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.
(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.
Just as I had thought I had temporarily run out of beers in my immediate vicinity, those lovely people at Boston Breweries sent me through some today to review for you, dear reader.
My satisfaction at what I thought was going to be a sample pack quickly turned into laughter as I beheld what was inside. I think this is going to be a very interesting month. A month in Beer City. Population: me.
Here lies my assignment for the next while: taste and review each of these beers brewed at Boston Brewery, in addition to my usual updates. Phew.
The first five beers here are, from left to right:
• Boston Lager; Boston’s premium lager brand; 4% a.b.v.
• Hazzard Ten Ale; a rather dangerous-looking American-style strong ale; 10% a.b.v
• Johnny Gold; a classy-lookin’ weiss; 5% a.b.v.
• Whale Tale Ale; a light ale; 3.5% a.b.v.
• Naked Mexican; a pale lager, which I reviewed on Monday (link).
These five are exciting enough, but what has really got me champing at the bit to get stuck in are these three beers from Bierwerk, a line of beers brewed at Boston and sold in Denmark and Italy, as well in SA. I have never tried any of these before and apparently there are only a few cases still around of them.
These three are:
• Aardwolf, a coffee-infused stout made from five different dark grains, molasses and roasted African coffee; 8.5.% a.b.v.
• Vlakvark, a traditional English bitter made with South African barley and hops; 3.8% a.b.v.
• and Renosterbos, which sounds so amazing I’m not really too sure where to start. Technically a barleywine, it’s an ale brewed with cane sugar and fermented with both ale and wine yeast strains. It is then aged in red wine barrels for seven months. 11% a.b.v.
Needless to say I am very excited to try these all out. The fact that all of these beers - along with their Van Hunks Pumpkin Ale and the beers of Darling Brewery and Jack Black - are all brewed at Boston’s premises in Paarden Eiland is really quite something. If anything, it is a huge indicator of the incredible variety of beers being produced by micro- and macrobrewers just even in the Western Cape.
In my opinion, there’s no excuse to feel restricted with your beer choices around in South Africa - you just need to do a little searching, and you’re bound to find more quality beers in more styles than you first thought. This represents only a small portion of what there is around here, and an even smaller proportion of what is possible.
So, I’d like to extend my sincerest thanks to Chris and Russ at Boston for their sending these all through to me today, and also to Christian from Bierwerk. Guys like you make doing this blog a real pleasure.
A humble apology: I know I have been silent these past two days. But it’s been for a good reason, apart from the fact that my last days as a postgraduate student are looming dark and menacing.
By way of apology, please find here The Unofficial We Love Real Beer Fest Drink Guide, in which I - with a great deal of conjecture and not a lot of skill - will attempt to lay out your best beer options for Friday evening’s festival of everything that is good about beer, food, women with unnatural hair colours, overpriced bruschetta and button-up shirts.
(In case you weren’t aware: the superlative We Love Real Beer Festival is having its latest incarnation this Friday evening at the Old Biscuit Mill on Albert Road in Woodstock. Entrance is R50 with a free branded pint glass on entry. The experience, however, is priceless: plenty pretty people, plenty delicious beer and food, plenty great times.)
So, without further ado:
THE UNOFFICIAL WE LOVE REAL BEER FEST DRINKING GUIDE
First tipple: the daylight supreme
I’m assuming you will arrive at WLRB after work, unlike me, as I have no job. Although the festival begins at 4 p.m., it will likely only kick off in earnest at about 6 p.m., just as the sun begins its slow descent under the horizon. Table Mountain starts darkening against the sky; the city begins to come alive for the first of many warm weekend nights.
Getting aquainted with the WLRB Fest hall, the same one used for the Neighbour Goods Market every Saturday morning, you find a beer that is remarkably apt for such a time as this: Camelthorn’s Sundowner. A light Marzen-style beer, it abounds with spiciness and freshness. Marzens are usually the stock and trade of the traditional Oktoberfest, so this beer is well-suited to the time of year and the spirit of this festival. You’re impressed. Further, it’s Camelthorn’s summer seasonal, so you figure you best start maximising the time you have to enjoy it.
