one word of warning about the Little Brewery’s beers, however: some pubs in the region don’t store their kegs very well. The beer is unpasteurised and therefore spoils quicker and far more readily than commercial beers, and some bars in the area (I’m looking at you especially, Rat and Parrot) seem absolutely oblivious to this fact. Should your beer taste offish, tell the bar manager.
The Little Brewery on the River Kowie Gold Pilsner; 500ml draught; 4.5% a.b.v.
Pros: Yellow and summery; a consummate pilsner, with delicious light spiciness and tartness; a local specialty in the truest sense.
Cons: Away from Port Alfred, sometimes unavailable and incompetently stored by bars.
Remember Chick Beer? That pink and black polka-dotted light craft beer, the one that panders to the huge subset of females who are drawn to party typefaces and six-packs shaped like handbags? The one with a bustier silhouette taken from clip art and no information about its brewing technique or provenance? The one that doesn’t use just pink, but metallic cerise?
Yeah, I know. How could you?
A couple days ago, indybeers.com did a great interview with the makers of Chick Beer, which is brewed by a small independent company at Minhas Brewing Company in Maryland, USA. Having been relayed a number of questions and negative comments from Reddit’s r/beer community by the indybeer.com writers, Chick Beer’s creators’ are mostly indignant in the face of criticism:
Chick Beer has never been about making a brewing statement. Chick Beer is making a cultural statement. The fact is that – whether you like it or not – light American lager is by far the most popular style of beer in America. Chick Beer is merely acknowledging that women aren’t a niche market. At 25% of the market, they are more like a Grand Canyon. Women choose to drink Chick Beer because it is a brand that is for them.
But sometimes their beer crusade seems rather quixotic:
Beer has been around for thousands of years. Women have been around for even longer. So how is a beer for women a gimmick? Is beer a gimmick? Are women? Can we agree that the major light beers are marketed directly to men, what with all of the women in their commercials being bimbos and the charges that the drinkers are “unmanly”? Market segmentation is clearly not concept invented by us.
"How is beer for women a gimmick?" Phew – it seems someone’s in a bit of denial.
In any case, this interview is great reading, as is the rest of indybeer’s craft beer interview series. Highly recommended.
Beer and Islam. Two things that go together like… well, like two things that don’t go well together. Or so I thought.
I lived with a few Muslim guys for a year at university who really liked their beer, and my mates and I used to give them a pretty good ribbing. They said that alcohol was a long-tolerated tradition of many Muslim communities and that we were being narrow-minded by sarcastically giving them the “Good Muslim” award at the end of year fines evening. They brought up how Sufi mystics and poets often wrote about their love of wine, and not only as a metaphor for spiritual intoxication. I also had a few Muslim friends who would never dream of touching a drop of alcohol. It was complicated.
This sounds a lot more serious than it actually was - it was good-natured fun, after all - but it did raise an interesting issue: can beer and Islam co-exist?
The answer it seems is a qualified yes. While devout Muslims usually consider alcohol haraam, that is, forbidden, there exists many others who not only enjoy alcohol but make it too, arguing that alcohol has long been a part of Islamic culture. But how does it actually work in Arabia?
Enter Taybeh Brewery, Palestine’s only microbrewery. Run by Christians, its products are enjoyed by Muslims and secular Arabs alike. I found a very interesting article by the Guardian about this little brewery’s seventh annual Oktoberfest, held in its tiny home village on the West Bank.
To add to the bizarreness of the situation, this Oktoberfest, the seventh of its kind, took place not in hip Ramallah but in the remote village of Taybeh, perched picturesquely at 850m above sea level and with a population of just 1,500. Moreover, readers in western countries may wonder why thousands upon thousands of revellers had trekked all that way to attend a beer festival with only one beer on tap.
Secular Palestinians, expats and even leftist Israelis equipped with glasses of Taybeh beer wandered around food and handicraft stands, watched traditional Dabke dancers, modern music, comedy and theatrical performances.
Despite its remoteness and tiny proportions, Taybeh has earned its place on the cultural and social map as being the location of the only Palestinian beer brewery. It has battled the restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism to become a rare Palestinian business and cultural success story.
This may explain why Taybeh once adopted “Taste the revolution" as its advertising slogan. And, judging by its micro-brewery quality, the revolution tastes pretty good.
For an extremely interesting insight into how beer and Islam co-exists in a country whose largest city, you know, has a religiously-informed ban on all alcohol, this article is recommended reading. It also provides a very interesting perspective into how the issue of alcohol has been dealt with in Islamic cultural and historical writings and how non-Muslims enjoy their tipple while living in Islamic states.
Of course, I’m not going to argue about how a faith that isn’t mine deals with their matters, but from a beer perspective, this is very interesting indeed.
I while back I reviewed Napier Brewery’s Old Charlie, a thick, deeply tobacco-veined stout from Africa’s most southernmost brewery. I enjoyed it very much, so I looked forward to trying another product from Napier, this time their eponymous Ale.
It poured a very clear yellowish-brown with a thin creamy head. Lightly carbonated, it brought forth light notes of caramel, woodsmoke and tobacco, not entirely unlike the Old Charlie. I sipped, expecting something different, something spritely.
Instead I felt like I’d been here before. Disappointingly, I found that Napier Ale has a slightly toned-down version of the stout’s tobacco palate, but without the mouthfeel and body to adequately bring it across. Unmitigated by its slight sweetness and bitterness, it’s an ale whose body feels like it requires a good necking back, but has a palate that tends to make deep swigs quite unpleasant. Sipping, it’s just that little bit unsatisfying. Try to quench that tickle, however, and you’ll find Napier Ale’s aftertaste can verge on the ashtray-esque. Luckily, the finish doesn’t linger very long, but it doesn’t exactly make you want to delve back into it.
It’s a shame, because I expected a bit more variety in Napier’s range. It’s now apparent that they have a signature bouquet and palate, which is unique and delicious under the right conditions, but one that is much better realised in their stout than in this. My recommendation is to go for their Old Charlie instead.
Napier Ale, 550ml bottle, 4.5% a.b.v.
Pros: Looks appealing; another embodiment of Napier’s distinctive style.
Cons: Unbalanced in body and palate; aftertaste can be unpleasant.