For those of stout heart
Nobody likes it dark and strong these days, it would appear. The recently embalmed Hugo Chávez has been getting a fair rogering for being a “tyrant” despite being the democratically elected (although admittedly flawed) president of Venezuela. Angry blacks are just soooo threatening and, to top it off, finding a well-poured Guinness or locally produced stout on tap in any of the country’s major cities is about as easy as finding an English-speaking white person who did actually vote for the National Party during apartheid.
The Radium, Zoo Lake Bowling Club and The Irish Club in Linden are probably three of Johannesburg’s finer options for a Guinness, but very few pubs, including those specialising in craft beer, appear to be keen on keeping locally produced stout or Russian Imperial Ale on tap in the Big Smog.
Likewise, in Cape Town, the artisanal draught beer tends to veer towards mirroring the city’s taste in models: wispy, blonde and lacking just enough character to make them unchallenging to the palate or intellect. The latter is of course a gross exaggeration because there have been several blonde models who have challenged the palate … with two fingers down the throat, usually.
Stouts, with their heavily roasted, almost burnt malt flavours, appeared to be the pint of choice for punters in England in the 1700s. The Russian Imperials, which have much higher alcohol per volume content and durability for export, emerged in the same century that British brewers were supplying the court of Russian Empress Catherine the Great and others to the east of Austria.
So, where to go to get liquid dried fruit and burnt toast on tap? Enter Unity, in that often underrated harbour city, Durban. A gastro-pub, on the corner of Silverton and Vause roads in the Musgrave area, Unity has developed into a passionate, knowledgeable and well-stocked purveyor of locally produced beer and ales (a full review will follow in a later column) since it opened more than a year ago. And they have dark bitterness on tap — perfect for contrarians, poets, journalists and other misanthropes. In this case, it’s a Honey Badger Imperial Stout produced by Old Main Brewery, which is situated in Hillcrest.
The Honey Badger is much lower in alcohol per volume (4%) than the traditional Russian Imperial-style ales (from 9% and going up, up and up towards wine territory) and is eminently quaffable. Dark brown to black in colour, it is medium bodied with hints of coffee and chocolate, and finishes like an in-form Lewis Hamilton — dark and smooth.
The Honey Badger is also available at its source, the Old Main Brewery, at the corner of Old Howick Road and Dennis Shepstone Drive in Hilton, which also has its own restaurant and pub.
I haven’t stumbled across the Honey Badger on tap in any of the Johannesburg or Cape Town watering holes, but mine is anything but an authoritative shuffle around South Africa (give me three months, though). So, in lieu of a conclusive list of places to drink this characterful yet quaffable stout, here are some recommendations for locally produced dark brews that should be available either in a pub or bottle store near you:
The Black Widow Stout from Cockpit Brewery is intensely chocolatey with coffee and raisin-tasting notes.
Standeaven is another very well-roasted, flavourful stout and has the potential to be the Steve Biko of Black Beer Consciousness.
Darling’s Black Mist is probably the most easy to find at a liquor shop near you.