Exploring the Cape Town Craft Beer Scene
Our tour to South Africa had a huge focus on wine. And while I love wine, I couldn’t travel across the world without exploring the Cape Town craft beer scene. We arrived the night before the tour began and stayed in Central Cape Town. This was our chance for some grain before an immersion in grapes.
Our hotel was a few blocks from Devil’s Peak Brewery with both award winning beers and a highly rated kitchen. My kind of place. Unfortunately for us, we were a day late and a brewery short as we arrived on Sunday when most of the breweries and craft beer bars, including Devil’s Peak, were closed.
Beer House was our only option. It was at the bottom of my list as most of the reviews described the beer selection as heavy on European imports. I didn’t travel across the world to sip on a Paulaner. I can get that at home – I wanted to explore the local beer scene. Of course, the staff at our hotel was useless. None of them quite grasped the concept of craft beer. Yes, SABMiller may be locally owned, but their labels are far from craft beers.
We decided to give Beer House a try anyway and were pleasantly surprised. It had a good crowd for a Sunday evening, which I’m assuming isn’t a peak night given that most places were closed. A band played Bob Marley style acoustic music while patrons sipped from one of the 25 beers on draft, most of which, to our delight, were South African craft beers.
I started off the night with a Devil’s Peak First Light. Since we couldn’t actually visit the tasting room at Devil’s Peak, it was only fitting to start with one of their beers. Labeled as a session ale, I found nothing sessionable about First Light. Its flavor were big clove and big banana with a very smooth finish and a slight fizzle on the tongue. I know all that sounds like a sunny day thirst quencher, but the 6% ABV marks it just a bit higher than I like my session beers. Which is especially strange given that many of the beers we sipped throughout the week did fall on the lower ABV scale. Still, I enjoyed this beer and can easily label it as one of the best blondes I’ve ever had (Don’t tell me wife…). Truly a good first beer of the night.
Mrs. G. began her night with an Apollo Brewery Stout, and since sharing is caring, she let me have a few sips. While the ABV was low on this stout, the flavor was not with strong notes of burnt coffee – at least this was our first impression. The finish was a bit watered down. It was only a 4% beer. The flavor had to be sacrificed somewhere. I liked that they served it a tad on the warm side. I’m not sure if this was on purpose but it reminded me of a proper stout served on a cold night in London but adapted to the warm Cape Town climate.
I admit that I wasn’t expecting much from the food. Then again, I wasn’t expecting much from the beer either since I thought I’d be choosing from a list of European imports. Not sure why I was being such a downer – maybe it was the long flight. But damn, this joint had some great food!
I ordered the Boerewors Roll. A quick food lesson, Boerewors is the national sausage of South Africa with influences from the many immigrants that helped populate the Cape (German, English, Malaysian, Dutch, etc). You’ll find Boerewors on almost every menu in South Africa and many in Namibia as well.
I’m not going to say that this was the best boerwurst I had in South Africa (although it very well could be), but the overall combination of the dish on the hard, crusty roll with fried onions and spicy mustard was crazy good. Think bratwurst with a typical German spicy mustard. Then add a sweet, fresh, and clean finish from the strong notes of the coriander, cloves, and nutmeg leaving a little voice in your head saying, “take another bite.” And you do, crunching into the warm, thick, wheat roll and starting the entire process over again, hopefully remembering to come up for beer.
Then there were the chips. I don’t get excited about French fries (let’s call them what they are) anywhere when I’m travelling. It’s not that I’m a hater on the fried spud. Give me some hand cut fries and a dousing of malt vinegar and I’m a happy man. But when outside of the US borders, they’re just old hat. I want something local, something special. I then remembered that I was in South Africa with heavy British influences, and while the Brits don’t cook a lot of things right, they know how to cook their “chips”.
The chips were thick, and I immediately assumed they would be dry and dull. Oh contraire! The shell was crisp, crunching as I bit into it, with a fluffy, soft, and moist potato center. They weren’t soggy or greasy but were perfect chips from first hot chip to the last room temperature chip.
We wanted to make it a night on our first evening out in Cape Town. We planned for a few pints at Beer House and then planned to explore Central Cape Town’s night life. Alas, jet lag set in and we only had the energy for two rounds.
My second beer was Woodstock Coop Brewery’s Californication. It was a South African attempt at a West Coast IPA. Coming in at 7.2% ABV, I figured the alcohol punch would help knock me out once back at the hotel. The nose screamed citrus and piney hops as did the initial palate. Hot damn, they did it! They replicated a West Coast IPA. Then the beer was lacking on the finish. I wouldn’t label the beer a disappointment as it showed promise. But as an America, I felt Woodstock was stretching to label this a West Coast IPA.
Mrs. G. ordered a Cape Brewing Company Amber Weiss with a 5.4% ABV. This beer was essentially banana nut bread in a glass. It was delicious. Mrs. G. barely let me have a sip, swiping the glass away after it barely touched my lips and guarding her “precious” between gulps. Then, to my embarrassment, she actually licked the damn glass clean. I guess she liked it.
Cape Town Craft Beer First Impression
Our first impression of the Cape Town craft beer scene was quite high. I enjoyed tasting the many influences that can be found in our selections from British to German to an attempt at an American style. We found that South Africans excel at brewing session ales that strike a beautiful balance with full flavors that aren’t too heavy on the palate or ABV which make for some great warm weather sippers.
Help me complete this guide. Where else do you recommend for Cape Town craft beer?