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

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