By Lucy Corne
It has a population of 4 000, is three hours from the nearest city and lies 300km from the closest major hub. Clarens might seem an unlikely spot for a full-scale beer event but, as the town’s craft brew festivalenters its fourth year, ale enthusiasts and locals alike continue to embrace the much-lauded homage to hops, malt and yeast.
In truth, the town of Clarens is perfectly compact for a beer festival. If you have one too many and need a mid-afternoon booze snooze, your accommodation is never far away. Those with an aversion to festival food can easily lunch at a local restaurant and, of course, the walkable nature of the picture-perfect town eliminates the need for designated drivers, cutting out the drink-driving issues associated with festivals featuring alcohol.
And these plus points don’t just apply to once-a-year festivals – as the craft beer craze envelopes South Africa, small-scale brewpubs are popping up in the unlikeliest places. The artisanal character of craft beer appeals to those who are drawn to one-horse towns and, at the same time, the cosy, easy-to-access character of the average small town entices beer lovers, keen to ditch the car keys as they enjoy a pint or three with some beer-friendly fodder.
1 Drinkable Art
The Clarens Brewery, Clarens
082 901 4700, www.clarensbrewery.co.za
The Clarens Brewery, whose owners Stephan and Natalie Meyer are also behind the Clarens Craft Beer Festival, is one of the country’s best known rural brewpubs. Since it launched in 2006, the brewery has had to move to larger premises to satisfy the thirst of the many visitors who come to sample some drinkable works of art in a town known for its community of crafters. It now occupies a large, airy building that clings to Clarens’s quaint square.
There are four beers in the standard Clarens range, including the award-winning Red Ale, which gives patrons their hop fix. The hops in question hail from the USA, but the Meyers try to source whatever they can in the Eastern Free State. “We use local apples, cherries and berries in our ciders,” explains Natalie, adding that the fruit used in the tart and refreshing Cherry Cider comes from the Meyers’s own orchards.
The simple food menu features platters of superb local cheese and even the menu holders have a home-grown touch, made by one of the country’s few remaining blacksmiths, based in Bethlehem. It’s only fitting that the brewery should feature a nod in the direction of local artists, for the arts scene – along with the undeniable beauty found in the bordering Maluti Mountains – has always been one of the main drawcards of Clarens. Until the brewery opened of course – now people are as likely to come for a pint as they are for a painting.
2 A Gem of a Brewhouse
Cockpit Brewhouse, Cullinan
012 734 0656, www.thecockpitbrewhouse.co.za
The aptly-named André de Beer, brewer and owner of Cockpit Brewhouse in Cullinan is an old friend of the Meyers. Their friendship dates back to university days, although the passion for boutique booze is a little newer.
When André unearthed his fervour for brewing, he realised it might not pair perfectly with his other hobby – flying. But he found a way to merge the two and The Cockpit Brewhouse was born, a quaint brewpub occupying a one-time miner’s cottage on the approach road to Cullinan’s renowned diamond mine. Aeronautical memorabilia adorns the walls, slotted in between an ever-growing beer bottle collection, and André’s fondness for flying lives on in the names of his beers, like Spitfire Pale Ale or Fokker Weiss.
Cockpit has become one of Cullinan’s top attractions, with day trippers from Johannesburg and Pretoria making repeat visits to sip on André’s ales and enjoy beer-friendly food from the carefully thought-out menu. Alongside the five staple brews, look out for the Brewmaster’s Signature Series, offering seasonal beers like the delectable Black Forest Stout (brewed with chocolate and cherries).
3 Hops of the Highveld
Anvil Ale, Dullstroom
013 254 0197, www.anvilbrewery.com
André might not use local produce in his famous brews, but his namesake, Theo de Beer, regularly adds a regional flair to one of his set ales. Theo mans the brew kettles at Anvil Ale, a cosy pub on the edge of Dullstroom. Alongside his year-round beers, Theo produces seasonal ales – a must, what with the town’s capricious climate.
In summer, you’ll find the White Anvil on tap, a Belgian-style witbier made with coriander and naartjie peel, the latter sourced from a farm north of Lydenburg. Winter brings a heartier brew, Black Anvil, a rich, chocolaty stout best enjoyed alongside Anvil’s fireplace.
The most important local addition that Theo’s beers contain is probably the water, which runs directly from the Steenkampsberg mountain range. “We decided not to add any brewing salts or minerals to our brewing water, which gives our beers a unique Dullstroom character,” Theo says. It’s used alongside buchu, honey, and ginger sourced from around the country, and you really feel like you’re getting a Proudly South African pint. It’s the perfect way to wash down some famous Dullstroom trout from the country’s flyfishing Mecca.
4 Sneeu in the Karoo
Sneeuberg Brewery, Dullstroom
049 841 1602
Dullstroom’s cool climate might have you reaching for a rich and creamy stout, but further south in the Karoo you’ll likely be seeking an altogether lighter pint. The Sneeuberg Brewery has been pouring its trio of easy-drinking ales since 2003. Like the Clarens Brewery, it sits in a town best known for its artists – Nieu-Bethesda. Most come to glimpse the Helen Martins Owl House, but many stick around to enjoy micro-brewed beers, handmade cheese and artisanal breads at the brewery and attached deli. André Cilliers is at the helm of both beer and cheese production and a platter of his wares – all made in-house save for the Graaff-Reinet-sourced salami – is the perfect accompaniment to a glass or three of his rustic ales.
5 Brew in the Karoo
Dieks’ Bru, De Rust
073 232 2527, www.dieksbru.com
Luckily for thirsty travellers passing through the Karoo, locals are realising that their climate simply screams for a home-grown brew, and the latest watering hole can be found in De Rust. Dieks’ Bru is one of South Africa’s newest breweries, opening its doors and taps in 2012. As the brewery reached its first birthday, its brewer, Dieks Theron, was celebrating his 70th, making him the oldest new brewer on the block.
The two ales – made entirely with South African malt, hops and water – are available at restaurants around town or on tap at the small brewery itself, which is quickly making waves with visitors. “I think it is exactly because I’m in a village that my brewery is becoming a local attraction,” says Dieks. “In a city it would have just disappeared.”
And as you sip a Karoo Ale, a Clarens Blonde or a pint of Black Widow Stout, enjoying a slice of silence and a view prettier than Stepford on a Sunday morning, it’s instantly clear that no brew could taste better.
What is Craft Beer?
• It’s an oft-asked question and one with no easy answer. No official definition exists, but to many, craft beer is a handmade product using quality ingredients and brewed on a smallish scale.
• As with other artisanal edibles, there’s a real relationship between the producer and his product and many like to think that the magic ingredient is passion.
• The craft beer craze has swept across South Africa in the past three years, with breweries cropping up in garages, on farms and in characterful pubs across the country. Look out for original ales that are challenging and delighting the palates of the average South African beer drinker.
Clarens Brewery 082 901 4700 www.clarensbrewery.co.za
Cockpit Brewhouse 012 734 0656 www.thecockpitbrewhouse.co.za
Anvil Ale 013 254 0197 www.anvilbrewery.com
Sneeuberg Brewery 049 8411602
Dieks’ Bru 073 232 2527 www.dieksbru.com
Source: Country Life