Hidden away in a light industrial park on the edge of Kommetjie, Valley Brewery has been turning out solid and dependable beers for the past six months or so. Metalworker and chief brewer Glenn Adams has precision-built his brewery, in all of its stainless steel glory, from scratch. His ethos in construction carries onto his beers: he oversees the entire process himself, from cracking the grain to washing his kegs.
After some tentative first steps with his London Ale and Valley Weiss – both meticulously constructed examples of their respective styles – Glenn has released a new brew, the Dublin Dark.
And? Well, like his previous two beers, the Dublin Dark is dependable, uncomplicated and easy-drinking. This time, however, it’s a biscuity, well-bodied bitter with an everlasting light tan head and clean finish. While hopheads might find this a tad light on the palate, it still manages to deliver a rounded hop punch that’s best enjoyed at slightly warmer temperatures. (Think 15 degrees, rather than fresh out the fridge.) Its lightness and 4.5% a.b.v lends itself well to drinking with food, going down especially well with stodgy eats.
Still on track, then, Valley is producing clean, reliably good beers that, unlike some more well-known Western Cape breweries, aren’t toyed with by their maker from month to month.
That’s not to say that Valley isn’t experimenting, however, as there’s news of a collaboration brew with the esoteric brewmaster of Joburg’s Three Skulls Brewery, Jonathan Nel, on its way. Nicknamed “Valley of the Skulls”, their Cascadian Dark Ale is going to be available at next month’s Hop and Vine Festival, on 20/21 July at Simons @ Constantia.
So, if you weren’t going to be there already, I think you’d better change your plans.
Valley Brewery Dublin Dark, 440ml bottle, 4.5% a.b.v.
If you’d like to get hold of this beer, head on over to League of Beers and have it delivered straight to your door!
Porcupine Quill Brewery in Botha’s Hill, KwaZulu-Natal is one of South African craft beer’s hidden players. Tucked away in a sleepy corner of the Valley of 1000 Hills, Quill’s is an artisan’s paradise, comprising a deli, bakery and brewery, all fastidiously local-minded.
Quill’s range of eleven beers, under three different labels, aren’t very widely known or widely available. Although I had tried and reviewed one of their beers before (link), the full spectrum of their liquid exploits had eluded me for some time. So, when the opportunity arose to try out ten of their eleven beers at Banana Jam Café not too long ago, I took to it with enthusiasm.
Since there are a lot of beers, I’m not going to try review them all; rather, I’ll provide some rough tasting notes for each beer under each Quill’s brand, as well as notes of approval or disapproval.
Some preliminary notes, however: even though Porcupine Quill attempts to brew a large range of beer types, they are mostly brewed using flower hops, giving many of their beers a samey bitterness profile; floral and prickly acidic. It works well with some styles that they brew, and not so much with others. Attempts to taste the whole range like I did tend to descend into a pit of undistinguishable and strange bitterness; not bad, but it makes it tough to discern different flavour profiles between each beer towards the tail end. (The alcohol content is potent too, so watch out if you’re trying to session!)
But anyway (ratings out of 5 stars):
Quill’s, the flagship range of 5 beers. Most variety of styles and quality.
Karoo Red (5.5% a.b.v.): A light body of sour fruit overrided by sharp, almost prickly hoppiness. Finishes clean and tart. **1/2
Namaqua Blonde (4.5% a.b.v.): Light citrusy body with hints of mango and melon, follows through sharp with citrus zest; ends with slight burnt roast. Different, but entirely pleasant. ***
Blackdog Bitter (6% a.b.v.): Lacy. Molasses on the nose with some milk chocolate and burnt coffee; follows with sharp sweetness and burnt coffee on palate. Light-medium body. Best of the range. ***1/2
Flat Tail Ale (8% a.b.v.): Vanilla on nose; follows through with overbearing, thistle-prickly hops. Light body, light palate; packed with alcohol. **
Didn’t taste because of unavailability: Kalahari Gold (4.5% a.b.v.).
Dam Wolf, an “extreme beer” range of three beers. High alcohol content links all three.
