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.