Cape Town - A beer brewery in the heart of the winelands? That is exactly the setting several microbrewers have chosen for their craft.
From bigger operations to smaller ones, South Africans are beginning to develop their bitter tastebuds and brewers are becoming ever more creative.
Ampie Kruger is a mechanical engineer and owner of the Wild Clover brewery in Stellenbosch. Other than the tanks, most of the equipment used for brewing is handmade. Kruger’s is a small operation, and he describes his beer as artisanal. Each beer is individually bottled and capped by hand.
Kruger explains that beer is much like wine in that there are two main styles: lager and ale. Lager is brewed and stored in cooler temperatures, while ale is the warmer one, brewed and stored at room temperature. Lagers – which is the favourite of most South Africans – are lighter in colour, while the ales are darker.
The Cape Argus team tasted four of Kruger’s beers: the two lagers, Fish Eagle and Blind Mole, and two ales, Double Owl and Black Dog.
When tasting beer, one must check the colour, swirl the glass to see how carbonated the beer is, smell, then taste. Kruger says because the bitter tastebuds are at the back of the tongue, one must take a big mouthful and swallow.
One of the lagers has a banana undertone, while the other smells and tastes like honey. One of the ales has a smokey, bacon fragrance and taste, while the darker ale leaves a nutty taste. The ales are perfectly paired with warm puddings and dark chocolate, says Kruger.
While they all taste different, none of the beers has added flavouring. All he uses is water, barley, hops and yeast. It is the combination of temperatures, strain of yeast and quantities that create the different flavours. The most important component is the yeast, and any brewer will tell you that’s a secret they guard closely.
Kruger is self-taught and started out as a weekend brewer, before getting his licence last year.
“The market is huge in South Africa, but more so in Cape Town. In Cape Town, people are used to good wine and good food pairing. With beer, it adds another dimension which enhances the experience.”
Deon Engelbrecht, owner of Stellenbrau Brewery, worked as a financial adviser for 15 years. A few years ago, he visited the Luyt Breweries in Ballito, KwaZulu-Natal. The next morning he went for a run and decided he would start his own microbrewery.
Engelbrecht built his brewery in November 2011 in Stellenbosch, and opened his doors – and kegs – last June. He brews about 7 500 litres a week. The demand varies from area to area, but there’s a trend towards people asking for something different.
Many of the craft beer brewers are concentrated in the Western Cape. Engelbrecht attributes a portion of this to the presence and long stays of Europeans. In places like Belgium and Germany, there are microbreweries in every town.
“They have lifted the palette of taste for beer. Microbrewing is fast growing in South Africa,” he says.
He says the potential is big, but the capital needed and sustainability should not be underestimated.
At the moment, beer drinkers hold 79 percent of the liquor consumption market. Of that, craft beer holds less than 1 percent.
Brewmaster Wolfgang Koedel started his brewing career in Germany over three decades ago, and has been to China, Singapore before settling in Cape Town 11 years ago. He is the brewmaster for the Cape Brewing Company based in Paarl.
Koedel says the time is right and the Western Cape is producing quality beer and that US companies want to distribute locally brewed beer in their markets.
“I’m very proud to have been part of the grassroots. Brewers have begun to take it more seriously. It’s amazing to see how they went from brewing five litres to owning microbreweries,” says Koedel.
He says 10 applications for microbrewing licences have been made in Cape Town.
While most of the action is happening in the Western Cape, whenever kegs are sent to Joburg, they are sold out very quickly.
The Hops Harvest Festival, a celebration of locally brewed craft beer, will be held at the Wild Clover Farm from May 10 to 12. Visit www.wildclover.co.za. - Cape Argus