Yellow Eyes (8% a.b.v.): Cloudy yellow-orange with minimal white head. Rose and indistinguishably acids on nose; follows very acidic (whole flower Challenger hops) with little mouthfeel on palate. Lemon zest and acid at the back of the throat. Finishes quite cleanly at first, then big kick of alcohol – almost unpleasant. A lot of bite, not much flavour; a shame, because I’ve had this before and it was much better. **
Howl & Cry (9% a.b.v.): Strong ale that pours ruby-orange. Hops on nose; hops on palate with touches of sour plum and tart fig. Very alcoholic, but has flavour to back it up. ***
Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing (9% a.b.v.): Light hoppy nose; alcohol and flower hops (again) on palate, rounded off by sour berries. Finishes with light, but very complex burnt roast. Lots of different kinds of malt here. An interesting one. ***
Impala Light (5% a.b.v.): Light in every way, except for its alcohol content: light hops, light roast, light malt; too few nuances with too much alcohol, verging on insipid. *1/2
Amber Ale (6% a.b.v.): Pours coppery. Caramel on nose; sharp, clean hops rounded off with light toffee and extremely slight smokiness on palate. Unexpectedly rich, but finishes clean. Although I didn’t enjoy it when I last had it, this time it was lovely. ***1/2
Blackbuck Bitter (7.5% a.b.v.): Red berries and light roast on nose; sweet and lightly roasty on palate; finishes clean and sour. One of the few PC beers to manage the prickliness of the hops well. ***
Recommendations of the lot: Quill’s Blackdog Bitter, African Moon Amber Ale and Dam Wolf Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. A good beer out of each range; a nice symmetry there.
The final word on Porcupine Quill, then? For better or worse, a range of beers unlike anywhere else in South Africa. Definitely search them out if you’re in the area of Botha’s Hill, especially you’re a hop head.
If you’d like to get hold of beers from Quills, Dam Wolf or African Moon, head on over to League of Beers and have them delivered straight to your door!
The second iteration of the Clarens Craft Beer Festival gets underway this weekend in every beer drinker’s favourite Free State town. Such was last year’s success that the festival now has a big name sponsor in the guise of SAB, who look to be entering the craft market despite not being, in any reasonable sense of the word, a craft brewery.
Regardless of what SAB does, however, South Africa’s craft beer explosion has been and will always be chiefly the project of small brewers. The newest contender to enter the burgeoning fray is Jo’burg’s Three Skulls Brew Works. Their slick skull stylings have piqued a lot of attention in the run-up to their official launch this weekend in Clarens – and their beers sound awesome as well.
In anticipation of the launch, I got a few words in with Three Skulls’ owner Jonathan Nel – who up until last year was Brand Manager for SAB’s Dreher Premium Lager – about his latest project.
So, what’s the ethos behind Three Skulls?
The Three Skulls Brew Works has been designed to be a brewery without fear. The brewery manifesto is ” Why not”. You’ll notice there is no question mark there, because it’s not a question. It’s a statement.
We aren’t afraid to chuck mango, passionfruit and lavender in a wheat beer, or to throw copious amounts of American hops into our APAs. That is not to say we are a brewery built on excess, but rather one that will break the rules, not for the sake of being a rebel, but because we can and we will.
How exciting is it to launch at one of South Africa’s largest festivals?
When I noticed the date of the Clarens Festival in January, I knew that we had to launch there. I’ve never been to Clarens and I heard incredibly good feedback from last year’s festival so I knew it would be the perfect place and time to let the world know of our intentions and to put our beer where your mouths are. Nothing is more important to me than feedback from people who take craft beer seriously.
One of the major positives about being a small microbrewery is that you can be agile. If a product doesn’t work you can change it, if your label isn’t touching the right consumer you make a new one and you can probably do it in two weeks. It is my sincere hope that everyone who tries the Golden Skull APA is surprised by the flavour we have milked out of those beautiful hops.
Well, on that note, how has interest been so far?
Considering how new the company is, the interest has been very positive. Our Facebook page has generated a lot of interest and our unorthodox website has created a lot of speculation around our label, products and who’s behind the whole thing.
I really feel that South Africa is on the brink, if not well on its way, to a craft beer explosion. Beer drinkers want more flavour, different flavours, different beer styles and even different bottle sizes or glasses. From what has happened in the last two months, I am overwhelmingly positive about what the future holds for the Skulls, and for South African craft beer drinkers.
A thing on a lot of people’s lips at the moment is the involvement of SAB at this year’s festival – what’s your take on it?
This is a tricky situation for everyone involved. I am an ex-SAB employee of 6 years in Brand Marketing and Innovation so I understand the motivation behind SAB’s support and interest in the craft beer industry. While I am sure that the craft brewers could organise and host these festivals without the help of SAB, their funds, prizes and PR machine obviously do help the festival reach more people and widen the net for the brewers.
SAB has some of the best brewers in the world without a doubt, who make the products that have made SAB the world’s second-largest brewer, but a craft beer festival should be about craft beer. The beer drinkers can decide for themselves who they want to support. To my mind the craft brewers make beer vastly different to anything that SAB is marketing and there is more than enough space for everyone to change the world.
What styles will you be offering at Clarens, and where will your beer be available in the future?
