Busting beer myths at the Southyeasters homebrew festival

Posted on 21 April 2011

I busted two beer-related myths this weekend. First, the falsehood that homebrewed beer can’t taste good. Now I totally acknowledge that homebrew can be awful – we’ve had a few botched attempts ourselves to prove it – but there are homebrews out there that are as good, or in many cases better, than beer churned out by established breweries. Last Saturday saw the fifth annual beer festival of Cape Town‘s homebrew club – the wonderfully named Southyeasters. Held on the patio of the SAB Heritage Centre at the Newlands Brewery, the Summer Festival (yes, summer is officially over, but try telling that to a group of shorts-clad beer lovers clutching cold pints in the sun) was by anyone’s measure a huge success.

Some 200 beer enthusiasts bought advance tickets (the fest was sold out before the day arrived) and turned up to taste no less than 49 different beers cooked up by 18 brewers. We sampled everything from a light wheat beer, much-loved by the ladies, to a creamy stout that could easily replace desert on a winter’s day; from traditional Belgian and German brews to quirky beers infused with ginger, cinnamon and even buchu. Some brewed with kits, others opted for the more intricate all-grain approach and there was even a demonstration for wannabe brewers to show that the process isn’t too tough for any enthusiast to master. Southyeasters Chairman, Leon du Preez, told me that this was what the festival was all about – to show people that making beer is a hobby that anyone can excel at with a little practice. Judging by the number of people watching the demo and rushing to buy beer-making kits, that goal was well and truly reached. Recent beer converts learnt a few new styles of beer and more than a couple of people were struck by the differences between wine and beer tasting- no dress code, little jargon and not a spittoon in sight!

I tried hard to sample each of the 49 beers – purely out of fairness you’ll understand. The brewers, who’d donated gallons of their beer, were fighting for the title of top brewer, with each attendee having two crucial votes to cast (by way of dropping marbles in the relevant brewer’s cup). Nick Birkby proved you don’t need fancy equipment or snazzy labels to brew a top beer, his Brown Ale winning top spot. It was a slightly sweet and hugely refreshing pint that deserved its prize, though it was a toughly fought challenge. I’m a sucker for a stout and the Oat Stout from Mark and Analize Ter Morhuizen was spectacular, though as a burgeoning “˜hop head’ I have to say that my final marble went to Eric Van Heerden’s hop-filled Roman Red Ale. Eric is the driving force behind Triggerfish, the Cape’s newest microbrewery, set to open early next month in Somerset West. In fact, beer lovers in the Western Cape are in for some good news – a further three microbreweries are on the cards and could open within a year.

Keep an eye out for future events from the Southyeasters, a wholeheartedly friendly bunch who meet every other month to talk malt “˜n’ hops and to taste each other’s brews. I’m already counting the days until the next beer festival – hopefully the Tipsy Traveller Homebrew will be available at the 2012 edition. And in case you were wondering about that second beer myth – it seems that,  naturally, brewed beer can give you a hangover after all. I blame the Southyeasters’ excellent ales for my delicate Sunday morning state – but it was so worth it.

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