Sunday, 22 June 2014

A Smack for all Saisons

Maboneng Mamas
Took some out of town visitors down to the newly developed Maboneng for the weekly Sunday market. The elder was an urban studies professor always keen to see what's happening with ever dynamic Jozi. His world-weary teenage daughter tagged along, evidently tired of following her dad through all sorts of strange African developments. While there has been some controversy around the redevelopment of the precinct, what with it being a solidly middle class reclamation of the area and the like. But I tell you, if the alternative is another shopping mall chock full of Mugg and Beans, Messieurs Price and Baskets of Ocean, I choose this. By the time it spreads to another 45 buildings courtesy of the uber-rich 29 year old, Jonathan Lieberman, it may have lost its charm. For now, the place was bustling with cool. Even if the district doesn't appeal to those who find Rosebank dangerously close to Soweto, it was packed with people of all sorts (well, of the middle class sort) smoking, being hip and looking generally far cooler than me. Even the teenager was impressed.

The Soldier and the Saison
After wandering around the market and watching the daughter get her shop on, we hungered up and helped ourselves to a whole fish fried fresh and laying on a bed of some of the hottest, oilyest, and most delicious chips I've had in yonks. With a dash of chili and spice, the white flesh peeled cleanly off the bone as we settled into the courtyard's winter sunshine.

Smack's almost Subterranean Shop
Before getting too comfortable, we meandered past the precinct's hole in the wall brewery, Smack Republic for one of their offerings. From the three tapped up and pouring and we went for the Maboneng Maverick, their take on a saison. While I don't often gravitate to this French style farmhouse ale (there's a reason we know them for wine), this seemed better suited to the sun-kissed weather and our handfuls of fried finger food than the otherwise tempting experimental bourbon and vanilla infused Stout.

Once we finally got to drinking, the Michigan friend felt the Smack Saison failed to measure up to his hometown favourite, Bell's Two Hearted Ale. When pressed, he admitted that even if Bells is a fine, solidly crafted beer, the Smack boys had created a solid contender (a 6 or 7 compared with Bells' 10 by his estimation). Sipped from a plastic cup in the Sunday sun I couldn't imagine anything all that much better. Even if saisons don't typically shout flavours, this one shot a cool sharpness. Served deeply chilled, it nevertheless put forward a spiciness thanks to a good mix of hops and the somewhat non-traditional naartjie peel and black pepper. Say what you will about these alien additives, but they worked. Slightly sweet and heavily carbonated – a bit too bubbly for my tastes – it was it was nonetheless just about the right thing for the day. Despite the fancy pictures on the website, they don't bottle or distribute (yet). Given that they're brewing from what amounts to an over-sized closet, it's impressive they're able to even make more than one beer at a time.  Regardless, if you want a taste, you have to come to the market to get one. While it may not be worth a trip from Michigan, if you're in Joburg on a Sunday, make the journey.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Youth and Sir Thomas Brewing Company's Hangklip IPA

Drinking in the Future's Shadow
What better way to honour the youth than by sitting in the sun drinking a beer? Sure, it's not what the holiday is about and we ought not forget past sacrifices. Yet, if freedom from oppression doesn't include casual drinking with a diverse crowd in a northern suburban park, then we still have a long way to go. Besides, really, what do the young like better than beer? That's right, nothing. And while young'uns might not all line up behind Sir Thomas Brewing's Hangklip's IPA, there's going to be some who do. Those are the ones to watch; they're going places. As I drank it surrounded by tykes and food trucks at Parkview's food truck festival in George Hay Park, I toasted their prospects and quietly celebrated the future generations. 

Let's be honest, this is an IPA for the people; a journeyman for the jol. It is unlikely to please snobbish connoisseurs and even modest critics will easily recognise its failure to crest the pinnacle of taste and balance. (We followed the Hangklip with a smuggled Rogue 7 Hop IPA, a masterly brew bursting with botanical bounty.) That said, it was a solid entry offering little to offend and plenty to please. The nose was generally hoppy although missing many of the flowery scents found in its more sophisticated cousins. Bitterness dominated on the tongue with no distinguishable citrus, pine or resin flavours despite the strong hop presence. One reviewer found dates and grapefruit in there, but we couldn't. If there was something resembling dates it came from the malt which offered more general sweetness than specific flavours. What somehow managed to punch through were hints of a Belgian-like yeast, a taste unexpected for a South African IPA but not unpleasant (Belgian inspired IPAs have established a niche elsewhere). The cloudiness could also help it make a play with the Walloons although the slightly harsh over-carbonation possibly a result of drinking this at Jozi altitudes might see it side-lined. At only five percent alcohol, it is a beer for the everyday and the everyman (and woman). Some might dismiss it as milquetoast but such an approach may well help win over generation next. 

