As the beer community continues to discuss the acquisition of craft beers by whopping great breweries like Anheuser-Busch InBev, South Africa’s home-grown big brewery has taken a different route into the realm of speciality beer. SABMiller’s Newlands plant has opened its own microbrewery, Newlands Spring Brewing Co.
After the launch of the 3 Fransen Street brand in Johannesburg in 2014, SAB has opened a small outfit at the country’s oldest brewery in the southern suburbs of Cape Town. The 2000-litre brewhouse was built by Kaspar Schulz, who have been making breweries in Bavaria since the 17th century. Using such a history-rich manufacturer seems very apt, since the new microbrewery is all about staying in touch with its roots. The brewhouse sits in the oldest section of Newlands Brewery, where Jacob Letterstedt was brewing back in the early 19th-century. To get the three-vessel brewhouse in, the Newlands team had to remove an entire wall of the historical building – then laboriously replace each brick in order to please the heritage committee.
And while the plan to install a microbrewing plant here isn’t quite as old as the building it sits in, this wasn’t a recent development. “We’ve been working on this since Noah stepped off the ark!” jokes Newlands’ trade brewer, Denis da Silva, going on to explain that it took a while to convince SABMiller to invest in the small brewery.
The team behind Newlands Spring is quick to emphasise that they are not interested in calling this a craft brewery, referring to it as a small brewery that will produce “styles beyond lager”. Specifically, brewer Julriech Farmer has kicked off with three styles – a blonde ale, a hefeweizen and a pale ale that is loosely based on a recipe originally brewed here by Letterstedt in the 1820s. The ales are designed to be sessionable and that goal is certainly achieved. Here’s the line-up:
Passionate Blond (5.5%) – An approachable blonde ale with a slight whiff of sulphur that soon gives way to aromas – and flavours – of granadilla (thanks to the use of Southern Passion hops). All the malts are imported, as is the abbey yeast used in fermentation. There’s bitterness on the finish, but up-front it’s quite sweet and will likely work well as a “gateway beer”.
Jacob’s Pale Ale (5%) – Check out a full review of the pale ale here.
Mountain Weiss (4.5%)- The first two things you’ll notice is that this weiss is lighter than most, both in colour and body. The team admiits that they’ve been conservative with the recipes, but while they’ve certainly played it safe, there’s definite weiss character here. You’ll pick up plenty of banana and bubblegum on the nose and there’s more banana when you sip. A touch of clove balances things out and keeps the beer from seeming to sweet – indeed, it’s a very sessionable brew.
Denis is keen to add that when it comes to these brews, authenticity is a big deal, hence the use of imported ingredients best suited to each style. “We chose three beers that showcase different brewing styles,” says Denis. “And they’re all true to style without being whacky.” Denis is as passionate about beer as many a craft brewer, proclaiming that he’s “never seen a brewery this beautiful before” and that the project finally coming to fruition has been “like a dream come true”.
SAB are bound to be on the receiving end of a bit of bashing for stepping into what is seen as being craft brewers’ territory, but for my part I’m happy with the new additions. One of the reasons I’m a craft beer fan is for the diversity on offer, as opposed to the lager, lager, lager usually found on the big brewers’ menus. The Newlands Spring beers all taste like they’re supposed to and while none are going to challenge your IBU-threshold, they certainly serve as a great intro to their respective styles – something that can hopefully convert a few more lager – or cider, or wine – drinkers to the world of ale.
The beers are currently only available on tap, with no immediate plans to expand the range or to bottle the ales. You’ll find them at a dozen venues around Cape Town, including Barrister’s, Ferrymans and the Perseverance Tavern, as well, of course as at the brewery itself. Expect to pay around R28 for a 330ml draught and R45 for a pint. All outlets are also offering taster trays of the trio for the same price as a half-pint.
Have you tasted the Newlands Spring beers? What do you think? And how do you feel about SAB Newlands launching its own microbrewery?