In the shadow of one of the world’s largest brewing conglomerates, the little guys are beginning to blossom.
by Nick Mulgrew
As one might expect from the historical birthplace of the world’s second-largest multinational brewing company, South Africa is a nation of ardent beer drinkers. But, as SAB’s global empire was built on a century of pumping millions of liters of pale lager and milk stout into every inch of its home country, virtually all beer drunk here is SAB-produced.
Until a few years ago, the country had few independent breweries; those that did survive, like Mitchell’s—which started brewing dependable English-style ales 30 years ago in the verdant seaside town of Knysna—had small footprints. But now the beer scene is changing throughout South Africa, and the Western Cape province—SAB’s birthplace—is leading the transformation.
For a region with precious little craft brewing tradition, the beers of the Western Cape are accomplished. The strongest, like Somerset West’s Triggerfish and Cape Town’s Devil’s Peak Brewing, give local inflections to overseas styles: While Devil’s Peak’s First Light Golden Ale superbly rejigs the American pale ale with local malt and hops, Triggerfish’s summer seasonal Bonito Bombshell blonde is infused with the Cape’s indigenous pepperminty buchu bush.
Beer extends beyond breweries and into places like Banana Jam Café, a relaxed Caribbean-styled dive in Cape Town’s leafy southern suburbs with the best selection of local craft in the city. Pizza and beer get a South African spin at Massimo’s in Hout Bay; try the Afrikana, smothered in caramelized onions, smoked cheese and classic South African boerewors (sausage), paired with Darling Brew’s Native Ale. Weekly markets like Neighbourgoods Market in gentrified Woodstock draw hip beer drinkers for fillet steak sandwiches, cutting edge fashion and cold pints from Boston, Camelthorn and Jack Black breweries. Mix up the scenery at family-centric Blaauwklippen Market in a sunkissed vineyard, or bustling Hout Bay Harbour Market in an old fish factory.
While SAB will undoubtedly dominate here for the foreseeable future, gatherings like November’s annual South African-focused Cape Town Festival of Beer—which attracts thousands to a rugby club perfectly sandwiched between Table Mountain and the city’s glistening waterfront—are a testament to the changes in the ways that many South Africans, and the many travelers who visit its gorgeous shores, are drinking.