Earlier this week I published the results of the 2019 Brewmistress Beer Awards. There was one brewery that I felt was lacking from the list, or at least from the votes. And that same brewery had been lacking in previous years too. In fact, when I searched for “Woodstock” on my blog, all that came up was a series of events – the Woodstock Winter Beer Festival and a selection of seasonal launches posted on the events calendar. There and then I realised that Woodstock Brewery is perhaps the most underrated brewery in South Africa.
The seasonal launches are one of the things that really established the brewery. There is a solid core range, but the seasonal range put them on the map. Many breweries have launched seasonals only to quickly absorb them into the core range, resulting in a beer menu that reads like my January to do list. Woodstock Brewery resisted that urge, maintaining, alongside their flagships and plenty of experimental small-batch goodness scattered throughout the year, a quartet of beers re-released each season and available for a few months only. Their seasonals have remained seasonal. Except for one. You could say that they used to do a little of it, but drinkers really enjoyed it, so the little, well – it got more and more.
I love Mr Brownstone. The hazelnut brown ale was first released several years back as Woodstock’s autumn release. I applauded their restraint at keeping it a seasonal, but a year or two later, when they announced that it would become a year-round, I started to make space in my fridge.
There is just something about this beer. I find it incredibly well-balanced and well-made. It is, as I often say, like Nutella in beer form and yet it has nothing of the synthetic about it. It oozes chocolate and hazelnuts and ever-so-slightly overdone toast, but it remains a crisp and refreshing beer, with an underlying bitterness that makes it remarkably drinkable. I know that Mr Brownstone is not for everyone – blissfully, my hubby hates it, which means when I buy a case, that case is all for me. It’s not an all-day drinking beer and it’s not a “pairs with anything” beer. But it is an expertly brewed, full-of-flavour but not-too-rich beer that is great for lunchtime dessert, for sipping around the fire, for photographing (that head retention!!), as a nightcap or dare I say, alongside pancakes for breakfast.
Last week, after an all-day braai (and let’s be honest, a month of steady beer drinking) I was feeling bloated and beered-out. Then I found that one last can of Brownstone in the back of my fridge. It both made and ruined my evening: made it because it was exactly what I wanted and I savoured every last sip; ruined it because once it was done, I knew I didn’t want to drink another thing and promptly left our guests to it and took myself off to bed.
If you haven’t tried it, make it your new year’s resolution. While it’s not the beer I’ve drunk most of in 2019, it is the beer I’ve consistently enjoyed, because it is consistently good. You’ll find it in certain liquor stores and on tap at Banana Jam, but best of all, swing by Woodstock’s taproom, which remains one of the cheapest – and most underrated – places to drink great beer in the Mother City.
What was your beer of the year in 2019? Tell us all about it in the comments section…