Whilst flirting with the idea of becoming a Trappist monk in the Orval monastery in Wallonia, Belgium, I got to know quite a bit about beer. In between the moments of reading, solitude, prayer, harp-playing and celibacy we young “monnik snuiters” would help Brother Derickk clean his beer brewery. Old steel tanks were scrubbed with cheese-cloth, barrels would be rinsed and the interiors burnt with sulphur sticks, and barley and wheat sacks needed repairing. We also got to taste some of Brother Derrickk’s brews, which to a palate nurtured on Amstel and Lion Lager was akin to eating Beluga Caviar for the first time after a life on Glenryck Pilchards and Redro Fish Paste.
These were not beers, but flavoursome and structured works of palate-enlightening art. Smooth and rich, velvety in texture, aromas and tastes of spice, herb and citrus…plus alcohol levels around seven percent which played hell on our vow of celibacy – unless one was willing to pull a bit of brotherly weisswürst on the side.
This monastic interlude, plus an earlier misspent youth in the pubs of Britain, resulted in my appreciation for beer, a beverage I knock back with wanton abandon and gusto in-between my daily wine-work.
The past week-end being a scorcher in the Cape and finding myself with a raging thirst brought on by a massive Shiraz-induced hang-over, I moseyed down to the Festival of Beer in Green Point. Not just to check out the beers as such, but also to catch-up with an old pal, photographer Ryno Reyneke who had just worked on a book called African Brew – Exploring the Craft of South African Beer (Random House Struik).
In talking about his book, Ryno and I took an amble around the stands. And I was genuinely surprised to hear that Cape Town was now the craft beer capital of South Africa, a title I had assumed belonged to the hippy, dope-smoking colonial towns of KwaZulu-Natal. However, while the Western Cape lists 21 craft beer breweries, KZN is down to seven with Gauteng coming in at a none-too-shabby 18.
The Festival of Beer showcased a selection of South African craft beer breweries, as well as a few importers of moreish foreign beers, namely Duvel.
Walking around with a glass of beer on a sunny morning checking out the scene and sucking in the vibe, it is evident that something is happening here. There is interest, passion, enthusiasm and a laid-back joie-de-vivre among the brewers. And the beers are not bad, either.
For me, craft beer has to be pulled from a keg. The bottled versions from local producers I have encountered do not showcase the mouth-feel, vibrancy and flavour profiles they do when spouting from a steel pipe into a glass, the head settling into a creamy, frothy pillow atop a cold, clear layer of amber.
Jack Black is not only a craft beer pioneer, but remains my favourite in this environment. The straight lager is clean and brisk, with an accessible smoothness making this ideal for drinking eight pints of before going for a night on the town seeking some chip-shop violence. The Jack Black Pale Ale has a bit more depth and yeastiness due to it being an ale, but maintains the vivid vibrancy and freshness of the lager.
Other local beers sampled included Triggerfish, Darling, CBC, Stellenbrau, Wild Clover Brewery Saggy Stone, Birkenhead and Gallows Hill, but I spent a fair bit downing gorgeous draught Pilsener Urquell from Czechoslovakia and a bit of Belgian Duvel on the side.
Rob Armstrong, owner and winemaker from Haut Espoir was on hand to launch to beers from his Ndlovu outfit, and I especially liked the weissbeer matured in a used Chardonnay barrel, proving that the wine and craft beer industries can feed off each other.
There is definitely a lot going on here on the craft beer scene. The products are classy and diverse, with a beer suiting everyone’s taste – from a hammerhead of a full stout to a sprightly, brisk lager. Names and branding are funky and cool and the beer folk are a laid-back bunch, definitely an addition to the myriad offerings found in Brand Cape Town, where as we know monks do it by the barrel.
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