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.


  1. Love the Smack logo and your reportage. Thanks.

  2. Ah, but there is little that compares to a bell's, and their two hearted is also my fave (despite being higher abv than I generally quaff these days). Plus it's by far the best label image.

  3. I have a home-brewed saisson with black peppercorn, corriander, and a wisp of wintergreen that is bottled in a Castle Milk Stout bottle for you. You can taste test it COLD out of a proper glass when I visit you in Boston/Cambridge.