If you follow the local beer scene closely, you’ll have noticed a couple of new names appearing on taps or bottles in your local bar or liquor store. Imported craft beers are infiltrating the South African market and some have suggested this is damaging for an industry so young. I’m here to tell you why I think that that’s nonsense.
True, the craft beer scene in South Africa is young – there are around 50 breweries, many of which don’t distribute much further than their own front door. The number is ballooning (I’d guess that this time last year there were more like 30) and some brewers worry that the taste for craft beer has not spread far enough in the country yet to sustain them all. Add to that the imports and you can see why some are wondering what will happen to their share of this niche market.
But for me, importing quirky and quality craft beers can only boost the beer culture. And no-one could argue that the two major craft breweries that recently sent their brews to Cape Town are lacking in either quality or quirkiness.
BrewDog came first, the famous ‘beer for punks’ brewed by the maverick microbrewery based in Scotland. BrewDog’s reputation in the craft beer industry is almost as big as some of its beers – and as I quickly discovered at this year’s CTFoB, where the beers made their South African debut, some of those beers are very big indeed. The flagship range includes the Punk IPA and its big brother, Hardcore, but it was the stronger members of the BrewDog family that I was keen to try – the Anarchist/Alchemist Triple IPA (14%), the delectable and life-changing (OK, that’s a bit much, but it was pretty damn good) Tokyo Imperial Stout (18.2%) and later, when I’d recovered, the famed Tactical Nuclear Penguin. The 32% ale might not be the world’s strongest beer any more, but it’s definitely not an entry level beer (and at R65 for a 25ml shot is likely to appeal only to extreme enthusiasts).
Just a fortnight later, we met the Dead Guy and his buddies, the big, bold beers from Oregon’s Rogue Brewery. Their flagship ale, Dead Guy, along with the well-hopped Brutal IPA and the rich and almost dessert-like Hazelnut Brown are on tap at Banana Jam Café, while a fuller range – including a delectable dark lager – can be found at Roeland Liquors in Cape Town.
Of course, if you’re buying these beers instead of your usual local brews, it’s bound to be cutting into someone ’s profits, but as long as the beers we’re seeing are innovative (and tasty), in the long run it can only help the industry. The more beers that we have available in South Africa, the more chance there is that someone will find something they like. Saturating the market with imported light lagers, for me is neither exciting nor necessary. But some of the recent craft imports make you see what beer can really be – it can be infused with juniper berries, it can be 18%, it can be a wildly expensive 32% brew or it can be a moreish after-dinner drink that has you believing that someone actually managed to make beer from Nutella. Too many people claim that they don’t like beer because of the one style of it that they’ve actually tried, but with more styles available – and some of these will have to come from overseas – there will be converts, converts who’ll continue supporting the local brewers long after we’ve drunk the Dead Guy dry…
This post was first published on The Craft Beer Project.