South Africa Adds Beer to the Wine List
By: By SANDRA MacGREGOR
Extract from The New York Times
Read the full article at : http://travel.nytimes.com/2012/08/12/travel/south-africa-adds-beer-to-the-wine-list.html
“THE nose is floral with a touch of citrus on the finish,” said Eric van Heerden as he sniffed from a glass.
We were in the middle of South African wine country, but there wasn’t a vineyard in sight. Surrounded by miles of fallow fields and factories in the industrial area of Somerset West, outside Cape Town, we were instead at a tasting bar in an unassuming, ramshackle building that houses Triggerfish Brewing, one of the newest and brightest developments in South Africa’s craft beer scene.
“Now try this one,” continued Mr. van Heerden, the owner and brewmaster at Triggerfish, as he poured us a sample of his Hammerhead IPA. “This is like my Roman Red on steroids,” referring to his brewery’s hearty amber ale. Judging by the enthusiasm of some of my fellow tasters, a similar injection of vitality is just what the beer industry in South Africa has recently been getting from these specialist brewers.
“We always had great wine here but there was a dearth of what I like to call boutique beers,” said Tadious Bohwasi, a sampler from Cape Town, “but lately the craft brew industry here is booming.” Mr. van Heerden agreed: “Beer drinkers here are finally ready to try something different. It’s time to start stretching the envelope for beer in South Africa.”
Firmly established among oenophiles as one of the world’s top wine producers, until recently South Africa was not likewise held in esteem by beer aficionados. It wasn’t that the country didn’t produce beer - indeed, South Africa is home to South African Breweries Limited, a subsidiary of SABMiller, the world’s second largest beer producer - but rather that the mass-produced brew was regarded by connoisseurs as having as much in common with quality beer as boxed wine does with Bordeaux.
Though the country’s first - and still extremely popular - microbrewery, Mitchell’s, came on the scene in the early 1980s, for the next two decades the craft brew scene in South Africa was relatively stagnant, in large part thanks to SAB’s firmly established market share and affordability. But brewmasters are now doing their best to make up for lost time. In the past few years, microbreweries from across the country - Boston, Napier, Jack Black, Clarens, Triggerfish, Darling, Brewers & Union, Birkenhead, Saggy Stone, Robson’s, Drayman’s - have established themselves as among South Africa’s top purveyors. Even the big boys at SAB have begun to try their hands at microbrewing, producing special, limited-run craft brews for local beer festivals.
And South Africans’ thirst for craft brews shows no signs of being slaked anytime soon. Over the next year or so the number of independent breweries in the country will nearly double, with the establishment of labels like Devil’s Peak, Royal Mzansi, Valley Brewery and Gallows Hill.
Indeed, beer has long roots in the region, predating even wine. The first commercial beer in what is now South Africa was brewed in Newlands, just outside Cape Town on the banks of the Liesbeek River in 1658 (wine production didn’t begin until a year later); one of SAB’s breweries still sits at this auspicious spot.
The proliferation of boutique breweries has fostered several beer festivals in recent years: the Cape Town Festival of Beer (capetownfestivalofbeer.co.za), We Love Real Beer Festival (facebook.com/weloverealbeer), and the Clarens Craft Beer Festival (clarensbeerfestival.co.za)….