There’s never been a better time to be a beer lover in South Africa. Ever since craft beer exploded onto the scene, the barrel has been brimming with promising brewers, young and old.
The number of craft and specialty breweries has increased exponentially in the past year alone, and the brewers themselves are experimenting more than ever with styles, flavours and processes. While you’re out there sampling make sure you don’t miss the chance to try some truly impressive South African craft and specialty beers. We’ve compiled a list of beers you simply cannot miss, based on recognition they’ve received as well as a few great local brews that highlight some unique characteristics of South Africa. You may just a find a new favourite.
1. King’s Blockhouse IPA
This unmistakable IPA is heavily hopped, with sharp, tropical fruit aromas. The ‘hoppiness’ continues through to flavours with granadilla notes and a slightly sweet, malty base. It’s no wonder it was named the winning brew at the recent SA National Craft Brewers Champs. This beer is available at craft beer stockists around SA, but you can also buy on site after a tour of their brewery.
2. Punk Hop (IPA)
Another hoppy one, consisting of three types of aromatic hops for extreme hop addicts, with a light honey and caramel malting and a crisp, dry finish. IPAs dominated the 2014 Craft Brewers Champs and with these quality brews, it's easy to see why. You'll find this passionate bunch of brewers in Secunda, but you needn't go that far to find their beer. Visit your local craft beer stockist for a bottle.
3. Celtic Cross Premium Pilsner
Runner-up at this year’s National Craft Brewers’ Champs, this Pilsner is the perfect session beer: easy to drink and totally moreish. It’s characterised by a lightly fruity nose and a pleasant but subtle sweetness.
Bridge Street was started by none other than the father of craft beer in South Africa, Lex Mitchell, of Mitchells’ Brewery fame. The only place you’ll get to drink it is at the brewery itself, so start planning your trip to PE!
One thing that stands out about this beer is the vanilla. This medium golden beer has strong notes of toffee, candy floss and some even say ice cream. A mild and refreshing beer, lightly hopped with a medium finish, it's easy-drinking and refreshing. The Fransen Street Brewery is SAB's special development brewery based at Chamdor, Krugersdorp. Small scale runs of special interest beers are brewed on a seasonal basis and distributed to taps at bars around Gauteng. Get this one while it's still on tap!
5. Craven Craft Lager
This won the best lager prize at the 2014 Global Craft Beer Awards in Germany last year. Need we say more? It's crisp, refreshing and balanced: completely true to style.
We also want to mention their Governor’s Red Lager, flavoured with real rooibos. It's based on the Craven lager and comes across as an aromatic beer with a crisp, clean taste, and rooibos undertones.
Stellenbrau actually made a beer map to help you find their brews. Try get to their brewery if you can, and take their tour.
6. Robson’s West Coast Ale
A very easy drinking ale, balanced and smooth with an initially rich biscuity malt aroma, complemented by a spicy hop character. The rich ruby red-brown colour makes this a great beer to look at, though the taste is even better.
7. Stewige Stout
This American Stout is not one of the more common styles locally, but has been perfected by the folks at Dog and Fig to the degree that it won them the South African National Craft Brewers Championships in 2013! A creamy, velvety brew with coffee aromas carrying through to the palate where they meet with chocolate.
The five partners behind the brewery have between them two PhDs, two master's degrees and an honours degree, all in chemistry. And they're all passionate about beer. The result is some very successful brews and brew experiments. Look out for their unusual bottles at your local craft beer retailer, or visit them in the Free State.
8. Honey Sun Iqhilika
Although not strictly classed as a beer since it uses honey instead of hops and barley, we had to include this tipple on the list! Iqhilika is the African version of mead, which uses honey and yeast to produce a golden drink with a little more alcohol volume than beer. This prize-winning mead is semi-sweet with a velvety mouth feel and a lingering honey aftertaste. Make an appointment to visit the Makhana Meadery to buy a bottle or two. The meadery is linked to Rhodes University research, and you’ll find a whole lot of bee hives and other bee- and honey-related research and activities going on there too.
Have you tried any of these beers, or would you recommend any others as well? Let us know in the comments below!