There is an oft-repeated sentiment: that sour or mixed culture fermentation beers are the gateway, which will lead wine drinkers all over to the world of beer beyond pale lagers. In a country where consumers are happy to splash out several hundred rand for a bottle of wine, yet brewers struggle to justify a R40 price tag on high quality beers, sour beers could well be the answer to taking the perception of beer beyond crushable daytime refreshment to the multidimensional beverage it truly is.
Enter Beerhouse with the Wildside edition of their popular Meet the Brewers event, featuring sour and mixed culture beers from a range of local brewers (and one foreign import). With the intention of introducing beer fans to some of these alternative beers being produced on their doorstep, the format of the event is to pair each beer with food, further demonstrating the versatility of beer as a drink for all situations and occasions.
The event was held at Beerhouse Fourways, as well as at Beerhouse on Long a few weeks prior. For the Joburg leg of the event, the featured breweries were Frontier Beer Co, Hazeldean, Ukhamba Beerworx and St Louis Lambic beers (represented by the local distributor). The sour beer brewing scene in Joburg is small, so two homebrewers were each invited to present a beer alongside the commercial brewers in a pro-am kind of format. I was one of those home brewers, honoured to be asked to present one of my beers alongside some top class brewers. The other was Dimeon Van Rooyen, home brewer extraordinaire, and mad scientist of distinction. The beer lineup for the evening consisted of a Gose, fruit lambic-style beer, Kettle soured sorghum saison, gueuze, and a sorghum sour inspired by Flemish red ales. The range of beers on offer gave great insight into the different sour styles and the range of techniques involved in their production, with each brewer telling the audience about the history and processes behind their beers. The range also offered great variation in food pairing opportunities, skilfully crafted by Bulelwa Mbonambi.
It’s exciting to see local brewers experimenting with these leftfield beer styles and putting their own spin on them. Particularly exciting for me was the Sorghum Saison from Ukhamba, infusing the local flavour of sorghum with a classic Belgian beer style, then generously dry hopped to bring it into the 21st century. These are the kind of beers I would like to see more of.
I think the potential for sour beers in this country is enormous. Beyond the complexity of flavours found in these beers, and the potential appeal to the wine drinkers, South Africa has a rich heritage of brewing sour beers. Traditional African beers have a lot in common with European sour beer styles, and the flavour profiles (and acidity in particular) are familiar flavours for much of our beer drinking public. I believe that one of the keys to South African brewers finding their niche in a global brewing renaissance is to explore the techniques, flavours and ingredients used for centuries in this country to produce beers not too far removed from modern sour beers. Huge potential to create crossover appeal, expand a tiny market share and achieve increased inclusivity lies in experimenting with South African beer traditions and using South African flavours.
This event also marked the end of one of SA’s beer pioneers, Murray Slater’s journey with Beerhouse. After five years of bringing phenomenal beers and an appreciation thereof to Cape Town and Joburg, Murray is moving on to new explore new opportunities. His involvement has helped shape SA’s brewing landscape and his passion for beer has inspired many brewers and drinkers alike. As Murray said on the night, when Beerhouse opened five years ago, he never would have imagined hosting an event exclusively with sour beers. That we can host an event with the quality on offer seen at this event is testament to the progress the SA beer community is making. I hope the fascination with the funkier side of beer catches on, and sees South African brewers reaching for higher levels of experimentation inspired by local traditions and flavours.