Black Label does it again!

Last night I had the privileged of attending the South African National Beer Trophy awards. The event that inspired me to start this blog when Black Label won the Peoples Choice award last year. So, let’s get the bad news out of the way first, Black Label is still the South African peoples favourite beer. Does this surprise me? No, but interestingly whilst Castle Lite won a gold medal and Castle Lager and Castle Free both got silvers, Black Label did not feature in the medals.

So, is South Africa’s love affair with Black Label and macro lagers in general ever going to change? Well, what did surprise me to learn was that of the 1686 people that voted in the Peoples Choice award, nearly 65% of them voted for a micro beer. Perhaps the sheer volume of micro beers out there does not help their case for this particular award.

So onto the winners, and there’s quite a few of them. The standard was high this year, in order to get a silver medal you required 39/50 or above, up from 35/50 last year. To put this into context, back in 2015 at the first SANBT awards 38/50 would have won you a gold medal.

Therefor everyone on these lists below should be applauded for pushing the standards of craft beer in South Africa up. Yes there are some notable absentees, but that just proves that things are heading in the right direction here.

ABInBev Castle Lager
ABInBev 
Castle Free
Boet Beer Pale Ale
Brauhaus am Damm Märzen
Brewhaha Jbay Moonlit Beach
Brewhaha Jbay Endless Summer
Cape Brewing Company Pilsner
Clockwork Brewhouse Schwarzbier
Darling Brew Arrowhead RIS
Darling Brew Long Claw
Drifter Brewing Co. Scallywag IPA
Drifter Brewing Co. Off The Dock Doppelbock
Fierce Beer South Africa Day Shift
Frontier Beer & Stimela Brett Saison
Frontier Beer & Hazeldean Brewing Co. The Cuban
Hazeldean Brewing Co. Fruit Lambic
Hazeldean Brewing Co.  Vienna Lager
Hazeldean Brewing Co. Milkstout
Hoghouse Brewing Co. Warthog IPA
Hoghouse Brewing Co. Haybale Saison
Hoogeberg Brewery Lager
Impi Brewing Co. Warrior Pilsner
Karoo Craft Breweries The Kudu Lager
Karoo Craft Breweries The Jackal IPA
Karoo Craft Breweries Passion Smash Pale Ale
Kas Bier Weiss
Kings Craft Brewing Co. Lionheart Lager
Lakeside Brewing Co. Festival Oktoberfest Lager
Lakeside Brewing Co. Supernova Porter
Mad Giant Urban Legend
Metal Lane Brewery Pale Ale
Mitchell’s Brewery Milk & Honey
Mitchell’s Brewery Old Wobbly
Mitchell’s Brewery Bosun’s Pale Ale
Mountain Brewing Company Templar IPA
Mountain Brewing Company Loadshed Lager
Mountain Brewing Company Stamina Potion
Mountain Brewing Company Copper Dawn
Newlands Spring Brewing Co. Jacobs Pale Ale
Newlands Spring Brewing Co. Tribute Lager
Noon Gun Brewery Gunslinger Pilsner
Noon Gun Brewery Muzzle Loader Weiss
Noon Gun Brewery Smooth Bore Lager
Old Potter’s Brewhouse Rooinek
Old Potter’s Brewhouse My China Rice Lager
Old Potter’s Brewhouse City Slicker Pale Ale
St. Francis Brewing Co. Storm Warning Stout
Striped Horse Lager
The Franschoek Beer Company La Saison
The Franschoek Beer Company Three Oaks Craft Lager
The Franschoek Beer Company Liberty APA
The Italian Job Brewery Amore Amber Ale
The Kennel Brewery  Bierboel
The Redrock Brewing Co. Painted Black
The Redrock Brewing Co. Rusty Trigger
Toast Ale South Africa Pale Ale
Urban Brewing Co.  Monkey’s Paw Pilsner
Zebonkey Weissbier
Zwakala Brewery Mountain Weiss

ABInBev Castle Light
Amundsen Brewery South Africa
 Ink and Dagger
Atlantic Storm Brewery  Black Tempest
Brauhaus am Damm Dunkel
Brewhaha Jbay Stormy Seas
Cape Brewing Company Dunkel
Cape Brewing Company Lager
Darling Brew Black Mist
Darling Brew Gypsy Mask
Devil’s Peak Brewing Company Lager
Drifter Brewing Co. Stormy Smoked Porter
Frasers Folly Brandy Cask Finished Ale
Hermanus Brewery Old Harbour Lager
Impi Brewing Co. Homestead Lager
Kings Craft Brewing Co. Madking Pilsner
Lakeside Brewing Co. Summit Red IPA
Mitchell’s Brewery Forester’s
Mountain Brewing Company Klipbock
Spilhaus Brewery Märzen Lager
St. Francis Brewing Co. Kromme Rivier Witbier
Striped Horse Pale Ale
The Italian Job Brewery Famiglia Pilsner

