Well, 2013 was a huge year for beer in South Africa. Around 15-20 new breweries popped up (who can keep count these days?), festivals were abundant, imports boomed and basically, the whole country went beer mad. I missed out on a few fests due to being pregnant with the brewbaby, but did sneak the – ahem – occasional sip of a new beer. Here are my thoughts on what was top of the hops in 2013.
BEST NEW BREWERY
It’s a tough call and I of course haven’t visited every new brewery that launched this year, but I have to say that Cape Brewing Company would take some beating. Their award winning beers are all flawless, the brewery is one of the most impressive in the country and it’s perfectly set up for tastings. Not only that, but while you’re at the Spice Route winery (where CBC is located), you can also sample chocolate, grappa, biltong and wine, plus stick around for pizza or a fine dining lunch and admire the glorious views.
Honourable mention: SMACK! Republic launched in March, doing their bit to assist with the funky makeover that’s changing the face of central Jo’burg. If you haven’t already tried their IPA, saison and golden ale, get down to the Sunday market at the Arts on Main building to chat to the brewers, take a peep at the brewery and of course, sip a half or two of their ales.
STILL GOING STRONG
It’s easy to give all the attention to the new brews on the block, but we shouldn’t forget those that have been around a while and are still pleasing their punters. This year I’d have to choose Standeaven Brewery, who have experimented and added to their excellent core collection. I was particularly pleased with their IPAs at theCape Town Festival of Beer and look forward to finding them on fridge shelves in the new year.
Jack Black is an old stalwart on the SA brewing scene, but this year they spiced up their range with a new IPA, amber ale and a tweaked/rebranded pale ale.
BEST NEW BEER
The people have spoken. I asked you, dear reader, what the best new beer of the year was and 150 of you voted for your preferred pint. The results were clear and it’s obvious you’re a proudly South African bunch – just over a third (51 drinkers) chose Loxton Lager as the best new brew of 2013. The local ingredients – buchu and fynbos honey – make it a full-flavoured and refreshing beer, one that’s ideal for the South African summer. I must admit it was one of my favourite newbies this year as well…
CBC’s award-winning Amber Weiss started out as a leader in the poll, but South African drinkers (or at least the ones that read this blog) are clearly seeking something unique in their beers. Taking second place and a deserving winner of the honourable mention was Devil’s Peak’s one-off beer Vannie Hout, a biere de saison matured in oak barrels.
MY FAVOURITE IMPORT
Imports were up in 2013 and from a totally personal point of view, I have to give the award to BrewDog’s Nanny State, which calls itself an ‘Insanely Hopped Imperial Mild’. The first part is definitely correct, though there’s not much imperial about it. A friend described it as ‘massively hopped soda water’, which is about right for this is BrewDog’s non-alcoholic beer. If there’s some reason you can’t drink massively hopped ‘real’ beer, this is in my opinion by far the finest non-alc beer available in South Africa (and possibly the world…I tasted a fair view non-alcoholic beers this year and this s a real stand out).
I was perusing the shelves of Roeland Liquors for my Christmas ‘grocery’ shopping and was wowed with the choice. High on the list are the ales from Penpont, the two Leffebeers that have FINALLY made it to South African shores and the Maisel’s Weiss – still an excellent deal for a great beer. But the honourable mention goes to Liefmans Cuvee Brut, a tart and complex ale that will change your perception of what a fruit beer can taste like.
MY TOP PLACE FOR A PINT
Many are trying to take the crown, but there’s still nowhere with the range – particularly on tap, which is how I like to drink my beer – that Banana Jam has. In 2013, they upped their tap count to 30 and came out with a beer menu fancier and thicker than many restaurants’ wine lists. It of course helps that I can walk there from my house/office in under five minutes, but then there’s a reason I moved to this particularly suburb of Cape Town…
My giant belly prevented me from travelling as much as I usually do, at least travelling to breweries, so my honourable mention is also in Cape Town. That said, if I’d had a pint in every craft beer bar in SA, I still think I’d be utterly in love with the Devil’s Peak Tap Room in Salt River. Not only are the beers among the best in the country, the food is divine and the space/decor are snazzy enough to please any design-mad drinker.
I missed out on most of the fests this year, but of the few I did attend, I had most fun at the Cape Town Festival of Beer. Although the number of SA beers seemed to be on the decrease, it was well organised, the music and food were great and I saw pretty much everyone I’ve ever met in Cape Town there.
Clarens was of course a great time, particularly the Friday session, when the tents are less crowded and only the beer geeks attend. The fest I was saddest about missing was Jozi Craft, an event I’m hoping to attend in 2014.
MY FAVOURITE BEER TWEETER
Of all the beer tweeps I follow, I think @KegKingSA shares the most interesting links. If you don’t already follow them, do so for both local and international beer happenings.
@homebrudotnet always keeps me up to date on new breweries opening up in SA. How he does it from his home in Sweden I do not know, but he’s really got his finger on the SA beer pulse.
OTHER THINGS I LOVED
The expanded BrewDog range and the new Rogue beers available; the ongoing feeling of camaraderie in the SA beer scene; the fact that African Brew launched, hit the bestsellers list at Exclusive Books, got loads of positive reviews and had to have a second print run because the first sold out; the increased exposure for the SA beer beer scene in both national and global media; this video; the fact that 20 like-minded beer lovers got together to become Cape Town’s first BJCP-recognised judges (myself included); the fact that this blog was a runner up as Best Food/Wine Blog in the SA blog awards, despite it not being about food or wine; the photo of Rob Heyns posing for a League of Beers shoot (see featured image of this post).
AND THINGS I WASN’T SO FOND OF
Brewers (some, by no means all) putting out sub-par beers and then defending shoddy brewhouse practices; a lack of effort on the part of many festival organisers/brewers/bar owners to promote responsible drinking; everyone with five beers on tap for a day calling themselves a festival.
This post was first published on The Craft Beer Project.