Late last year, when beer lovers heard about Red Dawn’s patent, which basically attempts to prohibit the use of rooibos or honeybush in a beer (or wine, or cider), they were understandably livid. Not only was it, according to people who know a lot more about patent law than I do, a ridiculous patent application that would never stand up, it was just so un-craft. The industry is known for its openness and its culture of sharing and this attempt to ban the use of an ingredient was not well-received.
But let’s forget legal issues and bully tactics for now and focus on flavour,
The beer in question – one that has been brewed under the Red Dawn licence at Stellenbrau – is a pretty amber colour, though I must admit it lacks the gorgeous red hue I’d hoped for. For me, the colour of rooibos would be the main reason to add it to a beer. Aroma-wise, you get a massive whiff of rooibos – no great surprise. If you’ve never had rooibos tea (the blog does have some non-South African readers), it’s earthy and many describe the aroma as tobacco-like – a kind of a sweet, fruity tobacco, like pipe smoke. Stellenbrau’s Red Governor does have beery notes – you get a hint of hop aroma and the merest suggestion of malt – but the rooibos definitely comes first.
It’s tough to taste much other than tea when you drink this beer and the beer certainly has a lingering tannic finish – not an unpleasant mouth-puckering sensation, but more tannins than you expect to find in a beer. This is doubtless a well-made beer – the carbonation is great, there’s nothing off about it, it’s pretty refreshing and unmistakably South African. But do I love it? Well, I like a strong cup of rooibos when I first wake up in the morning and it’s no secret I love beer. I also love blue cheese, and I love Lindt chocolate, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily want to eat them both in the same bite…