I am taking three variants to the festival: one is an American Pale Ale bursting with Simcoe and Cascade hops, but nicely balanced with a fine toasted malt backbone. The citrus, grapefruit nose hints at the hop explosion on your first sip, which fades away nice and quickly to get you ready for your second sip. The second is a mango, passionfruit and lavender wheat beer of around 3.5%. I used organic mangoes and passion fruit with a lavender tea which makes the wheat beer a little sweet, which is balanced nicely by the spice of the yeast and a slight herby aroma from the lavender. The last beer is a light wheat beer made with organic peaches and rosemary. It’s a 3.5% ABV wheat beer which is really refreshing, yet unusual. The peach is unmistakable on the nose, but the sip delivers a spice and herb combination that is most intriguing.
Distribution for now will be limited to a few local markets and hopefully some craft friendly bars in the Joburg North area, but all will be revealed post Clarens on our website, Facebook and Twitter. (http://www.threeskulls.co.za / @threeskullsbeer)
The 2012 Clarens Craft Beer Festival is on Saturday 25 February. For more info, visit http://www.clarensbeerfestival.co.za/
If you’d like to get hold of Three Skulls’ beers, head on over to League of Beers and have them delivered straight to your door!
Camelthorn Red Ale and shitake mushroom dumpling from the Old Biscuit Mill’s Neighbour Goods Market. Although Camelthorn’s Fresh is the market’s best low-alc morning tipple, the American-influenced Red Ale sits well on a hangover-less stomach. Subtly hoppy and smooth with hints of grapefruit and currants, it’s a bright beer for a bright morning.
Hanno from Camelthorn also has the best tattoos in Southern African beer by a mile, too.
Cape Town is market city; Hout Bay is market town. Just down the road from the tourist trap stalls of the decades-old Lions Craft Market and yappy curio sellers by Mariners Wharf is a colourful and gratifyingly authentic indoor market.
In an old harbourside warehouse, made complete with wafts of rotting fish from nearby factories and docks, a hundred or so vendors of all kinds set up shop to form what is perhaps Hout Bay’s best shopping experience. (It’d be its best eating experience too, if it weren’t for Massimo’s.). Although seemingly only a godsend in comparison with Hout Bay’s other marina markets, the truth is that the Bay Harbour Market is one of the Western Cape’s best: chic but relaxed; free of posturing and entirely good-natured; buzzing but never uncomfortable.
Great produce is accompanied by craft beer supplied by Keg King. This past weekend featured local favourites Darling along with the ever-improving Napier and ever-present stalwarts Paulaner. Everson’s craft cider is also available across from the beer. Gourmet sandwiches and R15 hotdogs sit together comfortably ten metres away. Live music wafts over the busy stalls. The smoke from fried sausages and brewing coffee mingle easily in the seaside air.
But don’t let me spoil the surprises for you. Rather, let these photographs whet your appetite for a wonderful day out. The Bay Harbour Market is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Follow @bayharbourmkt, too.
Just watch out for the dive-bombing seagulls in the parking lot.
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.
'Then on Friday I got this call from a shebeen. They said my rep hadn't arrived with the beer.' Chris Barnard shrugs. Eleven years ago he was a simpler man, a Capetonian plastics manufacturer working in Paarden Eiland with a part-time penchant for homebrewing. He’d recently spent a year visiting German hamlets with his soon-to-be wife, indulging in their seemingly endless varieties of small-batch brewed beer. Upon his return to SA, he found local commercial brews to be unpalatable in comparison, so he set up a small brewing operation in his factory’s garage in an attempt to provide himself and his friends with an alternative. 'I was brewing more than we could drink though,' he recalls, 'so I thought, well, let's sell the excess to the okes working in the factory. I was unlicensed, so there was no duty on it. We were practically giving it to them.' 'But it turned out these okes were going to my secretary, getting labels from her, and – because the company was called the Boston Bag Company – wrote 'Boston Breweries' on the bottles and sold them to shebeens.' And that’s how Boston Breweries started. Chris suddenly found himself spending four days a week in his factory’s garage in order to directly supply shebeens with his homebrew. 'I reckoned, well, you're unlicensed, I'm unlicensed – let's make beer.' The story comes easily. He’s proud of his brewery’s genesis. What officially started as a garage operation with an output of 4 000 litres a month in 2000 is today an 80 000 litre-a-month microbrewery, brewing a dozen or so beers within its walls that are enjoyed throughout SA – and not only in shebeens. But you can tell Chris wasn’t counting on his little project getting so big: the factory floor is a haphazard maze of boilers, fermentation tanks and packaging lines. As such, he recently began applying the classic paradigm of New York City real estate to solve his space issues: grow taller, not broader. He’s cut the tops off his fermentation tanks in a bid to expand their capacity. It’s undeniably the work of a man obsessive about his craft. In addition to the five Boston-branded beers – of which the fresh, lightly malty Naked Mexican and the caramel-toned kick of the Hazard Ten Ale are most recommended – Barnard’s premises are also the birthplace of beers for both Jack Black Brewery and the increasingly-popular Darling Brewery. But the most exciting development at Boston is undoubtedly the creation of SA’s first commercially-brewed pumpkin ale. Traditionally a North American seasonal, pumpkin ale is a point of contention for new world beer connoisseurs, some of whom argue that they’re too cloying and gimmicky to be taken seriously. Boston’s Van Hunk’s Pumpkin Ale doesn’t fall into that trap, however. Lightly pumpkin-pie sweet and satisfyingly bitter, its rich veins of nutmeg, coriander and cinnamon create a sprightly and aromatic ale that’s bound to appeal to enthusiasts and more tentative drinkers alike. Admittedly, it might not sell so well in shebeens, but it certainly sets the bar for more innovation from Cape Town’s resident plastics manufacturer-cum-chief brewer. 'I just think it's a cool beer,' he says, shrugging again, equal parts resigned and content. — This piece was originally written for GQ.co.za, and is viewable here.
