Last month saw judging take place for a new beer competition, the South African National Beer Trophy. It was a BJCP event, with five judges sampling brews submitted from around the country. Beers were split into seven broad categories – light, amber, hoppy, wheat, dark, speciality and hybrid. In the end, 11 beers took gold medals:
Aegir Project – Red Rye
Brauhaus am Damm – Dunkel
Brauhaus am Damm – Weizen
Ceder Brew – The Chubbyhead Dry Stout
Drifter Brewing Co. – The Cape Town Blonde
Gallows Hill – Stride Wide Barrel Aged Baltic Porter
Harfield Beer Co. – 1831 Honey Amber Ale
Mountain Brewing Co. – Cape Kraken Belgian Amber Ale
Red Sky – Rauch Beer
Sabie Brewing Co. – Dravidian Draught IPA
Striped Horse – Craft Pils
I took part in judging on the Friday and found an incredibly well-organised contest, though I think having a few folk from the beer world on the organising team would have been a plus. There had been some discord in the beer industry when this competition was announced. The organisers are from the wine industry and it was seen as a bit of a turf invasion. Plus there are already a number of beer competitions up-and-running – principally the Craft Championships and the Homebrew Nationals (details on this year’s comp to follow soon).
But with 55 beers entered, it seems there was indeed room for another competition in the SA scene. Brewers are hungry for feedback on their beers and the lure of gold medals stuck to their bottles was enough to get 19 breweries involved. Part of the idea for SANBT was to expose South African craft beer to a wider audience – principally an audience of someliers and wine writers, which is no bad thing. Of course, there’s also need to ensure that the wider audience doesn’t misunderstand – that this wasn’t the first beer competition in South Africa, for example. And I read one headline that proclaimed the 11 gold medal winners to be “the best beers in South Africa”. While there were undoubtedly some great beers – some scored a whopping 45 out of 50, which is no easy feat – you can’t really call a beer the best in South Africa unless every single beer was entered.
Of course, that’s never going to happen, but as this was an inaugural event, many breweries – including most of the major players – didn’t participate. I don’t for a second want to take anything away from those who took home a gold medal. I didn’t taste everything, but I did sample a couple of world-class beers and there are brews on this list that have been recognised in previous competitions for their prowess. What was really great to see was how many new breweries sought to enter their beers – a sign, I hope, that they’re keen to get expert feedback on the good – and bad – of their brews.
The Craft Champs look set to make their third appearance later this year and perhaps once Craft Beer SA is fully up and running, they can unite the various competitions into one authoritative contest that sees every brewery in South Africa put their best pint forward. It would be great to see the industry unite and all the competition organisers come together to share their expertise and resources.