Cape Brewing Company Lager

Darling Brew Black Mist

Frasers Folly Brandy Cask Finished Ale

St. Francis Brewing Co. Kromme Rivier Witbier

OVERALL WINNER:

Amundsen Brewery South Africa Ink and Dagger

I took the time to chat to some of the winners last night after they had received their awards. Firstly I spoke to Cam from Atlantic Storm about how it feels to win gold for their Black Tempest Coffee Milk Stout:

It feels awesome. I’m glad that we got gold this year. Last year we got silver, so it just shows that we’ve been upping our game.

Next up I had a chat to JC from Devils Peak just after they picked up Best in Show overall for the Ink and Dagger, a beer they brew for Amunsden in South Africa, he explained how that collaboration works and why the beer is so good:

It’s a beer we brew in South Africa for Amunsden from Norway. It’s made with a very basic malt bill and a lot of hops and I think that’s the key to the success of that beer.

One of the breweries that I was most excited to get some recognition this year was Brewhaha from JBay. I first visited them a couple of years back and was blown away by their beers, so it’s great to see them winning some well deserved medals now. They picked up two silvers and a gold medal. I asked Marius how it felt to win a gold medal for his Stormy Sea’s American IPA:

I’m extremely happy, it’s my flagship beer and it’s the beer I brew for myself and the beer i’m the most proud of. I love hops and I think they are well balanced in this beer. It’s one thing if your mum thinks you brew a great beer, but tonight to have my beer recognized by certified beer judges and people in the industry, I really appreciate that.

I tasted lots of great beers last night, but for me, three of them stood out as outstanding beers moving the industry forward. If I had to rank them, third place would go to Hazeldean for their Fruit Lambic. Second would go to the collab between Frontier & Stimela for their Brett Saison and the beer of the night, and the best South African beer I have tried this year would be Frasers Folly Brandy Cask Finished Ale (Barley Wine). I actually judged this beer blind as part of my BJCP training earlier this month and gave it the highest score I have ever given a beer. 

I had a pretty drunken chat with Fraser after he picked up a Best in Show for this one:

It’s an English Barley Wine aged in 10 year old brandy casks for a year. When I left the UK for South Africa, one of the beers that really tickled my fancy was Innis & Gunn, back when it was first released. So I though, what do we have a lot of in South Africa? Brandy barrels! We don’t have whiskey or bourbon casks like they do internationally but we have a lot of brandy barrels. So I decided to put an English Barley Wine into a South African Brandy Barrel, and that pretty much sums me up!

As someone who is not a big fan of the amount of lagers being produced by craft breweries in South Africa, I was a little disappointed with the number of lagers picking up awards. I’m not saying that they were undeserving, it is a difficult style to perfect and therefor it is positive to see so many breweries getting it right. However, I would have liked to see more interesting beers dominate. Clearly there is one of two problems here. Either not enough breweries are pushing the boundaries and producing different styled beers to enter into these competition. Or they are but the quality of these entries isn’t there yet. 

I had a chat with Marius from Hazeldean who make some exciting beers, the Lambic being one of my favourites of the night, but they also picked up a medal for their Vienna lager. I asked him why he feels lagers are dominating right now:

It’s a symptom of where we are in the beer industry right now. We’re trying to pull that lager drinking crowd over from big beer to craft, so we see a lot of craft breweries producing a lot of lagers.

For me it was an awesome night and great to see the standard of South African beers on the rise. The SANBT not only utilizes BJCP judges but also sommeliers, chefs and Africa’s first cicerone to try and get a more rounded view of all the beers. I really like this idea as sometimes only having BJCP judges can give a one sided view.

This competition is growing, with more beers being entered year on year and the standard ever increasing. It is great that events like this are pushing up the quality of beer in South Africa and giving brewers a standard to aim for. When out shopping for beers look out for those Gold and Silver stickers on the bottles when making an informed choice about a new beer to try.

My hope for next year if that we see more breweries entering more beers that push boundaries such as the three I mention above. These are the beers that I feel will drive the craft beer scene in South Africa forward.

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