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?
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
On Saturday I stopped off by Ferryman’s Tavern at the Waterfront to have a beer and catch the Rugby Sevens final between New Zealand and the Blitzbokke. I was unpleasantly surprised to find that, although it may be the V&A’s oldest pub, it’s definitely not one of its best.
R28 each for the house ale (a rebranded Mitchell’s Old 90/90 Shilling Ale, as I’ve been told) and Mitchell’s Foresters Draught, which until 2007 were brewed next door, didn’t do much to soothe the Bokke’s rather heartbreaking last-second loss to the All Blacks.
I suppose the moral of the story is that, if you find yourself thirsty at the Waterfront, you should probably rather try either Paulaner or Mitchell’s instead.
Yesterday I went to Newlands. A good thing in itself, I ended up paying R20 for the greatest single day of test cricket played in Cape Town for about a couple decades. 23 wickets fell on the bowlers’ day of all bowlers’ days. I made some friends, basked in the shadow of mountain and brewery, had a couple draughts and took some photographs. Have a brilliant weekend, everyone. Summer is finally rearing its head.
Saturday was a real no-gooder. After a long night out at Mercury, which included far too much dancing and far too many conversations with Congolese car guards, I woke up at midday feeling rather, well, tired. My housemate woke up an hour later with swift complaints about how late we had slept in. Half of Saturday was wasted to sleep, so we had to make the best of what turned out to be a lovely spring afternoon.
After a pint and a sandwich at Barristers in Newlands Village, my housemate and I stopped off at the bottle store at Montclare Centre to pick up some supplies for the Springboks-All Blacks test later that afternoon. Once in the cold room, I was very happy to find a selection of Mitchell’s ales packed away in the corner. Even better: each 1l bottle cost only R25. Hell yes.
I really like Mitchell’s Brewery’s brand identity - it’s clean, slick and has the air of a brewery that knows exactly what it is and what it’s doing. No whimsical descriptions of the beer or its brewers on the label; just clean black, liberal use of Gill Sans and a hand-marked best before label. But I digress:
There were a number of beers on offer, but, as my choice of elixir, I went with the Milk & Honey Ale.
Now, I wouldn’t say that the Milk & Honey Ale is a good beer for drinking while watching rugby, but probably only because it isn’t the world’s most easy-sippin’ beer. It pours dark amber with a very light head and offers a bittersweet honeycomb aroma. Honey abounds on the palate too, but it isn’t particularly sweet. In fact, it’s quite a bitter beer, <ponce> especially for an English-style ale. </ponce>
The honey notes finish quickly, leaving some truly bitter notes behind, which becomes an unpleasant sensation after three quarters of a glass. Perhaps I felt it was a bit cloying only because I was trying to enjoy it on a crisp, sunny spring afternoon. (Or more likely because I don’t have the palate for ales yet.) In any case, I think the aftertaste might be mitigated by a more cosy setting with some decent conversation, not while loutishly shouting at John Smit.
All said, it really is not a bad beer at all, but I think it requires a certain setting. I also have a feeling it has to be fully enjoyed with food. I’ve always quite liked Mitchell’s beers, and I think I’ll revisit this one in due time.
Mitchell’s Milk & Honey Ale; 1l plastic bottle; 5.5% abv.
Pros: Good carbonation; delivers on honey; delightfully hoppy; great price.
Cons: Cloyingly bitter aftertaste.
Anyway: yay Springboks. Do you think we have a chance at the World Cup?