When I first started blogging, I wondered if there was really enough material to sustain a blog focused solely on the South African craft beer scene. Here’s a spoiler: there is.
For the past year I’ve had this irritating checklist of blog post ideas saved in my phone, but somehow I never seem to get around to writing them. Something always comes up – a new beer released, a cool brewery opening, a fest ticket giveaway to share or a news story that I feel the need to rant about. I’m determined to get rid of this list before we get too far into 2016. So here are a bunch of random thoughts all spewed out in list format.
1) Homebrew and craft beer are not the same thing
“I know this”, I hear you cry – but not everyone seems to. I often hear restaurant owners talking about a new homebrew they have on tap. Don’t get me wrong – I know homebrewers whose beers are better than many commercially available ales. But I think when a lot of people hear the word ‘homebrew’, they think of the sour crap they fermented on a sunny windowsill from a kit back in 1989 and I suppose this could put them off the idea of wanting to taste the restaurant’s ‘homebrew’. As I say, many homebrews are awesome, but it is worth giving craft/microbrewers the respect they deserve for taking the plunge and taking their hobby to a professional level. It kind of annoys me anyway, so I thought I’d mention it.
2) Passing mistakes off as other styles is naughty
I’ve sampled a number of “Lambics” in South Africa. I strongly suspect that none of them were cooled in a koelschip/coolship (a shallow, open vessel). Nor were they aged for years in well-loved barrels, then served sans carbonation (though one brewer did spend weeks searching out the typical old, aroma-less hops to add to his intentionally sour beer). In short, they were not Lambics at all – in most cases they were what is technically known among beer circles, as fuck ups. It happens to everyone – Shawn, my husband, once had a dodgy fermenter which ruined a batch of wheat. We chucked a load of frozen (well, previously frozen) strawberries in it, which covered up the nasty and made it quite a drinkable brew. What we didn’t do was label it as a Berliner Weiss and sell it at a higher price because it’s a speciality beer. Own your mistakes – drink them yourselves or if you must sell them, tell people you screwed up and are trying to turn it around. Stop pulling the wool over the consumers’ eyes. It’s not cool.
3) You should sell beer t-shirts in women’s sizes
Women like beer you know, and they also like wearing beer shirts at festivals. They don’t particularly care for oversized men’s shirts that make them look like the side of a house, but for some reason, so few brewers sell shirts in ladies’ sizes. And while I’m at it, you should sell beery tank tops. It’s hot in South Africa and beer-themed tank tops for women would sell well. But they probably shouldn’t be pink. And they should be in realistic sizes, not designed for the flat-bellied, big-boobed, IPA-swigging woman of your dreams…(apologies to female brewers reading this – but if you’re not selling lady-sized versions of your beer shirts, then shame on you).
4) Sticking to a recipe is a good idea
If you’ve added a beer to your core range, and it’s a good beer, that beer will gain a following. Those drinkers come back to your brewery, or go back to the liquor store to buy the same beer again. Sure, recreating the same beer every time is one of the most difficult parts of brewing and we know that sometimes, it’s tough to get the same amounts of the same ingredients, particularly hops. Small diversions are perfectly fine, but I’ve often heard brewers saying “I’m a craft brewer, my beer is different every time. If you don’t like it, you can go somewhere else.” And believe me, they will…
5) Pretty much everyone puts “chemicals” in their beer
If you treat or change your water in any way – and most brewers do (often to get a specific water profile that’s better suited to a certain style of beer), then technically you’re adding chemicals to your brew. Potassium metabisulfite, calcium sulfate, sodium bicarbonate – sound pretty chemically don’t they? But all can be used to alter water during the brew (to reduce chlorine content, accentuate bitterness and raise the mash pH level respectively). So do SAB add chemicals to their beer? Sure, but then so does the above avergage homebrewer. Do SAB add things to preserve their beer? I think that’s wine your’e thinking of. Do they add harmful chemicals to make Castle ferment in 24 hours? They wish. Is there some mystery ingredient added to stop you getting a hangover? You wish. Of course, I don’t know everything that SAB – or indeed any other brewer in SA – adds during the brewing process. I will email to see if they will tell us. A couple of years ago, a US food blogger went on a vendetta to get AB-Inbev to disclose all of the ingredients in their beers. This post – entitled ‘The Dangers of Dumbassery’ is a great response to that campaign.
6) Restaurants: please put beer on the menu
Beer lists are, thankfully, becoming more common than they were a couple of years ago, but I still find that while dozens of wines have their own spot on the menu, alongside everything from a glass of Coke and a cup of rooibos to a strawberry daiquiri, beer still doesn’t always make the cut. Why? Even if you only have a few mainstream beers, I want to know how much you’re charging for them before I order. And if you have any speciality beers at all, put them on the menu. Oh, and train your staff on what they taste like as well, please.
7) Winemakers – just because you can make wine, that doesn’t mean you can brew a beer
I think it’s awesome that there are breweries infiltrating the Cape Winelands, and among them there are some superb beers. I have also tasted some beers that, if they were wines, wouldn’t even scrape into the bottom of the Box Wine Awards nominations. Beer might not have the highfalutin reputation that wine has, but just because you can produce the latter, it doesn’t automatically mean you can make the former. Beer is not a forgiving beast – tiny mistakes such as mistreating your yeast or failing to sanitise everything your wort might touch will turn your beer into something I might hesitate to tip on my garden. But then I suppose you could just call it a Lambic and sell it anyway…
What gets your goat when it comes to beer? Feel free to rant in the comments section below…