And enjoy it you do: you sip your Sundowner, looking over the darkening surrounds of Woodstock and beyond, anticipating what remains of what should be a most excellent night.
Second tipple: A failed male fantasy
But you need food now. Your thirst admirably quenched, you mill through the crowds to find nourishment. You haven’t eaten yet today. You’ve been saving all your money up for expensive beer. Food just equals money taken away from beer, but you realise your attempt to minimise non-beer-related expenses is ultimately quixotic. You head for some man selling a steak sarmie for R200, but instead settle in the crowd surrounding an incredibly pretty girl selling vegetarian wraps. Befuddled by her light dimples and doe eyes, you buy a butternut and feta phyllo wrap from her for R50. She hands it over to you, cradling it with her long delicate fingers. She smiles and delivers a cheery, somehow sultry “thank you” and sets her gaze on the next man clutching his money in sweaty palms. You try to catch her eye again but no, she has already moved on.
Realising you have, yet again, been had by a beautiful woman, you search for something to wash down both your wrap and the stinging pain in your heart. You head to Mitchell’s and grab a Forester’s Draught: hoppy, refreshing and always dependable. It goes well with any food and has never let you down. You wash down the average wrap with relish, one eye on the hazelnut-tressed siren that lured you to a foodie doom being chatted up by her bearded, fedora-hat-wearing boyfriend.
The world is not fair.
Third tipple: Something different
Broken-hearted, you turn your attention to the matter at hand: you’re here because you love beer, not a wrap-toting harlot in a high-waisted skirt, bent on delivering her goods to any man with a handful of cash. You try to scope out something different. It’s 8 p.m. now: the Old Biscuit Mill is filling up fast. Brewers & Union are surrounded by rich men with cash to blow on imported beer; Jack Black’s inundated by people asking for free draught glasses, having already smashed theirs on the pavement; everyone at Camelthorn is now speaking German and communication with them has become impossible.
You retreat to the dark corners of the hangar hall, where you find Karoo Brew. Starved of love and attention, you order their Karoo Honey, a honey ale containing all the depth and sweetness that the girl of your dreams briefly promised but never delivered. You leave the hall and stand outside in the cool spring air, sipping your honey ale. Its maltiness sits wonderfully in your stomach, blanketing what remains of the wrap of deceit.
You wander around, chat to some acquaintances, and start to feel good. In the midst of a conversation with your graphic design buddies about visual onomatopoeia in this campaign they’re doing for some NGO-or-something-I-don’t-really-know-what-it-is, you spy a gaggle of your ex-lovers chatting in the corner. You try to ignore them, but you can’t. Curious, you sneak a glance at them. You never knew they were friends. They look at you out the sides of their eyes, giggling. Perhaps they are talking about your common bad flatulence, or your underwhelming skills in bed. Whatever it is, it’s about you, and it’s not good.
You suddenly feel yourself sucked out from all that goodness and all the love that surrounds you. You are plunged into the depths of dispair.
Fourth tipple: the depths of dispair
Darkness. Blackness. Dark blackness. You may have a BA in English and Philosophy, but you are suddenly unable to find the words to describe the starless, moonless gloom that has enveloped your soul. You stumble back inside the hall, clutching your beer glass, searching for something that will speak to the shadows residing inside your heart.
You find Darling Brewery. You spot black bottles. They have what look like ravens on them. Perfect.
"I’ll have three of those please."
"Three Black Mists right up.”
Black motherflippen Mist. You clench your beers threefold and head back out into the night. You sit alone. You start sipping. They’re delicious. One by one you slick back the inky, inky stouts. Their deep malt echoes through the hollow recesses of your psyche. The fullness of its mouthfeel begins to seep through your veins.
