Designated driver needed on this sipping safari
BEER SAFARI: A JOURNEY THROUGH THE CRAFT BREWERIES OF SOUTH AFRICA by Lucy Corne (Struik)
This has to start with disclosure: I have been known to be quite happy to quench my thirst with several pints of Carling Black Label. I have also been known to gasp in dismay at the prices charged for those craft beers with the self-consciously cute names. And I have been known to express the opinion that the cult of craft beer is the preserve of hipsters with beards, shaven heads and tattoos who use these pricey beverages to wash down equally pricey meals made from artisanal ingredients bought at those irritating urban markets.
But if Lucy Corne, undoubtedly a master of her craft, can’t convert the doubters into avid consumers of prohibitively expensive beer then nobody can. She has produced a comprehensive province-by-province guide to the ever-growing list of South African brewers. And, judging by the photos that accompany the stories about each brewer, the people who make these beers are definitely not hipsters. They are mostly ordinary blokes in shorts and T-shirts (there are a few women here and there) who are producing some extraordinary beer.
But if pictures of the creative types who produce the extremely arty labels for the bottles were included then beards and skinny jeans would probably be the dress code.
Many of the breweries offer tours and tastings from their beer menu. It is a relief to see that in her guide to tasting beer Corne reassures us that it is fine to swallow. “Beer tasters do not spit, since the aftertaste, or finish, is an important part of beer tasting.”
It is details like this that make the book so useful for beer heathens.
There are also useful explanations about how beer is made, the ingredients, the flavours of beer and the difference between lager and ale. There are lists of bars of restaurants in each province where craft beers are sold and lists of liquor stores will point you in the right direction.
For the ale anoraks, there is a nifty little icon on the pages of breweries that can be visited, with a space for the date when the brewer was “spotted” and a signature. There is also a “Big 5 pints” list that the dedicated drinker really should tick off to make the safari successful.
Throughout the book the dedication, hard work and costs involved in crafting these beers is clear. So paying a higher price for these offerings that are superior to anything the big breweries offer is definitely worthwhile. If I wasn’t a poorly paid print journalist, I would offer to buy the next round.