Back to Beer Basics with Ryan

This week, we’ll give cocktails a break and go back to the basics with a look at a subject I’m sure many of you are more familiar with – Beer! As always though, we’ll depart from the ordinary and look at why “Real Beers” are making waves in a category we often take for granted…

For many of us a beer is the drink we turn to when looking for something easy. A quick, no nonsense thirst-quencher that is always available and most of us will order from amongst the same dozen or so beers we see at every bar and liquor store – simple, reliable and hard to mess up! But what else is out there? Are we experiencing beer the way it’s meant to be enjoyed or are we experiencing beer the way corporate ad campaigns are telling us it should be enjoyed? The buzz around “premium beer” has got pretty big lately and marketing people from the big brewers are having a field day. Like traveling carnival salesman, they entice us with flashing lights and scantily dressed women to “step right up” to the next “big thing”- and invariably it tastes just like the last “big thing”- bland, generic and unexciting.

So what are the alternatives? Are we doomed to wallow in the swill pit of mass-produced beer forever?  For better or worse, people are slowly beginning to demand better quality drinks, or at least the impression of better quality drinks.

It was frustration with this situation which lead many intrepid beer-lovers to become beer-makers, starting home or small breweries and turning to the centuries-old brewing traditions of places like Belgium and Germany for inspiration. These Microbreweries have revitalized the beer world and the “Real Beer” movement is gaining rapid popularity across the globe by promoting the making and enjoyment of fresh, flavourful “Craft Beers” in a wide variety of styles that rival fine wines in their complexity and ability to pair with foods. However this is not to say that these beers are inaccessible to the backyard beer drinker and a finely crafted beer will fit in just as well at a summer afternoon braai as it will at a gourmet dinner. This versatility as well as the affordability of quality beers in comparison to fine wines, are the strongpoint of craft brewing and the reason that more and more people are turning to “Real Beer”.

In South Africa we have in the region of twenty Microbreweries producing beers with varying degrees of quality from ordinary to exquisite. Kwa-Zulu Natal in particular has a strong tradition of Microbreweries, both of European and traditional styles and the province has recently established a “beer route” which tours the various breweries scattered throughout the province similar to the wine routes of the Cape.

Of particular interest is the Shongweni Brewery located in the Valley of a Thousand Hills outside Durban, South Africa. This small brewery has been receiving a great deal of local and international praise for their range of Robson’s beers and the brewery has recently been included as the only South African entry in the Dorling Kindersley “Beer Book”, an extensive directory of the worlds best brewers.

Another excellent product comes to us courtesy of Rui Esteves and Brad Armitage (the team originally responsible for bringing us the Vida e Caffé concept) through their combined “longing for authentic experiences” and their Brewers & Union range is a testament to this. From their Cape Town bar/restaurant “&Union”, they do their best to introduce people to the “Real Beer” experience and as you’d expect from guys with their credentials, they’re doing a damn fine job, with (in my opinion) one of the most exciting brands on the SA market right now. They’ve also just listed with Woolworths so expect to see the Brewers & Union range in a supermarket near you any day now.

So what are you waiting for? The social, environmental and economic advantages of supporting local brewers are only going to benefit us, the consumer and unlike most good causes, this one actually tastes good! So demand decent beers in your local bars and restaurants (or support ones that already keep them) and the next time you’re out for a beer, treat yourself to something new. It might be a little different to what you’re used to but trust me, you’re opening yourself up to a whole new world of how beer is meant to taste.

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