It was always going to be a global adventure. Although I’d long-been a lager drinker in my UK homeland, it took a Canadian that I met in Cairo to get me drinking traditional English ales. Over the next five years, beer became a focus of our travels. We bought the cheapest crate of beer we’ve ever seen from the Dashen Brewery in northern Ethiopia, we visited trailblazing microbreweries in South Africa long before “craft beer” was a part of the local lexicon, we sipped on weissbier in the Ottawa summer, sought out warming ales in the dead of Tokyo’s winter, saw Seoul’s beer scene blossom and even spent an hour or two drinking microbrewed beer in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.
In fact, it was Korea that played a crucial role in our beer journey – South Korea, that is. The mass-produced lagers there are, let’s say, not the most flavourful brews you’ll ever imbibe, so Shawn (the aforementioned Canadian) began to take homebrewing seriously. In a city with a population of 10 million or so, the guy who ran the local homebrewing club – Rob Titley – lived in our building. It was, as they say, meant to be.
It was in Seoul that I first filled in a BJCP scoresheet, that I first helped out with a brew day. It was there that, for the first time – but most certainly not for the last – that my circle of friends talked about little else other than beer. And it was there that I first sampled American-style ales. One sip of Rob’s signature pint, Death by Hops, and I was hooked.
Eventually though, our feet were itching once more and we left Seoul to head south in late 2010. We’d spent time in Cape Town before and always yearned to live in the Mother City, at least for a short time. We arrived in the wake of the World Cup, when the country was filled with positive vibes and when the earliest rumblings of a craft beer scene were just starting to be heard.
I kind of fell into beer writing by chance. A travel writer by trade, I wanted to diversify and looked to my other passions – food and booze – to pad out my portfolio. Wine writers in the Western Cape were plentiful and their knowledge far exceeded mine. But what about beer – could there be a future in writing about beer?
The year we intended to spend in Cape Town turned into two, then three, then four and now we’re pretty much here to stay. The casual blog morphed into a regular writing outlet and from it there came book deals and magazine features, public speaking engagements and interviews – all of them about the South African beer scene.
Of course it’s not just the beer that has kept us here – this is a remarkable country: beautiful, exciting, frustrating and rewarding. But beer is a protagonist in our South African journey. I write about it, Shawn brews it; we both judge it, enjoy it, drink it. We’ve built a great group of friends around it – bar owners and brewers, beer judges, homebrewers, distributors and importers.
My journey into beer has seen me sipping American IPAs in Woodstock and Belgian witbiers in Dullstroom. I’ve sampled Russian Imperial Stouts at a Free State festival and enjoyed staunchly South African brews in Parkhurst, PE and the Cape Peninsula. So it seems about right that as I write this in my Southern Suburbs home, I’m sipping an American-inspired ale brewed by a German brewmaster at a Swedish brewery for a South African audience.
The beer in question is of course the new pale ale from Cape Brewing Company – their first beer to be released in a can rather than a bottle. I remember the week when brewmaster Wolfgang Koedel was leaving Paarl to head to Sweden, though at the time I didn’t know what his mission was. I just knew that he was most concerned about the 50-degree temperature difference between the two towns. Luckily he packed some toasty looking socks (if you haven’t seen the taster video of Wolfgang’s journey, I will excuse you for two minutes to watch it now…) and was well distracted while in Sweden. He went there to brew the new pale ale, which is canned on Åbro’s top-of-the-range canning line before being shipped back to South Africa.
Now back in his adopted homeland, Wolfgang and the CBC team are hoping their journey will inspire its many fans to plan their own beer adventure. You know those photos you see of people posing with their garden gnomes or teddy bears in front of world landmarks – well replace the gnome with a can of CBC pale ale and you get the idea of their Love the Craft, Love the Journey app. So download the app, grab what has to be the sexiest four-pack in South Africa, take it on a road trip and show us all how you #lovethecraft.
Want to share your beer journey with us? That’s what the comment section is for! Tell us what got you interested in beer, how you travelled from mass-produced lager to can (or bottle, or pint) of craft.
Disclosure: I am currently working with CBC on their new #LoveTheCraft campaign. I am very selective about the brands I partner with. They must be relevant to my audience and utterly reliable when it comes to consistently putting out a top-notch product. CBC fits this bill without any doubt.