Apologies for the lack of posts this week. I have moved to Simon’s Town – yes, I am winning with village life, submarines, sea views etc. – and Telkom are taking their time getting to the ADSL line.
“Craft beers are the new boutique wines,” I overheard a particularly silly person with oversized sunglasses and daunting lipstick say at the Biscuit Mill Market recently. They’re not, obviously, but I do think the craft beer scene can learn a lot from the wine industry. Most importantly to avoid falling into the same bow-tied, elitist reputation the wine industry has got itself embroiled with over the years.
It was with such thoughts that I attended the launch of the MyBeer Heroes Club last week.
[This next paragraph pays for dinner]
MyBeerSA follows RealTimeWine – ah, apps hand their dislike of the spacebar – as South Africa’s next thing to do while you drink with a smartphone. Commissioned by South African Breweries, the MyBeerSA app launched earlier this year lets users find, rate, and share their drinking experience of all sorts of beers with other technologically savvy alcoholics. Basically the club was launched to reward users of the app. The SAB says:
The club will host ad hoc beer and food pairings such as the launch event, held at the historic Letterstedt Pub at the Newlands Brewery as well as beer tasting sessions with SAB’s master brewers. Members will also be able to take part in virtual beer tastings on Twitter, win merchandise and tickets to beer festivals. League of Beers will offer special deals to MyBeer Heroes. Top users could get the chance to run the @MyBeerSA Twitter handle for a week.
[That quote was a bloggers version of a tip]
All very exciting, don’t you know. Before we could get our hands on any beer we were taken on a tour of the Newlands brewery guided by SAB trade brewer Denis Da Silva. My god, SAB makes a lot of beer. They are able to bottle 1 million bottles in 24 hours at the Newlands brewery alone. That is staggering. All you lovers of artisanal things will be happy to know that SAB also practices ‘hands off’ beer making. Computers do it all.
Putting poor jokes to the side for a second let me say I can highly recommend the tour. It’s very well planned out, and watching a natural product like beer being made on such a gigantic level is incredible. Well worth the Black Label you have to drink afterwards.
Once the tour had concluded and a pint of Black Label was forced down our throats, all the journos, beer makers and avid MyBeerSA users sat down for dinner prepared by Chef Peter Goffe-Woode. He’d paired dishes with SAB beers, and some craft beers brought along by craft brewers. I am getting tired of using the word craft. Makes me think of glue, macaroni and paper plates..
I remember looking around the room and feeling concern. Here sat South Africa’s top craft brewers, some of the main men and women of this fledgling industry, lured into a cellar with very few escape routes by South Africa’s beer giant. My imagination got to work and I could hear a bolt clang shut, and SAB henchman stomp down stairs armed with oversized Castle quart bottles ready to wipe out the craft beer movement before it could begin.
Of course this is just the sort of thinking SAB is trying to change with events like this and applications like MyBeer. If SAB can get behind the craft beer movement in South Africa – which poses pretty much zero threat to their market (until there are quarts of IPA everywhere SAB shareholders can sleep easy) – then they look like the good guys, rather than THE MAN with his three piece cage, coming to stomp on the little man with his stompy corporate boots.
So I look at this club, the app, and the dinner put on by SAB as a way for us to rethink our idea of SAB as a counterpoint to the craft beer movement, and rather as a generous uncle, who lets everybody making beer play nicely together. It’s a smart move.
Does it work? Well my belly was full and I had some good beer, so it worked for me. I do think it is great for the growth of our craft beer industry. SAB could ignore smaller brewers, but instead they are engaging them and those that drink beers other than fizzy lagers. This alone is surely a good thing. But with my liberal arts university history and stint raising money for greenpeace, it’s pretty damn hard to trust a corporation.
Well my favourite South African beer remains the Devil’s Peak Brewery’s King’s Blockhouse IPA. Very hoppy, with fruit flavours supporting the bitterness well. It’s a full on beer, a beer you take home to meet your older brother or sister rather than your mom. A beer that doesn’t suffer fools, a beer that likes grungy rock, summer, sweat, and Led Zeppelin. I found out at the tasting from Martin (of Keg King fame) that cannabis and hops are rather closely related. This makes sense on so many levels. The smell of a freshly opened bankie of top draw spliff and that of a freshly opened Blockhouse are very similar. I must attempt a pairing at some point.
Two other stand outs for me. Honingklip Brewery’s Honningklip IPA was a gentler beer than the Devil’s peak. An introduction to IPA, and elegant IPA, an IPA that your mom would be happy to make tea for.
The Krystal Weiss by the Cape Brewing Company was also excellent. It’s a very clean Weiss, balanced, fresh, and felt (believe me I am no beer expert yet) lighter and less overwhelming than other Weiss beers I have tasted. There is another wine link here – look out for an article in Classic Wine about the cross over happening between the wine and beer industries – the Cape Brewing Company is situated at Spice Route and that makes for a very interesting spot to stop and taste wine and beer. Charles Back, always just that bit ahead of the curve.