Brewery tours in cavernous warehouses past rows of stainless steel machines. The smell of yeast and ferment, a mild, slightly sour scent that recalls sunny days and cold drinks. Tiny microbreweries with a vast range of choices.
This craft-brewery scene isn’t in a hipster enclave in an American downtown; instead, it’s increasingly taking place in South Africa, across a number of cities from Cape Town to Durban and Johannesburg. Though South Africa’s craft beer scene is far younger than its counterparts in other nations, the country has more than made up for its late start.
In fact, if one can judge by the sheer variety and range of flavors on display, the nation’s microbreweries are thriving. Two years ago, Africa Geographic published a comprehensive tour of South Africa’s many breweries, creating the perfect itinerary for lovers of beer, food, and travel. Standouts included St. Francis Brewing Co., a pub-style eatery and bar headquartered on the scenic, sandy headlands of St. Francis Bay (and a perfect place to grab a cold one after riding the waves); as well as the rustic Anvil Ale Brewery in Dullstroom, situated on the nation’s cool, eastern grasslands.
The most famous of these breweries, however, is arguably Devil’s Peak Brewing Co., headquartered on the forbidding, rugged mountain of the same name–and one with a fantastic, panoramic view of Cape Town and the bay below. Their award-winning King’s Blockhouse IPA was rated as the best beer in South Africa , winning multiple awards including the 2011, 2012, and 2014 Cape Town Festival of Beer; the 2014 Johannesburg Festival of Beer; and the 2014 SAB Craft Brewer Championship. That the brewery is located off a well-worn running and biking trail on Devil’s Peak makes the beer that much tastier.
With such variety and tastes, it’s easy to forget that the South African brewery scene is still quite young–and only began in Cape Town around ten years ago. According to Growler Magazine, the first microbrewery in the nation was Boston Breweries, founded in 2000. However, the catalyst for the craft beer revolution was likely Jack Black’s Brewing Co., founded in 2007 by a South African couple steeped in North American craft beer culture (and, it should be noted, with no relation to famous actor Jack Black).
From there, a beer renaissance soon emerged, beginning with pale lagers and quiet blonde ales (Devil’s Peak bucked this trend with their bold IPA), before moving on to exciting experiments, such as fruits from the South African baobab tree and hibiscus. Today, the South African brewing scene is dynamic, encompassing some 212 artisanal beer breweries, cider houses, and other brands. For the adventurous (and thirsty), travel maps abound, from Brew Masters’ expansive directory to KwaZulu Natal’s brew route, a meandering treasure hunt that mixes craggy mountains, rolling foothills, and lush, grasslands and forests with the varied tastes of the province’s artisanal brewers.
Though it may be off the eaten track, South Africa’s beer tourism is picking up fast. If you’ve always craved a beer after a wildlife safari or a demanding hike up a steep, rugged mountain like Devil’s Peak–then you’re in luck.