Recently, a few beer geek friends and I have been having a low-key debate on whether there is room for more lager in the South African beer scene. Our craft beer boom launched with lager – something that didn’t escape All About Beer writer Jim Clarke back in 2011. Since then, brewers – and indeed drinkers – have become increasingly adventurous and we can now count on a range of IPAs, stouts, barrel aged brews, buchu beers, rooibos beers and even a couple of beer-wine hybrids. But lager seems to have made a comeback lately – Devil’s Peak brought out a lager a few months back, Citizen have added to their range with a light lager and many new breweries are including a pale lager in their launch lineup.
So do we need more lager? On the one hand, if established breweries are adding it to their range then there is obviously a demand. Citizen’s Twitter account announced that 1200 litres of their test batch of Patriot (the light lager) sold out in 10 days and I’d put money on Jack Black’s lager being the biggest-selling craft beer in South Africa. Producing a good lager is a very difficult thing to do, so perhaps brewers just want to prove they can do it, or quite possibly, they’ve realised that while hops might be where their hearts lie, big ales are not where the money is.
One reason often given is that South Africa has a “lager climate”. I can’t disagree that the weather is great, but then California has pretty pleasant weather as well, yet the beer most often associated with the Golden State is a massively hopped IPA. And South Africa produces no shortage of robust red wines – not exactly the ideal summer’s day thirst quencher yet they certainly sell well. But when it comes to lager, I have to say that there’s a certain large brewery that does the style pretty well. While many craft drinkers shun the big breweries these days, you simply can’t deny that SAB makes a bloody good pint of lager – why try to go head to head with that? For me, the draw of craft beer is the variety. Sure, I love a pint of CBC pilsner on a sunny day and last summer Jack Black’s lager became my go-to pint, but we already have so many craft lagers, do we really need more?
Over to you – what do you think?