Why is it that the Western Cape is such a hotbed of beer variety? The answer is largely down to a entrenched and extremely strong home brewing culture, nurtured primarily by the South Yeasters home brewing club. Without any doubt, the true strength of the Beer Revolution is the commitment of these foot soldiers.
An ever-growing group of beer enthusiasts meets once a month to share their latest brews, knowledge and solid beer banter. The highlight of the year is their Summer Fest, hosted by SAB in the grounds of their historical and picturesque brewery. The venue is stunning, and the rich brewing history is palpable as one walk through the malt house, now a heritage museum. A lot of micro- brewers look upon SAB with distrust. Big beer, they reason, is an evil empire imposing its will and destroying independent beer planets with impunity. But there were no aggressive Storm Trooper-types or conniving spies at this event, just bright red tents with Castle on them. Some student home brewers couldn’t afford taps – so SAB lent them some. Not really the behavior of a beer-swilling Darth Vader; more like a big brother helping their much younger siblings navigate the wonderful universe of brewing. “The force is strong with you!” sayeth the Emperor with an approving nod.
The atmosphere at the Summer Fest is jovial, and the brewers are exposed to many thirsty beer lovers eager to taste what amateur brewing has got up its sleeve. The standard was the highest I have encountered in the last three years, perhaps testament to the overall lifting of standards in amateur and micro-brewing. Many of the entrants were commercial ventures in the making – simply (or not so simply) waiting on their licenses. I recognized a few; Three Anchor Brewing and their Peg Leg IPA was a favourite of mine last year. When questioned as to why they had not yet gone commercial, the brewer replied, ” I don’t want to have to make standard beers, I like the freedom to experiment”. Is this an indication that even “Micro- brewing” is starting to be viewed as mainstream? Another favourite, which got my vote for “People’s choice” was a very well-made Black IPA from Northern suburb home brewery Fishbone Beerworks. They too are hesitant to become a commercial brewing operation, with their brewer happy to remain a hobbyist, content to make beer for himself and his family. Good for him.
Does making beer commercially take away the experimentation and fun associated with creating a quality handmade product? Perhaps. But, I know many a commercial brewer that experiments and has loads of fun doing it. One of the biggest and most influential ‘craft’ brewers – BrewDog – seems to have a never-ending list of experiments. Regardless, the future of beer in the Western Cape and South Africa looks good. The foot soldiers’ numbers are swelling, and their skills are increasing rapidly. The revolution is in their hearts and minds, and the quality in their hands. Keep an eye out for these breweries, who will soon have a beer in your hand: Beerfly, Stickman Brewery and Riebeek Brew ( Now names Flagship Brew).