Lucy Corne and Ryno Reyneke
For beer-lovers, certainly, but this comprehensive softback offers so much more than an ode to South African brewers and beer. It’s a fascinating story of an alcoholic beverage, a quirky travel guide to frothy destinations in seven of our country’s provinces, and a handbook of information on lagers and ale, stout and porters.
There’s a bonus in the form of appetising recipes from well-known and amateur chefs, whether for fare to relish with beer or using the beverage as an ingredient.
Lucy Corne has enjoyed beer since her university days and has sampled brews across the world. On her return to South Africa a few years ago she joined a home-brewing club where she met co-author and photographer Ryno Reyneke who has been hooked on beer-making for years. Reyneke’s wife, Helen, suggested that it was time for a book on our indigenous beers.
Subsequent research preceded several expeditions as the two set out to unearth the stories behind the many artisanal breweries that have sprung up in the past decade or two.
Even if history is not your bag, don’t skip the background chapter – pour yourself a tankard and absorb the facts. The ancient Egyptians and Sumerians used beer as a medicine and offered it to the gods, while the Greeks – who preferred wine – started the millennia-long rivalry between the two alcoholic beverages. Fast-forward to the 11th century and we find the English happily slurping their ales, while the Norman invasion from France brought wine to the green hills.
Through the Middle Ages it was women who brewed English beer, and these ale wives, as they were dubbed, also ran the pubs. In Europe most brewing was done by the monks, partly because water was not always of good quality, and beer made a healthier and tastier drink to sell to passing pilgrims. Hops came into use in the 12th century, improving beer’s keeping quality.
For centuries the Khoisan and other African tribes stayed with honey wine or ikarri, while black tribes who migrated south from central and east Africa brought with them their sorghum beer, which is just as popular today.
While several celebrations marked the 350th anniversary of the first wine produced at the Cape by Jan van Riebeeck four years ago, the first Cape beer – made by Antwerp sailor Pieter Visagie, preceded this by a year, with Van Riebeeck recording it as delicious.
Familiar names like Ohlsson, Letterstedt and Charles Glass feature in the recent Cape brewing history, with SAB being founded in 1895.
The advent of the new South Africa coincided with the establishment of small artisanal breweries around the country and today more than 40 offer consumers incredible diversity.
An illustrated guide to industrial and home brewing explains the process, and describes the difference between ales, lagers and more. We learn how to taste beer and match it to food.
Well primed, readers are ready to travel: maps pinpoint the locations of breweries countrywide, with the journey starting in the Western Cape. Most entries follow a similar formula, opening with location and contact details, visitor facilities and a chat with the brewer(s). There are tasting notes on the range of beers offered; where recipes follow, the dishes are paired with a beer from the range. We travel from peninsula breweries – including the giant SAB in Newlands – to venues in the Boland, Darling, and Knysna.
Judging from the photographs, Misty Meadows Microbrewery and Restaurant, near George, could take the title for most rustic.
Breweries in Port Elizabeth are followed by one in Chintsa East near East London and another in a historic building in Port Alfred – where both assistant brewers are teetotallers. Grahamstown and Nieu Bethesda both harbour appealing venues.
A tour of Gauteng breweries starts in Magaliesburg, followed by stops in Cullinan, Vanderbijlpark and Pretoria.
Some breweries sport arresting names – fancy a stout from the Three Skulls Brew Works in Wynberg, Joburg? – while others rely on tranquil rural appeal. North West province is represented by breweries in Rustenburg, Hartbeespoort and a rustic affair – headed by a maverick brewer – on a farm in Broederstroom. Smoked trout from Dullstroom with scrambled eggs, washed down with a Belgian-style beer, is recommended by the host of the single inclusion in Mpumalanga.
The Free State stars with a pair of destinations, the brewery in Clarens expanding its tipples to include apple, berry and cherry ciders, and fruit juice for the designated driver. At the other, five partners, with an impressive count of chemistry degrees behind them, run the Dog and Fig in Parys. And so to KwaZulu-Natal, where stops at Hilton, Botha’s Hill and Shongweni are followed by a visit to the Beyond Zulu Experience.
The text concludes with a list of up-and-coming “breweries to watch”, a glossary and a detailed index. Reyneke’s gallery of appetising photographs – of city and country brewhouses, of earnest and relaxed brewers, of bottles, and labels and mouth-watering food – enhance story and journey.
Unlike recent sponsored titles around wine, it’s good to know that no brewer paid to be included in this compilation, so editorial independence was assured.
As the writers point out, beer is frothing over our landscape, bars are stocking an ever-greater variety, breweries are popping up everywhere and beer festivals are rivalling wine events on the social calendar. African Brew fills a gap in pint-studded style. – Cape Argus