After digging into Bulgaria's brewing industry, some strange stream of consciousness took me to South Africa. Maybe the thought of its settlement by Dutch and English led me to believe it would be a very diverse brewing scene. It seems that isn't the case. Back in 1955, the government in its infinite wisdom imposed a crushing tax on beer that put most of the brewers out of business, except for the dominant Castle Brewing (later SAB). Now SAB (now SABMiller after SAB bought Miller and owns the Miller part of the MillerCoors joint venture in the US) controls 98% of the South African market. They even control their whole supply chain - brewing hop farms, barley farms, barley malting, distribution, metal crown cap manufacturing, many retail establishments - pubs and casinos and for a while, grocery stores. They also allegedly manipulated independent distribution, but that is in the courts. Heineken is gradually breaking into the market also.
There is a growing craft brew market with a lot of players coming in that are showing the same diversity of styles we are used to enjoying. More on that in a few paragraphs.
SABMiller also bought Koninklijke Grolsch N.V, so they brew Grolsch in South Africa. Among the other brews they produce are Dreher Premium Lager, Castle Lager, Castle Lite, Castle Milk Stout, Hensa, Carling Black Label, Miller Genuine Draft, Pilsner Urquell, Peroni Nastro Azzurro, Redd's, Brutal Fruit, and Sarita.
I've heard of milk stouts, but never really got around to looking into them. They include lactose (milk sugar) which can't be converted by yeast, so it imparts the degree of sweetness to the brew in proportion to the amount used. Castle Milk Stout gets really good reviews, except for several citings of a weak head.
Castle Lager gets very consistent reviews and seems a good average lager with some evidence of there being corn used in the mash.
Peroni Nastro Azzurro was originally founded in Italy and later acquired by SAB. It is a pale lager, although from the SAB site, it would be hard to know that. http://www.sab.co.za/sablimited/content/en/page53
Redd's is a line of fruit beers. Not great ratings by the people who put ratings in RateBeer, not going to say beer snobs, but people who pay enough attention to what they are drinking and contribute to the experiential body of knowledge on the drinking experience. It may be an attempt by SAB to appeal to newbie drinkers, rather than make a robust fruit ale. Sarita, on the other hand, gets much better reviews with its apple ale.
Hansa is more than a single brew, it is starting to become a line of its own. Right now it includes a Pilsner and a Marzan. The Marzan Gold gets some very mixed, but overall moderate reviews. The Pilsner scored some very high marks on RateBeer, but averaged also moderately with some great comments.
Wow - the description of Dreher Premium Lager really makes it sound amazing - triple hopped, full malt and all. The reviews on the other hand just don't back it up and most see it as pretty bland.
Homebrewing seems to be fairly popular, although just recently, given there are a couple of South African online homebrew supply shops and quite a few local shops. Mostly they distribute products from overseas, although SAB sells their grains through the stores too. There are at least three homebrew clubs: South Yeasters Homebrewers Club (Capetown), Worthog Brewers (Pretoria), and East Coast Brewers (KwaZulu-Natal). http://homebru.net/2012/05/28/homebrewing-clubs-in-south-africa/
Craft brewing is taking off and local competitions are providing good exposure to the startups. Some of the top finishers include Bierwerk, Devil's Peak Brewing, Darling Brewery and Triggerfish Brewing. Bierwerk's Aardwolf has been rated as the best craft brew in South Africa. It's made from 5 grains, molasses, coffee beans and aged in French Oak barrels. It is nonfiltered and has some sediment. The ratings on RateBeer are the highest I've run across of any brew I've looked up. It is a sweet stout, and I'm definitely adding it to my list of brews to hunt down. IPAs are making an appearance, literally. http://homebru.net/2012/01/13/suip-and-homebru-net-proudly-present-the-best-beer-on-the-table-2011-award/ says there are only a handful available, but that Devil's Peak's Blockhouse IPA, and Triggerfish's Hammerhead are off the hook. This blog on the South African scene also describes Bierwerk's Renosterbos, a barleywine that they say is spectacular. Bierwerk has a number of other brews - a weizen, another stout, a saison, and a mild ale. Their African Stout also scores extremely high.
Devil's Peak also has an imperial coffee stout, a blonde ale, a saison and an amber ale. We need to get more folks in South Africa to drinks some and put their reviews in RateBeer as they only have one review each. Triggerfish has an even bigger lineup with a dozen brews ranging from an oatmeal stout, Black Marlin (dark winter beer with 7 grains and 3 hops), many ales, blonde, pale, red, and brown, a barleywine and an imperial IPA that only has one very strong review. The homebru.net site mentions quite a number of other craft breweries and I'll be going back to that blog to check them out as well.
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