Some of you might know that last year, I, along with local photographer Ryno Reyneke, spent a few months sipping my way around South Africa in the name of research for a detailed book on the country’s beer scene. The book, African Brew, will be published soon and for ages I’ve been touting it as SA’s first ever dedicated beer book. Then at the start of this year, a document made it into my hands that proved that this wasn’t entirely the case.
The document was somewhere between a booklet and a book and it detailed the beers available in South Africa at the time it waswritten (2001). It’s by no means as exhaustive, detailed or pretty as African Brew, but it’s a fascinating read, not least because it features a far greater range of imported beers than is available now in SA (including brews – largely lagers – from the UK, Spain, Germany, France, Chile, Austria, the US, Israel and Greece).
BJ’s South African Beer Drinker’s Guide was written by wine critic and beer enthusiast BJ Lankwarden. After a brief overview of
brewing, beer history and beer styles, it launches into the main bulk of the book – frank reviews of the local and national beers for sale in South Africa. And when I say frank, I really mean frank. “To name this a beer in an insult to the category”, BJ says of the UK’s Skol. “The closest thing to wet air that I have come across” is the description of Molson lager, while of the 10% ABV Amsterdam Navigator Lager he writes: “I can not imagine why such a beer is produced”. This perhaps goes a long way to explaining why so many of these imports have disappeared from our shelves.
Local beers fare a little better and it’s nice to see a few enduring names on the list.Birkenhead’s Honey Blonde scores six stars (out of a possible 10), while Nottingham Road’sPorter gets eight – a rating many beer lovers today would agree with. There are a few local brews that have sadly disappeared from our fridges –like Old Four Legs from the Coelacanth Brewery (whose kettles are happily bubbling again, now under the banner of the Little Brewery on the River). Others we’re lucky we don’t have to endure, like the Namibian Good Hope Brewing Co’s Cape Town Lager(“Namibian beers are good, this one is not” – zero stars) and Dakota Ice (“so it is possible to produce a beer with no taste at all” – zero stars).
Some things haven’t changed at all, such as BJ’s spot-on description of Castle Milk Stout as “an utterly delicious, well balanced and most underrated beer” (interestingly, he recommends trying it with Chinese food – will try that out soon). And then there are things which almost seem like premonitions now, like Mitchell’sBosun’s (“lovely flavour profile”), Forrester’s (“a pleasant beverage) and 90 Shilling (“rich and complex, full of flavour”) all available in glass bottles – soon to be seen in liquor stores again after a long stint in plastic.
All in all, the book offers a fascinating insight into recent beer history. It’s just a shame that BJ, who died in 2004, never got to see his vision realised. “Hopefully, South Africa will establish its own beer drinking culture”, are the closing words of the guide – and I’m sure you’ll agree that his dream has at last come true.
This post was originally published on The Craft Beer Project.