'Then on Friday I got this call from a shebeen. They said my rep hadn't arrived with the beer.'
Chris Barnard shrugs. Eleven years ago he was a simpler man, a Capetonian plastics manufacturer working in Paarden Eiland with a part-time penchant for homebrewing. He’d recently spent a year visiting German hamlets with his soon-to-be wife, indulging in their seemingly endless varieties of small-batch brewed beer. Upon his return to SA, he found local commercial brews to be unpalatable in comparison, so he set up a small brewing operation in his factory’s garage in an attempt to provide himself and his friends with an alternative.
'I was brewing more than we could drink though,' he recalls, 'so I thought, well, let's sell the excess to the okes working in the factory. I was unlicensed, so there was no duty on it. We were practically giving it to them.'
'But it turned out these okes were going to my secretary, getting labels from her, and – because the company was called the Boston Bag Company – wrote 'Boston Breweries' on the bottles and sold them to shebeens.'
And that’s how Boston Breweries started. Chris suddenly found himself spending four days a week in his factory’s garage in order to directly supply shebeens with his homebrew.
'I reckoned, well, you're unlicensed, I'm unlicensed – let's make beer.' The story comes easily. He’s proud of his brewery’s genesis.
What officially started as a garage operation with an output of 4 000 litres a month in 2000 is today an 80 000 litre-a-month microbrewery, brewing a dozen or so beers within its walls that are enjoyed throughout SA – and not only in shebeens. But you can tell Chris wasn’t counting on his little project getting so big: the factory floor is a haphazard maze of boilers, fermentation tanks and packaging lines. As such, he recently began applying the classic paradigm of New York City real estate to solve his space issues: grow taller, not broader. He’s cut the tops off his fermentation tanks in a bid to expand their capacity. It’s undeniably the work of a man obsessive about his craft.
In addition to the five Boston-branded beers – of which the fresh, lightly malty Naked Mexican and the caramel-toned kick of the Hazard Ten Ale are most recommended – Barnard’s premises are also the birthplace of beers for both Jack Black Brewery and the increasingly-popular Darling Brewery. But the most exciting development at Boston is undoubtedly the creation of SA’s first commercially-brewed pumpkin ale. Traditionally a North American seasonal, pumpkin ale is a point of contention for new world beer connoisseurs, some of whom argue that they’re too cloying and gimmicky to be taken seriously.
Boston’s Van Hunk’s Pumpkin Ale doesn’t fall into that trap, however. Lightly pumpkin-pie sweet and satisfyingly bitter, its rich veins of nutmeg, coriander and cinnamon create a sprightly and aromatic ale that’s bound to appeal to enthusiasts and more tentative drinkers alike. Admittedly, it might not sell so well in shebeens, but it certainly sets the bar for more innovation from Cape Town’s resident plastics manufacturer-cum-chief brewer.
'I just think it's a cool beer,' he says, shrugging again, equal parts resigned and content.
This piece was originally written for GQ.co.za, and is viewable here.
(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.
This Ratebeer user’s post raises a few pertinent questions: are people tasting Black Label’s opinions skewed because they are used to “a European variant of beer”? What? Do South Africans (because that’s who I assume he means by “we”) actually not like fruity beers or ales? Do we see fruity beers as unnatural? Do we think Carling is a good “all natural” South African brand?
This is so confusin-
On second thoughts, I think I might have just been trolled. Either that, or SAB got an employee to put a positive review of Black Label on Ratebeer in order to balance out the ones already there, some of which are profoundly negative. But if that was the case, then why would they plug Windhoek? Confusion still reigns, it seems.
In any case, you see this bizarre review of Black Label on Ratebeer for yourself here.