With the craft beer revolution in full force in South Africa, the general public are being exposed to many different types of beers that were unheard of in the country a couple of years ago. Our local brews are amazing, and narrowing down my personal top 10 for early 2014 is no easy task. After much discussion and tasting (and more tasting for good measure), here are my top 10 craft beers for the summer.
1. SOWETO GOLD Superior Lager (R384 per case)
As Soweto Gold is South Africa’s only township microbrewery beer, it took me a while to track this one down. You may think you know lagers, but not like this. Upon your first sip, expect a pale, medium-bodied lager with a mild bitterness balanced by a gentle hop flavour. The grainy, malty characters may hint of heavier German lager-styles, but the light, fruity flavours coming through make this a perfect, all-day drinking beer.
2. BIRKENHEAD Honey Blonde Ale (R348 per case)
This light, golden ale is an old favourite. If you’re looking for something delicious to quench your thirst, it doesn’t get much better than this. Expect a sweet, malty finish; a warm, honey aroma and low bitterness. If you’re thinking beer and food-pairing, this beer loves anything hot: serve it with a slice of lemon on a scorching day or pair it with spicy food to get the most out of the flavour.
3. CAPE BREWING COMPANY Amber Weiss (R396 per case)
This gem of a Weiss beer won Beer of Show at the Cape Town Festival of Beer in 2013, and for good reason. It is undoubtedly one of the best South African Weiss beers I have tasted. It is fruity and aromatic with a frothy head that dissipates quickly. The notes of banana, coriander and cloves provide a nice touch. Not much needs to be said of this beer, except that you should do yourself a favour and try it.
4. DARLING BREW Bone Crusher (R420 per case)
This is a beer that I have been enjoying for quite a while. It’s a great example of a Belgian-style Witbier (wheat beer). Edgy and refreshing, it has a citrusy nose, a spicy richness and a lingering bitterness. The citrus and coriander additions work well with light subtle flavours of crayfish, which make for an unusual and interesting pairing. If you consider yourself a bit of a craft fundie, this should be on your bucket list.
5. CITIZEN Alliance American Amber Ale (R384 per case)
This American Amber Ale-style is so balanced. Expect a clear, dark-coloured amber ale with a slight bitterness followed by caramel flavours from the malt and a subtle dry finish. With its smooth consistency, it’s an easy drinking beer for any occasion.
6. THE STANDEAVEN BREWERY African Pale Ale (R468 per case)
Straight out of Natal, this is one of the first official African Pale Ales: made in the style of an American Pale Ale but with true African heritage and more malt richness. The traditional bottle conditioning even leaves a fine layer of yeast in the bottom of the bottle for maximum old-school authenticity. Well balanced, but leaning slightly towards the malt side, it is relatively low in bitterness (for its style). The crisp, dry finish, well-carbonated mouthfeel and notes of sweet biscuit and caramel make it popular with the folks in Durban, but I guarantee you can enjoy this beer no matter where you are located.
7. EXPERIMENTAL BREWERS Jozi Thunder Mild IPA (R492 per case)
Inspired by the vibe of our very own Jozi-town, once brewed, this brand new IPA resulted in an unexpected mixture of sharp and smooth and fruity and bitter. While a ‘balanced IPA’ might seem like an oxymoron to some, the Experimental Brewers have managed to pull it off. With notes of grapefruit and pineapple on the nose and a caramel-like sweetness on the palate, the bitterness is gentle and lingers lightly. Definitely worth a try if you’re an IPA fan.
8. BREWERS & UNION Easy IPA (R450 per case)
The last IPA that the boys down at &Union made was so popular, they decided to make another one. Balanced and gentle, this is an easy-drinking IPA, with notes of citrus and orange peel, a malty backbone and resin on the finish. This hazy, golden-coloured beer pairs well with seafood, mature cheeses and pork dishes. It’s always worth checking new brews from &Union, and the Easy IPA is no different.
9. JACK BLACK Skeleton Coast IPA (R396 per case)
The new IPA from Jack Black is a fearless beer with full malt flavours and extreme hop flavours. The dry-hopping is subtle, but definitely enough to add aroma to the big flavours. It has notes of citrus and earth on the nose, with caramel on the palate and a dry bitter finish. This strong bitter malt will go perfectly with hot, aromatic curry dishes. Also, the final label is superb and you will look like a craft aficionado when you pour it.
10. DEVIL’S PEAK BREWING COMPANY The King’s Blockhouse IPA (R456 per case)
This world class American style IPA is another old favourite of mine, and will probably be among my top beers for quite some time. While it was dry-hopped for aroma, it retains a sweet, clean maltiness in the background. You can expect a medium gold colour; notes of grapefruit, perfume and flowers and a light sweetness on top of a malty backbone. It is quite bitter, so I would recommend that you enjoy this beer without any frills.
If only I could write my top 30 or 50 South African craft beers, it would be a much easier task! There are loads of great beers out there, so next time you’re at a local pub or at your favourite eatery, try the beer that’s on tap. You may find an unexpected amber treasure right in your neighbourhood.
For more information about local craft beers, visit leagueofbeers.com.