It’s hot and dusty and has perfect beer-drinking weather, it’s home to a desert whose name means “place of thirst”, and it harbours place names like “Grootdrink”, but until now, the Northern Cape has been lagging behind in the craft beer stakes.
Actually, its still lagging behind, although the first craft beer rumblings are beginning to be heard. I count four current microbreweries, but there are at least two more on the cards and craft beer from the Western Cape is gradually trickling in. In between regular bottles of Castle sipped along my recent two-week trip around Big Sky Country, I also saw Darling and CBC in Port Nolloth, beers from Maskam and Cederberg breweries in a Kgalagadi lodge and there’s a restaurant in Kimberley with more craft beer than some swanky Cape Town eateries offer. Here’s what else I found…
Although not yet up and running, a small brewery is on the cards in Kleinsee. The coastal hamlet once had an economy that revolved around diamond mining but when De Beers pulled out in 2009 the population dwindled and the town now exists on small-scale tourism and fishing. Hopefully a microbrewery will help put the windswept town back on the map.
Also in progress is Bushman Brewing Co., based in Kakamas. I did find a bottle of their Choje Ale, but later realised it was contract brewed at Woodstock. The date on the label reads December 2016 and I’m unsure whether this is a brewed on/bottled on/best before date. It travelled from Cape Town to Kuruman and now back to Cape Town and has essentially become a study in the shelf life of a Woodstock beer. I’ll open it later today and report back…
One brewery that is up and running is Kalahari Craft Beer in Upington. The range consists of Gemsbok Lager, Puffadder Weiss and Meerkat IPA. I sampled the latter in a lodge just outside the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. It wasn’t a bad beer by any means, although wouldn’t be winning any brew-to-style competitions. Too much caramel aroma and flavour and the granadilla aromas were dialled back too much, but it had a decent, bitterness. I sampled the other two in an Upington restaurant, but sadly both had flaws. This was possibly down to poor line-cleaning since the Castle I eventually ordered had also seen better days.
Possibly coming soon is a nanobrewery at The Workshop ko Kasi, an awesome community project that actually makes Kuruman a place worth visiting. There’s already a cafe here, serving food made with herbs from The Workshop’s veggie garden as well as homemade ginger beer (proper ginger beer with a vicious kick), so a mini brewery seems like it would be right at home. There are regular popup markets and a traditional African spa was being built when I visited, rounding out the chill-out offering.
Heading south to Kimberley, I visited my first (and indeed only) actual brewery of the trip. Diamond Craft Brewing Co. sits in Fabricia, an industrial area south of Kimberley’s city centre. The brewery was brand new when I visited, with the first batch still in the fermenter. They’ll be producing small batches (150L) of lager, pilsner and pale ale, soon to be available at select Kimberley outlets. Hopefully at some point a tasting room will open at the brewery – it has one of the coolest bars I’ve seen in SA, all dark wood and retro beer bottles. They also produce a blue agave-based spirit (you’re not allowed to call it Tequila), which is distilled on-site and comes in a range of flavours.
I didn’t visit the other two currently functioning Northern Cape breweries, both found in Orania, though I did spot Bavaria Brouery’s Afrikanerbier at The Occdental Bar at Kimberley’s Big Hole. The Ox, as it is known, has the best selection of craft beer in the province, though of course most of it comes from Gauteng and the Western Cape. Just check any dates on the labels before you commit – the beers are not cheap and some have been waiting a while to be opened. Diamond’s beer will soon be available here as well.
My final beer experience didn’t involve craft beer, but it did involve dancing to Bob Marley tunes with an affable tavern owner (I could almost have been at the Jam…). Oupa’s Tavern, better known as Parks Tavern is celebrating its 25th birthday this year, which means if it were a person, it could finally get served at the tavern. Owner Oupa Louw doesn’t put up with nonsense from his patrons and feels they’re not ready to be drinking in his thatch-roofed tavern until they’re 25. I got the feeling he is in equal parts feared and revered in Galeshewe. He arrived on a glistening scarlet Harley Davidson, cranked up some old school tunes (the tavern is known for its classic soul, rhythm & blues and reggae soundtrack) and got our group dancing after just a few sips of Hansa. Sometimes you don’t need craft beer. You need beer that is cold and fresh and people that are enjoying drinking it with you.