Craft beer: I’d tap that

Change is brewing in the South African beer market, even wine drinkers have noticed and some have even converted. The craft beer craze has truly hit South Africa with new breweries popping up almost everywhere. As a Lager dominated country we are now faced with unlimited options of flavours and styles and this is what excites us most about this long overdue movement. So we got Dr Melanie Nieuwoudt, the brew master of Ceder Brew to provide us with some education in the craft, science and history of beer.

We’ll start off with the obvious question some might have: What is a craft beer? Craft beer originally refers to live cask, or bottle conditioned British ales, but nowadays loosely describes flavoursome brews by small, independent brewers. Basically beers made with love, which tastes amazing. Some craft brewers are brewing variations of a style, while others may want to stay true to specific beer traditions. Each brewer has his/her own brewing philosophy, there is truly no right or wrong, – ‘just give the people what they want’ (and obviously keep it consumer safe!).

Beers primarily consist of water, malt, hops and yeast, but brewers these days are truly pulling out all the stops with regards to unconventional additives, resulting in some very interesting beers ranging from thick dark chocolate stouts and cherry porters, to spicy pumpkin ales. These new innovations and experiments are the hallmarks of craft beers and have led to even the elusive female market segment being converted to the craft.

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Craft for your palate

Let’s start with a little background: Beers are traditionally categorised as being bottom or top fermenting.(i.e. the yeast either flocculates/clumps towards the bottom of the fermenter during first or primary fermentation, like in the case of lagers, or they flocculate at the top, as with ales). Lagers are fermented at lower temperatures for longer periods and generally produce drier beers, with less body and fruitiness, while Ales ferment for shorter periods at higher temperatures and are thus fuller bodied with more fruit and sweetness present.

Beers such as pale, brown, cream and amber ales, Hefeweizens, IPAs, Porters, Stouts and Lambics all fall under the top fermenting category, while Bocks, Dunkels, Marzens, Pilsners and Lagers, to name a few, are bottom fermenting. Each style comes with its own characters, and for those looking to start to appreciate the craft should keep an eye open for those IBUs or international bitterness units. Take an IPA (India Pale Ale) for instance (40-120 IBU), it may come across as beautifully floral, full and sweet, but for the inexperienced and off guard, it might be giving you a B (for bitter) slap. Rather start your craft beer experience by getting used to less extreme Lambic variations (0-10 IBU), Mild Ales (8-20 IBU) or Lite Lagers (8-12 IBU) and work your way up to the more serious styles.

Some other choices you’ll be faced with when choosing your brew are between filtered and unfiltered beer. Some styles, such as a Weiss are traditionally kept unfiltered while many other beers should ideally appear bright and would then benefit from being filtered. Personally, I prefer unfiltered beers as I find them to have a superior flavour profile, which can be compromised during filtration and pasteurisation. The murky bottom yeasty bit is usually my favourite part! Many unfiltered beers can also appear clear which can be achieved with correct temperature control during fermentation and maturation or in the case of bottled beer by being stored upright and decanted correctly. That’s the problem solved for those finicky about the visual appeal of their brews.

A costly habit

Another question craft beer fans might have is why craft drinking is so expensive? An interesting read in a recent addition of the Guardian summed it up pretty well: “Costly raw ingredients, small-scale production, tax and the exploitation of gullible hipsters are all possible contributors to price.” Pretty spot on, but I do however find that certain beers are somewhat overpriced, but one should also keep in mind that you can’t really expect to pay the same for a craftier counterpart as you would for a SAB or Windhoek Lager.

I hope that this read was a useful tool to ease the search for your ultimate craft beer experience. Whether you’re a drinker of the more serious Doppel Bock or Imperial Stouts or one that prefers the less “BIG” beers, South Africa is the right place and the right time to be! So. Many. Choices.

Bios:

Ceder Brew - logo-final-blackCeder Brew

Ceder Brew, located on the farm Kromrivier, is the Cederberg’s first craft brewery. The farm has been home to the Nieuwoudt family for seven generations and it was this seventh generation that thought it a good idea to start brewing beer. They specialise in signature craft beers and also do custom beers, brewed especially for your special occasion. Find Ceder Brew on Facebook or go to www.cederbrew.co.za for more information.

Dr Melanie Nieuwoudt has possibly the coolest academic qualification in the world. She’s a doctor of beer. Okay so she’s a doctor of Food Science but her PhD was on beer. She runs Ceder Brew on the family farm with her sister Tania. Go visit them on Kromrivier and taste their excellent beers.

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