A couple of months ago I received an email from a PR company telling me that SAB were about to launch a new “product variant” and that I’d been selected to receive some of said product and to create hype. I must say I was excited. Not about creating hype so much, but about the fact that SAB was innovating and releasing something new. I can only imagine the work that must go into releasing a new product in a company that large, and every time they put out something new, nationwide interest in beer gets a boost.
Back in 2014 SAB released Castle Milk Stout Chocolate – it was a hit and to this day I get people visiting the blog in search of the long-discontinued line. That same year they launched the (also discontinued) 3 Fransen Street followed by Tank Fresh Castle in 2015, Newlands Spring in 2016 and Carvers (discontinued) Weiss in 2017. Since the Anheuser-Busch InBev takeover we have seen new imports like Hoegaarden, Budweiser and Leffe widely found on fridge shelves, but if memory serves, Castle Double Malt is the first new locally developed product in several years.
What does double malt mean?
It’s a good question. Both Castle Lager and Castle Lite use maize as an adjunct alongside malted barley; Castle Double Malt does not. The label also talks about “two carefully selected homegrown malts”, going on to explain that they sourced malt from two locations – SAB’s malting plants in Caledon and Alrode, south of Johannesburg. It’s worth pointing out that these are not two different varieties of malt – they are both SAB pale malt, just malted at different locations. So I was expecting a richer flavour, a little more body and of course more malt flavours coming through than in your standard Castle Lager – so did Castle Double Malt deliver?
Well, instead of simply writing up a standard beer review, I decided to put Castle Double Malt (4.8% ABV) into a blind tasting alongside its siblings: Castle Lite (4% ABV) and the original, Castle Lager (5% ABV). It was a very technical tasting: I sat on a lounger in my back garden on a sunny winter afternoon with my eyes closed while my husband passed me the beers one at a time. He then stood in front of the samples to block them so I could open my eyes to scrawl a few notes. Below are those not-at-all-exhaustive notes.
Beer #1: Aroma is sweet but other than that there’s not much to be said for it. Flavour-wise things are also fairly unremarkable. It’s highly carbonated, kind of thin with a carbonic bite, a touch of corn and just a hint of citrus. It was my least favourite of the trio.
Beer #2: Although there was a touch of grainy malt sweetness on the nose, it still lacks aroma. It’s a more balanced beer and more flavourful – not so sweet and there’s a pleasing graininess. Quite a drinkable beer and infinitely better than #1.
Beer #3: A richer aroma: some floral notes, grainy malt and a definite sweetness. Decent mouthfeel and a long, refreshing finish with a balanced malt/hop character that makes you want another sip. My favourite of the three.
And the winner is…
In this extremely unscientific taste test, the results were unanimous. Both my husband and I (both tasting blind and in a different order) preferred the same beer. And that beer turned out to be Castle Lager. I have always maintained that Castle is a great example of an international lager (category 2A in the BJCP).
People like to hate on SAB and some call beers like Castle “swill” or “not actually beer at all”. But Castle is a great example of what it’s meant to be and if that’s not your preferred style, you’re in luck because there are another 130-odd beer styles for you to choose from. But just because you don’t like it (and it’s made by the world’s biggest brewing company) that doesn’t make it crap! [Sidenote: I struggle to get through more than a bottle/can of Beer #1, which was unmistakably Castle Lite, but I can acknowledge that it is a great example of an American light lager…it’s just that I don’t care for American light lagers).
As for Castle Double Malt, I’ll be honest: I was expecting more. More malt complexity, more flavour, something that would really differentiate it from Castle Lager. There’s nothing at all wrong with it – it’s just after the blurb and the super sexy packaging (which reminded me of Pilsner Urquell and further raised my expectations) I wanted to be wowed. But I’ve seen lots of other people raving about it on social media and so it’s time to ask you what you thought? Maybe get some friends together to try the Castle trio blind tasting, or just grab a six-pack of Double Malt and tell us what you thought in the comments section below.
And a final note to that once eager PR person – I am still awaiting my delivery of SAB’s new product variant…I’m assuming it was Castle Double Malt, but either way, don’t be shy. Who knows – maybe I will help you create some hype…