I won’t beat around the bush with some wordy intro. August 1st has been designated International Beer Day so it’s time to drink your way around the world – without leaving home!* Here are eight classic beer styles from eight beer-centric nations. And since there’s nothing more irritating than reading about a beer you can’t get your hands on, everything mentioned here is available within South Africa.
(* Assuming you’ve left home to buy the beers of course).
There are a fair few classic styles hailing from Germany, but perhaps none more iconic than weissbier. This hazy beer is traditionally brewed with at least 50% malted wheat (alongside the usual malted barley) and while it began in Southern Germany it’s now produced throughout the country – and indeed the world.
Straight from the source: For me, there is no finer weiss than Paulaner hefeweiss. Opaque, topped with a gorgeous dollop of fluffy foam, sweet but not overly so and displaying the characteristic banana, bread and clove aromas in perfect balance.
The local version: Plenty of SA craft breweries are producing weissbiers now, with mixed results. For something authentic, try CBC’s amberweiss, Brauhaus Am Damm’s Weiss or if you’re in Durban, check out ‘That Good AdWeiss’ from That Brewing Company. If you like your weiss on the estery side (big banana aroma/flavour), you’ll love Robertson Brewery’s version.
If you were to visit the Czech Republic, you’d quickly see that beer here is all about the pilsner, a well-hopped lager first created in the Czech town of Pilsen (or Plzeň).
Straight from the source: This is a no-brainer – for me, pilsners just don’t get any better than the original version, Pilsner Urquell. A beautiful deep golden colour with the perfect balance of malt and hops, it’s a complex beer that can instantly silence even the staunchest lager-hater.
The local version: There are a few local pilsners, but most are German rather than Bohemian. I can’t think of anyone being heavy-handed enough with the Saaz to really give P.U a run for its money. If we’re gong to be kissed by this spicy hop, we don’t want a grandma-style peck on the cheek – we want full-on tongue action! Feel free to disagree with me in the comments section below…
Few things make me feel homesick, but if there’s one thing that can get me humming ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and searching for cheap flights back to Blighty, it’s the thought of an English pub with a range of hand-pulled beers on tap. And while I’m partial to an English IPA, it’s a pint of bitter I picture in my hand when I think about going home.
Straight from the source: English ales are sadly under-represented in South Africa, both imported and local examples. But Fuller’s London Pride is a go-to best bitter found in select liquor stores around the country. Enjoy it with a pie and a bunch of old blokes grumbling about the rain for the most authentic experience.
The local version: As far as I’m aware, there’s not a single hand-pulled tap to be found in the country and only a few English bitters. Luckily, SA’s original microbrewery still produces a good approximation of an ordinary bitter – Bosun’s from Mitchell’s Brewery. It lacks the crisp, bitterness of the original (it’s all about the gypsum!) but paired with a bag of pork scratchings and an episode of Eastenders, it almost makes me feel like i’m back in Stoke.
While stout’s predecessor, porter, originated in London, it was the Irish Guinness brewery which popularised the term ‘stout‘. Today the two names are used interchangeably by many breweries to describe a dark, roasty ale with coffee and chocolate character.
Straight from the source: I’m at a bit of a loss here. Other than recommending Guinness (and I don’t know if the Guinness we get here really qualifies as being ‘brewed’ in Ireland anyway), I can’t think of an imported stout that is actually Irish. If you want to talk imports though, I can highly recommend Old Engine Oil from Harviestoun Brewery. Sure, it comes from Scotland and calls itself a Black Ale, but it’s a damn tasty beer regardless.
The local version: There’s no lack of stout (or porter) being brewed on South African shores. My favourites include Red Sky’s Vampire Porter, Bridge Street Brewery‘s Double Chocolate Stout and good old Castle Milk Stout.
Nothing quite sums up American beer like a massively hopped IPA laden with smack-you-in-the-face aromas of tropical fruit, grass and pine. The rest of the beer-loving world has quickly fallen in love with the often intensely bitter style adapted from the original British version and South Africa is no exception.
Straight from the source: We’re lucky enough to get a few American IPAs in South Africa now. A can of Caldera or a pint of Rogue Yellow Snow will give you a little taste of the West Coast (of the US I mean, I’m not talking about Langebaan).
The local version: While many are dabbling in the IPA-game, only a few are capturing the crispness, the bitterness and the ‘whooo hoooo that smells like a fruit salad on a forest floor’ hoppiness of the American versions. For me, it’s all about the Blockhouse (from Devil’s Peak), though I also enjoy Copperlake‘s IPA and must say that the new IPA from Woodstock Brewery is rather delicious.
Little Belgium might be diminutive in size, but in the beer world it’s a giant. There’s probably a beer style for every day of the year, but I’ve gone with the dubbel as my representative beer. It’s got the raisins, creme brulee and spice you associate with a Belgian beer and an ABV that leaves you warm but still allows you to order a second bottle.
Straight from the source: Of the Belgian dubbels available in SA, Maredsous is probably my favourite. Plus, it’s pretty widely available (distributed by the Belgian Beer Co and Craft Liquor Merchants). If you haven’t yet had a Christmas in Winter celebration, whack the tree up and get a case of these beauties, full of raisin and caramel flavours.
The local version: Two breweries in South Africa specialise in Belgian styles. Honingklip, in the Western Cape, count a pretty damn good dubbel in their range, while De Garve, south of Jo’burg, have the Happy Monk, a 6.5% Belgian-style ale.
Scotland?! You ask. Are there beer styles hailing from Scotland? Why yes, there certainly are. One of them actually has the best beer style name of all – the wee heavy. Also known as a strong Scotch ale, it’s a warming, caramelly, sweet beer with a pretty high ABV (around the 8% mark).
Straight from the source: No prizes for guessing which Scottish brewery I’m going to mention here. BrewDog’s Dogma is a 7.4% Scotch ale blended with heather-infused honey. You don’t get much more Scottish than putting heather in your beer, unless you wave your naked arse at the English while you’re drinking it. In SA it’s currently only available from League of Beers, but keep your eye on BrewDogZA’s Twitter feed for news on wider availability in the future.
The local version: If anyone has come across a South African wee heavy, please let me know – I’d love to sip some before the weather starts warming up. Mitchell’s brew their 90 Shilling, though it resembles a Scottish export ale only in name (some of the Scottish beer styles sport similar monetary monikers).
OK, we might not globally be considered one of the world’s great beer producing nations, but we’re certainly trying to make up for lost time. On International Beer Day, grab something strictly South African, whether its a beer infused with rooibos, honeybush or buchu, one aged in a pinotage barrel or a shared carton/bucket/pot of sorghum beer.
Whatever you’re drinking, enjoy International Beer Day – try something new, drink something good, convert a friend and tell me how you’re celebrating, either on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments section below.