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 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.
Watching my beloved Springboks continue their imperious march towards their third world title last Saturday, I cracked open a Bokbeer by Windhoek’s Camelthorn Brewery that had been sitting in my fridge for a couple weeks. I enjoyed it, so, in celebration of the clash between Camelthorn’s homeland of Namibia and the Springboks in the Rugby World Cup today, I’ve decided to review their seasonal winter brew.
As one would expect, Camelthorn’s Bokbeer is an old fashioned weizenbok, or dark wheat beer. This kind of beer isn’t very common in South Africa, so you might need to know that a “bok” or “bock”, which is a general German term for a dark, highly-fermented beer, is a beer style that can come in many different colours and strengths. It can get confusing with maibocks, doppelbocks, weizenbocks and just plain bocks all in the mix. Traditionally, however, they are usually dark and contain more than 6.25% a.b.v.
Weizenboks are also usually served in autumn and winter, so - along with the very convenient visual pun it makes with the national animal of Namibia, the gemsbok, on the Bokbeer’s label - it would make sense that this would be Camelthorn’s winter seasonal.
True to form, it pours a deep dark brown with a high-rising creamy head that takes an unexpectedly long time to dissipate. Even though I drank it a bit warmer than ice-cold1, the aroma isn’t much to write home about, mostly consisting of deep malt and a bit of banana. That said, it sips beautifully. Malty, smooth and just the littlest bit sour, it’s a very enjoyable beer. I’m usually not the hugest fans of boks, but I think that might have something to do with the scarcity of good examples of the style in SA. Happily, Camelthorn’s offering readdresses the balance.
Too many of these delightful little bottles and you’ll end up on your ass but, while watching the Springboks put the Welwitchsias to the sword - sorry Camelthorn guys - that’s maybe what you’d like.
Camelthorn Bokbeer, 300ml bottle, 7% a.b.v.
Pros: Deep, smooth and satisfying; good example of underutilised beer style.
Cons: Even for a seasonal beer, it was rather difficult for an average consumer to get hold of.
1 It helps to drink some kinds of beers at slightly warmer temperatures, otherwise the flavours and aromas of the beer are slightly suppressed. I’m not talking about drinking them warm, but drinking at about 10 or 12 degrees (as opposed to 4 or 5) can heighten the flavour of a beer tremendously. That’s why Castle Lite needs to be served ice-cold: when it’s warm, it tastes crap.
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?