It’s your own little dark rite. Your friends surround you. Their faces morph in various shapes. Their voices ring in your head demonically. They pick you up, their shoulders slung under your armpits. Your teeth gnash; unintelligible words spurt forth from your mouth. You drop the empty bottles of Black Mist. They shatter on the brickwork.
Your ex-lovers look towards you with vindication. You realise they were right about you. It’s the last functioning thought that you have tonight, a night of soul-searching and disappointment. Another installment in a line of low-rent tragedies.
But you drank good beer, at least. In this you take solace as you are bundled into the back of a taxi and a Francophone man with three teeth and a hearty laugh drives you to your matchbox apartment in Gardens.
Well, needless to say, that didn’t turn out how I initially expected it to. In any case, my suggestions are that you try something new on Friday - especially the Sundowner and the Black Mist, which, all joking aside, are great beers - and have an enjoyable time. But please - please - don’t drink and drive. And don’t look the vendors in the eye.
See you Friday! :D
My father’s family is from the Lake District, that most famous of verdant English counties, the beauty of which inspired Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey to write swathes upon swathes of poems. In my childhood I visited my dad’s hometown of Maryport every year. It isn’t the world’s best town - in fact it’s very grim in places - but it was where my family lived, so I have fond memories of it. We went to mass every Sunday in a dusty old redbrick church, and I had many happy childhood holidays playing with my cousins.
I suppose this is an odd way to start a beer review, but hear me out. I bought Napier Brewery’s Old Charlie Stout from eBooze.co.za yesterday (my review’s here), and it’s affected me utterly. I still haven’t finished drinking it, and yet I feel I need to write about it.
I was surprised when I cracked open the 550ml bottle. It smelt of pipe tobacco and hops. More of an
English bitter rauchbier than the sort of stout most South Africans are accustomed to. I poured it. It poured black - impenetrable black, the kind of abyss into which all life recedes. Dark mahogany gilded the edges of the glass, and a slight toffee-coloured head formed. A review of the Old Charlie draught on ratebeer.com had made me expect an “almost clear brownish orange.” This didn’t seem like the same beer.
I sipped. There was such a deep roast on the malt that I had to stop to take it in. Again, pipe tobacco and hops abounded. It was bitter, and went down smoothly, albeit a bit thinly.
And it was then I was taken back to my childhood holidays, to Maryport and the winter rain and dirt and fields and floral carpets, to cigarette-infused curtains and faux-wood fireplaces, to the electric transformers down the road from my gran’s house. To hot pots and pale gammon roasts. To black-painted chipped waist-high garden gates that squeak with each opening and closing. Grey skies, grey seas; uncomfortable pebble beaches. It gave me one straight shiver down my spine. I felt like I had had my fourth pipe of the day. It made me utterly, profoundly sad.
This may sound like a terrible thing, but it was nothing terrible at all. It was astonishing. I don’t expect anyone else to like this beer, and I don’t even think I will buy it that often because of the way it makes me feel, but it has left such an impression on me. I feel drunk and I’ve only had half a glass.
I don’t know if anyone else will feel this way about Old Charlie, his hound’s-tooth hat and decades-old argyle jumper, but if bringing up emotions through bouquet and palate and hops and roast isn’t what craft beer is ultimately about, then I think I’m missing the whole point.
How Napier managed this is brilliant. I don’t expect it to bring them awards, but it gave me something, something I’m not too sure I’ll forget too soon.
Old Charlie Napier Stout; 550ml bottle; 4.5% abv.
Pros: Dense veins of tobacco on palate and nose; smooth and somehow light; an excellent take on English bitter.
Cons: Probably not to everyone’s taste; ugly label.
For those of you who don’t know, I’m finishing off my Honours in Media and English at the University of Cape Town. I have a lot of work ahead of me in the next few weeks. Obviously Suip is part of that work - better content just means later nights.