Craft beer – the kind brewed using artisan methods, no chemicals or artificial additives, usually in microbreweries with savvy names like Three Skulls, Triggerfish, or Porcupine Quill – is now firmly favoured by foodies around the country. Craft beer is beer that is not brewed by any of the mega-brewery guys – the SABs of this world. Usually the brewers are small, independent and traditional. The result is: good beer.
The craft beer industry in South Africa is at once small, yet growing. Small, because everyone in the industry knows everyone else – in some cases brewers are even friends. Growing because in 2013 alone around 20 breweries opened, according to the Craft Beer Project.
KwaZulu Natal is a land of ardent craft beer drinkers. So keen, in fact, that there is even a KwaZulu Natal brew route (self-plan and self-drive so make sure you have a dedicated driver amongst you). Of course a craft beer can cost you up to three times what you might pay for a commercial beer, but you are getting so much more for your Rand.
Craft brewing is done by small, independently-owned breweries that use traditional brewing methods emphasising flavour and quality. KZN has quite a number, mostly concentrated in the Midlands. You may want to note that not all microbreweries are open to the public, unless they advertise that they have a pub. Check with them ahead of time.
Notties is the oldest surviving microbrewery in KZN, set in the leafy grounds of the Rawdons Hotel on the Midlands Meander. As such, the independent brewery is geared for visitors and their brews – with names like Tiddly toad, Pye-Eyes Possum and Whistling Weasel – are sold in Rawdons pub and the Brew gift shop. Only an hour and a half from Durban, you can also visit Porcupine Quill, Shongweni Brewery and Old Main whilst out here.
Find them: just off the R103 on the outskirts of Nottingham Road village
Drink them @ Rawdons pub, Bierfassl, The Mole and Pig and Lapa Lapa, and at bottle store outlets around Durban
Porcupine Quill Brewing Co
Set on Old Main Road, Bothas Hill, Porcupine Quill (named when the brewers discovered two porcupine quills where the brewery now stands) is a smallish brewery, close enough to Durban to do as a drive with a brew as your destination. Small they might be, but they produce some 11 different brews under three labels – Porcupine Quill, Dam Wolf and African Moon (produced in 550ml bottles that, if you drink them on the premises are returnable, attracting a R1 deposit). To make the idea of a visit even more attractive they also run a deli that serves handcrafted free-range produce (they’re members of eating with a consience), and a bakery that bakes fresh daily.
Find them: Old Main Road, Bothas Hill
Drink them @ their brewery
Have a look at their website and you will soon see what handcrafted beer users are all about. Just real, good beer. And a few good guys – the Stewarts (Robson, the original punk beer crafter, headed back to the UK from which he hails, which is when the family Stewart took over the business). Sepia photographs of the men in the family clad in dungarees, beers in hand and newsboy caps on heads, sets the scene. As their name suggests, this brewery is in the Shongweni Valley, home to Robson’s Real Beer – five premium, handcrafted beers with no artificial additives.
Find them: only open to the public only by appointment
Drink them in and around Durban @ Unity Brasserie, Bellevue Café, Caversham Mill, Corner Café, Giba Café, and Steak and Ale.
Based in Eshowe, and famous for their Zulu Blonde lager, Zululand Brewery, with brewmaster Richard Chennells of Wandering Keg fame at the helm, is regarded as a small brewery. You can only drink a Zulu Blonde where it is brewed at the The George Hotel, where the brewery is located, on tap at the The Happy George Bar. Whilst producing only 3 000 litres a month, the brew house has to brew up to four times a day to meet demand. Other of their brews include the Chelmsford Porter, Jantoni Pale Ale, Ultimatum Pilsner and Bull Horn Bitter.
Find them: Main Street, Eshowe
Drink them @ The George Hotel (on tap)