Friday, 18 April 2014

Cockpit in Cullinan: Mustang meets Spitfire

One of the local pioneers of the local craft beer movement, I was drawn to Cockpit's the Mustang American Pale when it won the best of beer prize a few years back. At that point, I was convinced that Andre, the brewer, was making one of the best beers in the country.  Clearly others agreed. 
And while he imports his hops (and it shows), he doesn't do much to distribute his beer. If you want his stuff, you you've got to make the trip. And that's exactly what we did.

We pulled in to the reinvented mining town of Cullinan after almost running over a few billy goats and street hawkers on the journey through Mamelodi. Set in a strip of old mine managers' houses, the  The Cockpit Brewhouse was but one in a strip of sunny, rambling gardens filled with folks enjoying a warm autumn afternoon. So while her majesty, the Queen of England may have ended up with the town's most famous product, Spanakopita, eisbein, mystical Himalayan salt and crystals, or kitsch jewelery are on offer for us commoners. Meandering down the the street could hear live music from the Cockpit.  Knowing that classic rock and beer always gel, we hurried down the road and grabbed the last free picnic table outside. Once the band took a break, it became a relaxed local feel with a smattering of yanks and uitlanders like us.

After being greeted by the friendly staff, we ordered up the Mustang American Pale and the Spitfire
English Ale. The menu claims the latter to be a 'true session' beer while the Mustang was described as a showcase for tropical and citrus fruit. Only taste will tell.

When it arrived, the Spitfire looked right: lightly carbonated with small, fine bubbles making a pancake of a head. In the glass it was slightly cloudy with a rich, red tinged coppery colour. It proved light on the nose with hints of sourness. By the time it got on the tongue, that sourness blossomed into a sourdough like taste. Having spent my fair share of time in blighty's pubs, this is not quite what I expected as the English bitters tends towards light and fruity if anything. Still, on its own terms it was not unpleasant to be sure and boasts considerably more flavour than many a limey pint. The Kenyan pondered that it might be nice at the end of a long run to rehydrate and re-energise: a kind of alcoholic gatorade. We also agreed it would probably do well with bar food. Since we weren't likely to go jogging off into the veld any time soon, we opened up the meat-heavy bar menu. As it turns out, it did indeed go nicely with our fish & chips and the pulled pork special. So, while not a remarkable offerring, it is indeed a solid one.
Pulled Pig

Yeehaw, I said, let's tame that Mustang. This American champ came in a tall hourglass glass, considerably headier than its British counterpart. Despite this, it showed up only fine bubbles and was far more lightly carbonated than many yankee brews. It also looked like it had spent a bit more time in the sun and had become cloudier and more browned than the Spitfire: a golden caramel up and down. The smell was generally beery with faint citrus that was overwhelmed by the smoker at the next table. In the mouth the hops jump forward in their citrusy fullness. Malt counters for a nice combination of tastes. Still, it felt somehow feels pushed together - almost like a malty beer blended with a hoppy one in ways that don't yet completely fit. Tastes with food we lost a bit of the hoppiness and tasted more caramel sweetness. There was no doubt I would pick this over the spitfire to be sure but no long certain I would drive the hour to come get it when there's beer springing up in town. As an outing, it's more than worth the drive although one has to be sure of making it home safe. And at 30 rand a pint, this has to be one of the better craft beer values around.

The British Spitfire and its more mighty American cousin

Friday, 4 April 2014

Copperlake Jozi Pale Ale

The Radium Beer Hall is one of the best places to grab a drink in Joburg. Although not in the most stylish part of town, you simply can't beat the vibe at rush hour with traffic honking its way down Louis Botha en route to Alex and beyond. The owners claim it's the second oldest bar in town and it looks like some of the regulars have been there since opening day.  But the natives are friendly and
Always Beer O'clock
it is one of the few places you'll find such diversity of people -- colour, class, and even a smattering of single professional women (not the 'working girl' variety) -- lounging together. The food is predictable and priced right and the beer selection has become increasingly varied. As long as I can remember, they've had Hansa, Black Label, Castle and Kilkenny on top. Back in the dark-days of local brewing, I was grateful for even this smattering. Some time back they installed a Mitchell's tap which made the drive to Orange Grove worth the effort. They've now traded that it for two locally made specialities. The Ace's Lager will have to wait for another time. Even if they have cool glasses, I'll almost always take an ale first. And that's just what I did.

To be fair, when I started out, I wasn't entirely sure what I was drinking. The friendly bar tender served this up as Ace's Pale Ale. Although it came spilling over the top of a Guinness glass, the guy next to me was drinking his out of an Ace's pint glass so I soldiered on in my ignorance. As I walked out I double checked the tap and realised he was mistaken. The barman didn't have much else to add about the beer other than its popular, they often sell out, and he didn't quite understand why people would want to drink it.  

Truth be told, after having made it through the pint, I was also not fully convinced why anyone would want to drink it. Sure, there are worse beers out there, plenty of them, but if there's a choice, this would probably not be mine. The beer arrived (incognito) looking good: it was dark bronzy gold with a head of fairly large bubbles capping the thing with all the pride of an EFF beret. Not to impugn the EFF lest they try to nationalise mzansi beer for the good of the people, but what was under this beery beret had about as much credentials as the party's commander in chief. Up close and personal, the
smell was fairly rich and beery with some strong earthy notes, but otherwise without much to draw you in. It could probably pass in a blind taste test as a strong lager.
Copperlake atop the Famous Ferreirastown Bar

On the tongue?  To its credit, the beer has taste. It's just not the kind of taste I was looking for. Rather, it offered a sourness that lingered on the middle of the mouth for too long after the beer itself went down my gullet. There was an almost a tamarind-like tang but without the balance that makes Asian food sing. I thought that perhaps the tap had been open too long or it was otherwise skunked but the beer man assured me it was freshly tapped and fresh from the distributor.  But then again, what does he know?  

So, just as we're all excited to see new players on the political agenda, we should applaud Copperlake's appearance on the Radium's roster. Showing up gets you a look and taste, but if you want to stick around, you're going to have to offer more than the right look and a fancy hat. If someone bought me another round of this one, I'd probably drink it. If I'm paying for myself, I'd pick the Hansa.