“When Breweries take on craft beer, they really do it in style!” – overheard at the Forries launch of SAB’s latest innovation – “Brewery Fresh Tank Beer”.
It made me chuckle, but I don’t think they’re trying to “take on” craft beer – they really don’t need to, with over 90% of the beer market in SA covered. SAB have recently come out with a few new products – Flying Fish, Castle Milk Stout Chocolate, the Fransen Street beers – and some craft brewers are suspicious, thinking they’re trying to steal back a piece of craft beer’s tiny, tiny slice of pie. As I see it, the craft beer industry should be hugely flattered. With their self-taught brewers, often homemade systems, unusual ingredients and most importantly, their impressive range of beer styles, the craft breweries in South Africa have woken up a giant and got SAB to their feet to tap into the country’s new-found interest in beer.
So what is it?
There are really two things that make this beer different to your usual Castle. First, the beer that comes out of the tank is unpasteurised, much like the majority of South African craft beer you will find. Pasteurisation involves heating the beer to a temperature that will kill any remaining bacteria and yeast in the beer and it does actually impact the flavour of the beer quite a bit. Secondly, this beer is being served from a tank, rather than a keg. The beer will come straight from the bright beer tank in the brewery and be taken to participating bars in a refrigerated tanker truck. It then gets pumped into a bag (I believe one of the Newlands brewers called it a “condom”, referring to the fact that they’re fastidious about only using each bag once – this ensures that everything is as fresh and hygienic as possible) inside a 500-litre tank in the bar. Compressed air is then pumped in to the tank, which pushes the beer out of the bag and to the tap. Usually, CO2 is used to push the beer out of the keg to the tap – the ‘beer in the bag’ helps to extend the life of the beer, despite not being pasteurised.
And was it really brewed today?
Well, that depends on your definition of “brewed”. Most people would say that “brewed” refers to the bit that goes on in the brewhouse – the mashing, the boiling, the cooling… in which case, no, this “tank beer” was not brewed on the day you’re drinking it. Frankly I think the #brewedtoday social media campaign was a bit of a fubar on the part of marketers. Yes, they want to get across that the beer is the freshest Castle you can get, but telling people it is “brewed today” just undoes all of the beer education that’s been going on in South Africa for the past few years. Not only that, but it serves to validate the rumours that SAB can brew a beer in a day. The number of times I’ve told people that “no, SAB do not brew in 24 hours using wonder-chemicals” – and now they go and bloody undo all my good work!
For the record, the beer that was tasted at the various launches came out of the bright beer tank that day, so technically it did reach the final stage of the brewing process.
How is it different?
Basically, it’s unpasteurised – see above. It’s also rather more expensive, with the recommended sale price being “at or below R38.00 per 500ml”. As a friend of mine commented – “they’re charging more for doing less to the beer!”. Props for changing things up a bit though and those tanks can’t have been cheap. Know what I’d like to see though? Unfiltered, unpasteurised Castle. I was at the Tsingtao Brewery years ago and had the unfiltered version of their lager – so much more flavourful. Go on SAB – I dare you… 😉
And is it a first for Africa, as advertised on Twitter?
It is not. Off the top of my head I can tell you that Brauhaus am Damm also use this system. You won’t find a keg being tapped in their brewpub – all beer served there comes directly from the tanks (though they do of course keg for festivals). It is, to my knowledge, the first time beer has been transported in this way in Africa – pumped straight from the beer truck to the tank and into your glass.
Do you know of any other breweries in South Africa that use this system to dispense their beer?
What does it taste like?
Well, it tastes like a standard American lager, funnily enough! We tried a blind tasting of the tank version, normal Castle and Castle draught in a bottle (which is flash pasteurised). For the record, I think everyone around the table preferred the latter, finding it less bitter.
I want to find out for myself – where can I find it?
Due to the reduced shelf-life, the tank beer is only being rolled out at venues that get through a high volume of Castle. At the moment you’ll find it at Forries in Newlands and Ferrymans at the Waterfront and it will launch at Quay Four and Long Street Café before the end of November 2014.