Craft beer is described as “an explosion of art and science coming together to build a drinking masterpiece”.
A far cry from the traditional beers that were consumed at the annual rugby festivals, the popularity of craft beers has mushroomed in South Africa. Unique names, delicately brewed flavours and subtly nuanced tastes are a wonderful topic of conversation, as are the fascinating histories, intricate labels – and they are just super cool to drink.
South Africa has often been regarded as a lager-drinking nation, but thanks to the emergence of craft brewing, hopheads, as aficionados of handcrafted beers are known, now have a wide array of styles to choose from. There are pale ales, alt biers, stouts, Pilsners, double bocks, barrel-aged beers, seasonal beers, smoked malt beers, and beers made using fruit, herbs, spices, honey, wild yeast and more.
History tells us that Lex Mitchell, an ex-SAB brewer, kick-started the craft beer brewing revolution in South Africa back in the 1980s with SA’s first microbrewery – Mitchells – in Knysna. Fast-forward 25 years (no doubt in an alcohol-induced haze) to 2015 and there are currently more than 135 brewing companies that can be considered craft brewers.
More breweries are opening their doors nearly every month, adding to the list of delicious, handcrafted beers. Of the approximately 135 craft beer brewers, an impressive 66 (48 percent) of them are currently practising their ‘ale-chemy’ down in the Western Cape, although Gauteng (33) and KwaZulu-Natal (15) seem almost ready to join the company of the big boys of brewing down in the Cape.
Initially the Western Cape led the movement championing ‘real beer’ (real beer being beer that’s naturally brewed using artisan methods and with no chemical or artificial additives), with microbreweries like Jack Black Beer, Triggerfish Brewing, Devil’s Peak Brewing Company and Gallows Hills Brewing Company, to name but a few, producing delicious beers with sometimes idiosyncratic names.
For convenience, and in keeping with the worldwide trend of beer-and-food matching, Cape Beer Bar & Union offers local and European craft beers on tap, while the Banana Jam Café has 16 local craft beers on tap and offers craft-beer tastings. Both have beer-friendly food menus. KwaZulu-Natal is so keen on craft beer that it has a self-drive microbrewery beer route. Discover the likes of the Nottingham Road Brewing Company (great pub atmosphere and food) in the Midlands, Quills, the Zululand Brewery and Shongweni Brewery.
Gauteng is another emerging craft-beer destination. Try Gilroy’s for British-style ales and pub grub; have a tasty meal and a pint at the Cockpit Brewhouse, or enjoy a beer tasting or a beer-and-food pairing at De Garve Brewery.
Microbreweries can also be found in Mpumalanga, the Free State, the Eastern Cape and the North West. Virtually anywhere you travel in South Africa, rest assured that you’re never far away from the perfect handcrafted pint. Check out these delicious spots:
- Clarens Brewery is one of the country’s first Brew-Pub, Cidery and Distillery set in the foot-hills of the magnificent Maluti Mountains. Offering seven delicious ales in their standard range, it is complimented by various seasonal ales and festival specials. Their Red Stone range of fruit liqueurs are all made from local fruit. They offer free tasters and brewery tours and have a delicious lunch menu focusing on German style sausages, local organic cheeses, local breads, relishes and pickles. It’s a treat!
- Anvil Ale Brewery And Pub lies on the edge of Dullstroom. Make sure you head across town to savour the local beer, local fare and numerous generous helpings of boozy cake. The 1 000-litre brewery produces a Blonde Ale, a Pale Ale and a Baltic Porter. By comparison the Blonde Ale tastes most like a lager, and the Pale Ale leaves a more fruity, malty taste in the mouth, with a slightly bitter aftertaste. Most of the food is locally sourced (like the German sausage from Nelspruit), and the relishes, mustard and desserts are all made on the premises. You might want to sample either the boozy cake or chocolate rum cake – both of which have received generous lashings of alcohol during the production process. There is a daily food menu that includes dishes such as smoked trout and scrambled egg, wholesome veggie soup, trout quiche and other delights.
- Nottingham Road Brewery nestles in the shady grounds of the elegant Rawdons Hotel, in the heart of the Midlands Meander. This thriving independent brewery has long been delighting locals and visitors with an outstanding range of naturally brewed ales and lagers. Only the purest spring water drawn from an artesian well on the grounds and finest quality hops and malted barley are used to create beers of outstanding character with a smooth, well-rounded taste.
- Cockpit Brewhouse in Cullinan has an aviation theme and is just what you need to be ready to experience what this unique craft brewery and eatery has to offer. The Brewhouse features numerous diverse types of high quality beers (ales), brewed on site to suit the tastes and challenge the perceptions of all those who go there to glug down Helles Belles Blond Ale, Spitfire English Pale Ale, Mustang American Pale Ale, Black Widow Stout, Fokker Weiss.
- Black Horse Brewery in Magaliesberg is one of my best ever destinations. Offering an artisanal craft brewery that also serves food, is just one-hour scenic drive outside Johannesburg and situated on the edge of the Magalies River, with lush green fields and majestic black horses. The extraordinary craft beer is made from natural spring water and the finest hops. You will never want to leave this magnificent space after you have tried their Honey Porter and Golden Lager. Wild horses couldn’t drag me away!