Cloudy with a Chance of Tasty
I found this beer at Norman Goodfellows in Illovo for about thirty odd. If you hit the shop you'll see it has one of the best selections of bottled South African beers in the country (and the only place I've seen Hangklip). Many of those on offer will similarly dent your wallet and look just as pretty on your shelf. Ultimately the selling point should be taste. Although Hangklip may not be everyone's favourite, it's a solid offering that adds depth to the mzansi IPA stable. In honour of our youth, past and present, it's certainly worth a turn. Sir, yes sir.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Devil's Peak Revisited: IPAs Standing Tall

Filled to the brim with Cape Townians
It's not my way to revisit old haunting grounds, but as my last visit to Devil's Peak's Salt River taproom was curtailed by a private party, it seemed just the place to start a beery Cape Town weekend. As much as Jozi may rightfully claim its place as the country's economic engine, there's no place as good as the Western Cape to sample South Africa's burgeoning beer scene. 

Once again the place was packed as one might expect on a Friday evening. Turns out it was end of term for the nearby Universities and a running club decided there could be no better place for post-run hydration. I couldn't agree more. That this place officially serves the best beer in South Africa only boosts the busy.

Looking at the menu, I was drawn to two tap-only offerings. The first was a blaster - the black IPA. Given my almost idolotrous love for their 'regular' King's Blockhouse, I knew this one was going to be full of flavour (and to be fair, I had tasted it in December, but in a rush). Described in the menu as dark, hoppy and rich but crisp, it certainly didn't disappoint. My benchmark here is Firestone Walker's Wookey Jack, one of my all time stars. But since I hadn't had that one in months, a direct comparison wasn't possible. Still, there's little doubt the Cape Townian could hold its own. Lighter in alcohol than the Wookey and with the double IPA maltiness, the crisp flavour stood tall alongside the dark roasted malt which lent it the almost charred bitterness of a nice porter. Despite the intensity, it retained a light mouthfeel even if the glass remains dark when held up to the bright kitchen lights. The hops are a bit flatter than the King's Blockhouse without the citrus buzz, but the beer was still swimming with the precious flowers. When we asked which ones, 'European hops' is all the barman could or would reveal.
TheIPAs stand tall

Speaking of Europeans and barmen, apart from those working the taps, this was by far the darkest thing in the place. I'm sure there are those comforted by these last enclaves. It seems if you want entry here you need an electronic cigarette, a beard (if you're a dude), part of your head shaved (men and women) or vanilla dreads. That the bleached blond next to me spoke with the one white bartender of the, "little Indian man" who had served them earlier made me glad to live in Jozi.

A hunk of beer battered deliciousness
The second round was meant to go to the rye saison, described on the menu as medium to strong fruity/spicy. Alas, its tap had run dry so I was 'forced' into tasting their Imperial IPA, something that's not (yet?) bottled and had escaped me until now. Almost the same colour as the Blockhouse, there was a slighter fainter citrus nose with more of the resinous tones wafting into the nose. Thicker on the tongue and rich down the throat the maltiness was well balanced. This is something like a hot rod version of the regular IPA: slightly less delicate but nonetheless controlled and bursting with vooma. Delicious and well suited to warm one's cockles during the forthcoming Cape Town winter.

Although I came for the beer, it's worth noting the food wasn't too shabby. Sure, this is not where you go to sample Cape Town's finest cuisine, but for it's simple menu, they do the dishes right. Saison battered fish with chops and a flavour rich broccoli and goat cheese salad.The neighbour's pizza made me hope he'd look the other way so I could grab a slice.

About half way through the evening, one of Cape Town's hapless youth sidled up to bar asking the bartender for a Castle draught and Coke Zero. Asked to repeat himself, he confirmed what he was after. Taken aback and almost speechless, the bar tender stumbled over his words as he looked in exasperation for an empathetic eye. Rolling his, he informed the young man that the Castle was fresh out, but perhaps he could be happy with the beers made on site. Chastened he left with a First Light and Coke Light. Not sure which was for the lady.  

Only down side of the evening was at some point the place ran out of pint glasses and couldn't serve. Either lots of Cape Townians are filling their cupboards with these vessels or someone forgot to do their washing.