Tavern of the Seas: The Rising Love of Beer in Cape Town

By / Wine + Drinks / February 28th, 2018 / 6

Usually when people plan out their visits to South Africa, the biggest attraction on their itinerary is the incredible wineries found in the Western Cape. However, what a lot of people don’t seem to realize is that there is much excellent beer to be had as well.

While brands like Castle Brewery, now owned by AB InBev, once ruled the country with a light, watery fist, South Africa has seen a tremendous growth in breweries over the last seven years or so. What initially started as a few brewers selling at farmers’ markets has now become a growing industry with over 200 breweries in the country.

For the ultimate beer tourism experience, the choice is easy. Of the country’s 200+ breweries, over half are located in the Western Cape, with much of the province’s beer ending up in the capital city of Cape Town. While lagers remain popular in the city’s still-developing beer scene, there are a number of breweries pushing the boundaries and brewing styles with a North American and European influence that inflame a sense of curiosity and adventure for beer lovers.

Devil’s Peak Brewing is just one example. Since opening in 2012, the brewery has developed some flavourful core brands, including their award-winning flagship King’s Blockhouse IPA, which has a significant kick of citrus and pine. Where Devil’s Peak really gets interesting, however, is when brewmaster JC Steyn makes good use of his background as a winemaker at Signal Hill Winery and Dornier Wine Estates to create some incredible beer/wine hybrids and barrel-aged concoctions. North America’s love of barrel and sour beers has been a driving influence for Devil’s Peak and their new Afrofunk sour facility in Epping — the largest barrel-aging program in the country — is definitely turning heads all over the world.

Woodstock Brewery is another favourite for Cape Town residents. Inspired by the US popularity of craft beer, and the growth of those industries in Australia and Korea, the brewery opened with the idea of being one of the heralds of the country’s burgeoning beer scene. And year-round brews like Hazy Days Belgian Wit and Californication American IPA, along with spring seasonal Acid Queen — a kettle-soured beer brewed and conditioned with granadilla — have all proved popular with the locals.

It should be said, though, that while international influences are wonderful, brewers have recently been finding inspiration in their own homeland.

“There is more and more talk about using local ingredients too,” says Lucy Corne, a beer writer and author of Beer Safari: A journey through the craft breweries of South Africa. “The Western Cape is home to one of the world’s six floral kingdoms and has lots of endemic plants used by the indigenous hunter-gatherers for medicinal purposes. So, stuff like rooibos, buchu and honeybush are being used along with sorghum, which is a traditional crop here.”

It’s only been a short time for South African beer, but good things are brewing there. And they’ll just get better.


Robin LeBlanc is a beer columnist, award-winning blogger at TheThirstyWench.com, and co-author of The Ontario Craft Beer Guide, a guidebook to all of Ontario's breweries now in its second edition. She lives in Toronto.

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