As it’s over a week since the 2016 Clarens Craft Beer Festival ended, it might seem a little pointless writing a post-fest post. But I think a festival that leaves you needing several days to recover deserves a write-up, however long it takes you to get around to it.
This year was the sixth annual festival in the tiny Free State town and the fourth that I have had the great pleasure to attend. For those that don’t know Clarens, it is the perfect place for a beer fest. It’s so compact that you can easily duck out of the festival for a while to grab lunch, pee in a place that’s not portaloo or indeed go for a mid-afternoon rejuvenating power nap if you book accommodation within the town itself. The fest now takes over the entire Village Square, with tented beer stalls lining the grassy square’s edges and revellers pitching their picnic blankets and chairs under the gazebos and shady trees. Fest-goers spill out on to the streets to explore the town’s eating and arts scenes between tasters, all to the backdrop of the Maluti mountains, marking the border with Lesotho just 45km away. It really is a marvellous place to host an homage to beer.
I could spend paragraphs telling you about the range of beers (superb), the live bands on stage (a mixed bag but all very well-received), the toilets (not enough), the organisation (excellent) but I won’t ramble on. Instead, here are my personal highlights of the 2016 Clarens Craft Beer Festival. If you were there, I’d love to hear yours as well.
Officially, this award went to Two Okes for the Russian Imperial Stout brewed especially for the fest (the beer came out top in the BJCP-sanctioned judging that took place on the Friday morning). It was indeed a great beer, but not one you make your go-to sipper for a summer beer festival. For me, the top spot is a three-way tie: Mainstream Brewing’s APA, Lakeside’s Red IPA and Riot’s Equinox IPA. Yes, I like hops. Hope to get a sip of that Two Okes RIS this winter though…
I only ate within the festival fences once, but I think if I’d sampled everything from every stall, my vote would still go to Sumting Fresh. The chicken goujons were fine if far from spectacular, but the cheerful show the guys perteptually put on made their stand one of the must-sees of the fest.
I went to the festival to sell copies of Beer Safari. On day one, I spent a total of about 17 minutes at the memorabilia stand, leaving local lad Keith to peddle my wares while I tried to taste as much as possible at the fest. On Saturday I decided the books needed to be sold – the goal was that sales would pay for the trip, with perhaps enough left for a sandwich at Bloemfontein airport on the way home (of course, the joke was on me as there were no sandwiches, nor indeed anything else to eat at Bloem airport). I was worried that people would already have the book, that they wouldn’t want to spend their beer money on reading material, that I’d end up begging the Cape exhibitors to haul them back home while I counted my remaining rand (or lack thereof). I didn’t need to worry. Enter the Kleurlingbierman.
Many of you might know Ivor Swartz who tweets, blogs and generally waxes lyrical about beer. Along with two friends from Kimberley – Matthew and John-Ross, he proceeded to sell my book in the most entertaining way imaginable. Much of the sales patter was in Afrikaans (and yet while I couldn’t understand it, still found it entertaining) but every so often I caught something in English. “Beer Safari will heal your foot” (to a guy on crutches). “Less Rastafari more Beer Safari” (to a dude with dreads). And perhaps my personal favourite: “Buy a copy of Beer Safari for Easter – it’s better than pickled fish”. True story. [I took a couple of videos but they seem to have disappeared into the depths of my phone – I hope to find them soon]
Thanks guys for selling my book, for providing lots of laughs and for reminding us all why the South African beer industry is so much fun to be involved in – it’s full of friendly folk who are willing to put themselves out to help others – as long as there’s a cold pint waiting at the end of it of course.
Clarens, you were awesome: see you in 2017. (Dates for 2017 will be announced in May – keep an eye on the website for details