South Africans are acquiring a taste for 'craft' ale, and the Jo'burg festival of beer will have something to tap into every palate.
Purveyors and swiggers of beer–much like their wine counterparts–are a loquacious bunch, prone to adjectival abuse and soaring hyperbole.
Must be something in the water, or the water in the beer.
So it was only natural that when the Festival of Beer: Johannesburg hosted a media beer and food pairing evening at the Foundry in Parktown North recently, one could not help but imagine the beers from South Africa’s emerging craft sector as ambrosia flowing directly from Aphrodite’s teat to one’s own mortal, undeserving lips.
Pine cones, sherbet, cloves and old socks were just some of the smells floating around. Tasting notes ranged from banana (in the weiss beers made with at least 50% malted wheat) to coffee (the stouts, which are made with much darker-roasted malts).
With every swirled, gulped mouthful, one half expected Getafix’s magic potion to kick into gear, making one superhumanly strong, witty and able to seduce the opposite sex with a single burp. Inexplicably, none of this came to pass.
Long-standing master brewer André de Beer from Cockpit Brewhouse, a bon vivant and beer anorak, delivered the best line when he described his Black Widow Stout as "having a mousse-like head but is as dark as my mother-in-law’s heart".
De Beer’s stout had been paired with a mini beef and ale pie, which were perfectly complementary. De Beer has a similar pie on the menu at his Cullinan brewhouse and pub, made with the Black Widow Stout itself.
The purpose of the evening —aside from getting the various lifestyle journalists with gelled hairdos inspired by architecture magazines (and a slovenly crew of sports journos) inebriated on free grog–was to punt the Festival of Beer that runs from September 6 to?8 at Pirates Sports Club in Greenside, Johannesburg.
Ten beers were paired during the evening.
The hosts either went for a complementary approach–as when pork sausages with sauerkraut and mustard were downed with the Altstadt Weiss from Drayman’s, which had notes of banana, cloves and a tart apple taste–or there were attempts at juxtaposition, when, for example, the exceptional Devil’s Peak Blockhouse India Pale Ale, which is fruity on the nose but has a long, bitter finish, was paired with crunchy, sugar-dusted pumpkin fritters.
Other beers served on the night–which will all be on show at the festival–included the Jack Black Butcher Block Pale Ale, which is bitter, but not as hoppy as the Devil’s Peak version; Cape Brewing Company’s standout Amber Weiss; and the Lindemans Pecheresse, which is a Lambic-style beer that is brewed through a spontaneous fermentation process for about two years and has a sweet-sour peach flavour, perfect for dessert.
The Festival of Beer has been running successfully for a few years in Cape Town, with last year’s edition showcasing around 153 beers from some of the nearly 60 craft breweries in the country.
Johannesburg, meanwhile, was for a time bereft of craft beer drinking holes.
That is changing, according to Craft Liquor Merchants owner Jason Cederwall, whose company distributes beers from the KwaZulu-Natal-based Robson’s and Cape Town breweries such as Darling, Cape Brewing Company, Devil’s Peak and Jack Black.
Cederwall, who is also one of the founders of the inland version of the Festival of Beer, says that a year ago he was distributing between 4?000 and 5?000 litres of craft beer a month to outlets in Johannesburg and estimates that his company is now doing around 30?000 litres a month.
"Craft beer has pretty much exploded in Johannesburg," said Cederwall.
"Johannesburg now accounts for about 30% of the brew production of the breweries that I distribute."
South Africa is following international trends in embracing craft beer, although Cederwall estimates that it still accounts for about 0.1% of the market share in this country.
Considering these figures, the South African Breweries behemoth won’t exactly be piddling lager in anxiety, but they are obviously keeping a close eye on developments.
The gargantuan multinational sponsors the annual Clarens Beer Festival and funded a new book by Lucy Corne and Ryno Reyneke, African Brew–Exploring the Craft of South African Beer.
The book is an extremely useful guide to where to get craft beer in South Africa–it profiles and maps breweries around the country. It ?also contains recipes that use beer from many of the breweries’ restaurants–which is very useful in providing creative cooking ideas that use the more characterful and flavoursome beers emerging within the craft beer scene.
Aside from listing places that sell or serve craft beers and providing recipes that use beer, the other most useful aspect of the book is the historical background of the breweries.
Boston Breweries’s Chris Barnard, for example, only realised there was a market for his brew when he started producing too much beer at his family’s factory in Paarden Eiland, Cape Town.
Barnard, as the story goes in African Brew, started selling surplus beers to the factory workers and then, as told to Corne: "A shebeen owner phoned me up and asked me where my rep was, saying that he needed stock. I didn’t know what was going on!
"Then I found out that the guys from the factory were reselling it to shebeens to make some more money and that they had taken the company name–Boston Bag–and just written Boston Breweries on the beer labels."
Tickets for the festival are R120 and are available from Webtickets. For more information visit joburgfestivalofbeer.co.za or email [email protected]