Let’s talk about craft, bru
In the last few years, craft drinks have burst onto the South African social scene. They’ve made their way into markets, bars and restaurants, and festivals have even been established to celebrate them. If you’re new to the concept of craft drinking or need some convincing, here’s an overview of all things crafty plus a couple of places where you can get your craft on in the Lowveld
What is a ‘craft’ drink?
Finding a clean-cut definition for a craft drink is not as easy as you might think. You could try typing ‘what is a craft drink’ into Google’s search engine but your screen will just overflow with articles on craft cocktails (which also sound pretty great). After searching the web and chatting to a few local brewers and distributors, we’ve carved out two important features that differentiate a craft drink from a commercial drink: firstly, craft drinks are produced in small batches by independently owned microbreweries or distilleries (rather than mass-produced by large-scale corporate breweries) and secondly, craft drinks are hand crafted (hence, craft drink) which often means they’ll carry flavours not commonly found in commercial drinks (like rosemary, fynbos and marula).
The first microbrewery in South Africa opened its doors in 1983, more than two decades before the craft beer movement bubbled its way through the country. With a strong focus on quality ingredients, delicious flavour and a specialised brewing process, Mitchell’s Brewery in Knysna paved the way for all aspiring home brewers.
This includes the likes of Theo and Sarie de Beer who brewed the Lowveld’s first craft beer from their brewery on the Long Tom Pass, Hops Hollow, in 2001. Today, master brewer Colin Ntshangase is weaving his magic. Since then, Anvil Ale in Dullstroom (also started by the de Beers) and the Sabie Brewing Company have established themselves as successful microbreweries in Mpumalanga. While there is talk of more distilleries opening up in our neighbourhood, the Western Cape is currently home to majority of the country’s 138 microbreweries.
Why should beer have all the fun?
Recently, the craft beer movement has also given rise to other craft drinks, such as craft gin, rum, vodka and tequila. Again, what sets these drinks apart from mainstream drinks is the fact that they’re handcrafted in small batches. In most cases they’re are also unfiltered and unpasteurised and made from organic, locally grown ingredients, which means they’re a lot purer than commercial drinks (and a lot more delicious).
Our list of recommended places to get your craft on:
- Rottcher Wineries
- Cicada Craft Bar
- Sabie Brewing Company
- Mhoba Rum
- Tops The Grove
- Anvil Ale Brewery
- Hops Hollow
Q&A with a gin maker
Owner and distiller of Rottcher Wineries Frank Theron has revamped his distillery and launched a variety of new drinks, including the delicious Limoncello Slush Puppy – with an alcohol content reduced to 7%. Next on his list is gin production.
Why gin? Gin is definitely the “in” drink at the moment. The nice thing about it is that the distiller can be creative and make up his own recipe. There are no hard and fast rules, which dictate the recipe. The only criteria is that it must be infused with juniper berries and have an alcohol content of over 38%. I am excited about using an orange based alcohol, as I don’t know of anyone else doing this. What experimenting of gin recipes have you been up to? I have decided to use nine botanicals, and the experimenting involves using different proportions of these botanicals. In the next few weeks, I plan to have a gin tasting with some of the knowledgeable Lowveld gin drinkers. I will serve about six different varieties of gin and then between us we will decide on which permutation to use. Tell us about your orange-based gin? The prime ingredient for gin is juniper berries. Most gin is made from fermented grain, which is then distilled and infused with the various botanicals. There are a few distillers who are also making gin from grape based alcohol. I will be using my orange “wine” as the base. The gin will be double distilled and on the second distillation, it will be infused with nine botanicals. Can you tell us your secret recipe? If I told you my secret, it would no longer be a secret. How long does it take to make gin? The fermented product takes about five weeks and the distillation requires a day for each distilling run. So if I double distil, the process should take between five and six weeks. What will the alcohol content be? Around 43%, which is the norm. What other craft drinks can we look forward to? Once the gin is finished, I would like to experiment with a chocolate chilli liqueur and possibly a coffee and orange liqueur. All my drinks will be made from a citrus based alcohol. Tell us about the Clementine Mampoer. I double distil my Clementine “wine” and then infuse it with citrus peels. I then filter it and dilute it to bring the alcohol down to 45%. The result is a mampoer with a lovely citrus nose that is fairly smooth. Apart from drinking it as a shooter, it can be mixed with soda or lemonade or even added to shot of espresso coffee. INFO Rottcher Wineries at Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre, White River; 083 293 5001, www.rottcher.com
The Phat beer
New to the scene, Phat Boys Beer House, pride themselves on a large range of craft beers
Tell us about the name? Phat Boys Beer House is a play on words, Phat being slang for lekker or cool and that both Chris and Duncan are plush sized boys with “beer boepies”. What is the most popular craft beer sold in your restaurant? On- tap craft beer it’s the Dragon Fiery Ginger and Darling Slow. Our most popular bottled craft beer is the Stellenbrau Jonkers Weiss.
Why the decision to open a beer house and sell craft beer? We felt the need for a beer house in White River, giving our locals the opportunity to experience something a little different to the norm of our local pubs. What’s the difference (in your mind) between a craft beer and an ordinary one? A craft beer better known as a handcrafted pint is produced in small batches for up to 12 weeks and is personally inspired by the love of an individual for the product that he is creating. An “ordinary beer” is massed produced by huge companies, for example SAB operates seven breweries in South Africa with an annual producing capacity of 3.1 billion litres.
What makes Phat Boys stand out amongst other pubs in White River? Phat Boys was created through an idea that was driven from the love of the industry. We are hands on owners with a passion to ensure that every patron receives the personal attention needed for an unforgettable experience. We ensure that we offer the best products available for our menu selection; that being said sourcing what can be sourced locally is of the utmost importance to us as we believe in investing in our local farmers and community businesses. We personally taste test all on- tap and bottled craft beers to ensure that we are offering our patrons brands that we would highly recommend and encourage all our service personnel to be well educated on our products. One of the most important traits we have is our relationships with our suppliers allowing us to be ahead of our game when new products are about to be launched. What is the best way to taste a craft beer? We advise all “newbies” to the craft beer world to start out with either a Lager or Pilsner and to then progress to the more integrated styles of a craft beer for example the IPA’s, Dark Lagers, Weiss and Ales. Craft Beers are brewed in a variety of styles and are intended for different palates, foods and occasions; the only way to select your choice would be to try them.
Tell us something about craft beer we don’t already know. Craft Beers do not contain any artificial flavorants or chemicals.