Monday, 12 August 2013

10 Great Southern African Beers and where to drink them

If you're really into your beers then you may be disappointed at first to find that the most widely available South African beer is SAB Miller's ghastly Castle lager. When we first arrived here I was determined to 'drink local', but two Castles in and I couldn't stomach it any more. Aside from Castle the most widely available and slightly more acceptable refreshing brands from the SAB Miller world domination project are Carling Black label and Hansa. You will find these brews everywhere, from the grand Rand Club to a Soweto shebeen. 

SAB Miller may have a strangle hold on the local beer market but dig a little deeper and you will find there are a million more satisfactory (and more expensive) ways to itch that spot that can only be reached by nice cold beer. In fact, African beers are pretty darn good.

1. Castle Light
Sorry for being misleading, this is actually not a great South African beer. For one thing it is 'light' (although not super light, it's still 4%). The main reason I feel it needs to be mentioned is the local belief that it is ok to drink Castle Light and drive because it won't get you drunk. Common sense people! If you are tanking beers you shouldn't be driving, they will make you drunk. Unfortunately local attitudes to drink driving in South Africa are not akin to those back in Europe and you won't be tackled to the ground and have your keys confiscated if you leave the party a few beers worse for wear - and especially if you point out that the beers were 'light' [sigh].

2. Carling Black Label
Ok, last of the not actually really great beers. The Black Label has to be mentioned because it is the most widely available and is the quintessential South African beer, everyone drinks it. Apparently the slang name for Black Label is zamalek, essentially meaning strong brew as it's 5.5% and is available in 750ml bottles. Drunk really cold as a sundowner in the middle of the African bush...yeah, that's what this is all about.

3. Windhoek Draft
Now to the the real greats, or the ones which I actually drink regularly. Windhoek is produced by Namibian Breweries according to the beer purity laws of the old German colonials. It is available pretty much everywhere and is very drinkable. It's nothing fancy, just a good solid affordable lager type beer. They call it Draught, but it comes in a bottle or can, don't get confused.

4. Tafel Lager
Also from the Namibian Breweries stable. If you can't get the Windhoek Draught, Tafel is pretty much just as good.

5. Citizen's Alliance
This is currently my favourite South African craft beer. It's an American amber ale 'made with honor' in Cape Town. It's a pretty heady 5.5% and has some really strong but smooth flavours going on and is one of those beers you find yourself trying to savour like wine and not just chugging like water. 

6. Jack Black Premium Lager
This seems to currently be everyone else's favourite craft beer. It's a pretty simple lager but much higher quality than the standard discount booze fare. If you're doing a braai, stock up on these and everyone will be impressed.

7. Darling Brew - Slow Beer
The bottle and the branding is pretty cool, but the beer is actually pretty awesome too. A yeasty lager, with just a tiny hint of sweetness, it feels pretty posh (given the bottle and price) and is very easily enjoyed.

8. Smack! - The Bree Street Belle
This is pretty much only available at the Market on Main in Maboneng, Joburg (which I guess makes me sound like a total hipster beer snob - as if I wasn't already sounding that way). They just started micro-brewing it in March 2013 so it has a lot of work ahead of it to spread to the bars and shops. I absolutely love it. It's a golden ale style but with just a hint of bitterness. Crisp, flavoursome summer perfection.

I love the Smack! designs

9. Standeavan - Bohemian Pilsner
Pretty much what it says on the tin - Bohemian Pilsner - what's not to like about that? Standeavan are micro-brewers based somewhere near Durban so I've yet to spot them in any Joziburg pubs, but they are stocked in quite a few of the posher liquor stores. 

10. Boston Breweries - Van Hunk Pumpkin Ale
Worth mentioning because of the pumpkin of course. It's not usual to find beers like this around these parts, so what Boston are doing with this is really, pretty cool.

Where to drink craft beers in Joburg

I wrote about craft beer venues in some detail for the great online Joburg magazine Gummie recently - so...I won't go in to too much detail, I'll just plug my work and say - you should go and read all about Johannesburg's best craft beer places here.

The Craft Beer Guide on

Incidentally, for the record: The Griffin, Foundry, Stanley Beer Yard, Chalkboard Cafe, Neighbourgoods and Market on Main, Wolves, Good Luck Club, The Leopard, Odd Cafe :) 

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