Beer in Cape Town

Cape Town Festival of Beer 

Never mind wine, there’s beer in Cape Town.

Given the region’s well-deserved reputation for fine wine, visitors might be surprised to discover that the Western Cape is also awash with beer. And not just big-name brands like Castle Lager (produced by the mega-brewery SABMiller): Cape Town is also home to a busy industry of smaller-scale craft beers.

The large Newlands Brewery has been in operation since 1820, but beer has been brewed in that fabled neighbourhood as long ago as 1658. Any beer-themed tour of the Mother City should, then, start where the brewing started, but large as it is, you’ll probably smell Newlands Brewery before you see it, with its telltale odours of malt and hops wafting around the adjacent cricket ground and rugby stadium.

If you follow the CoffeeBeans Routes’ Cape Town Beer Route, your next stop would be Banana Jam Café in Kenilworth, which has positioned itself as a local craft beer hotspot. Craft brewing really took off in Cape Town about five or six years ago, when guys started noticing that there was a local market willing to pay them to brew – and drink – their own ale. Banana Jam call this limited quantity, homemade craft beer “Real Beer”, and they have litres and litres of it on tap at their bar. Micro-breweries Jack Black and Boston Brewery are all permanent fixtures, while smaller outfits – relative unknowns and undiscovered gems like Gallows Hill, Valley Bru, Camelthorn and Saggy Stone – are on tap for a limited time, and in limited quantities.

Jack Black is an interesting case, in that its production is all outsourced. So while it’s on tap at certain selected bars and restaurants around the city, you can’t visit the brewery for a tasting because there is no physical brewery to visit.

Boston Brewery, meanwhile, has a busy, 32 000-litres-a-month brewery in the industria of Paarden Eiland and brewer Chris Barnard (who, legend has it, started brewing in 2000 after finding his tastes frustrated by the then-limited local offerings) also offers tours.

The Cape Town Festival of Beer usually takes place in November. Photo © Cape Town Tourism

Still in the city you’ll find Mitchell’s, which was the first South African micro-brewery to really make a name for itself. Mitchell’s started out in the Garden Route town of Knysna in 1983 before opening a second brewery at the V&A Waterfront in 1989, and their Forester’s Lager and Bosun’s Bitter are as close as any micro-brewery beer gets to being household names in Cape Town.

& Union isn’t too far off either: this city centre establishment works with European brew masters and family-run breweries to create unfiltered and unpasteurised craft beer. Their “beer salon” is a popular spot particularly among the city’s hipsters and with good reason.

Another popular spot, Beerhouse is situated on Long Street.  They have 20/25 beer brands on tap and 99 different bottles of beer on the wall from South Africa and around the world.  They are surely bringing Africa’s biggest beer variety to Cape Town. They are pretty much a tasting room for the SA beer industry, with their already-legendary beer-o-clock taster platter (12 different 120ml beers). 

Beerhouse - 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall

Not that Cape Town lacks for beer festivals. The burgeoning craft beer industry has brought with it the idea that beer isn’t just something you drink when you’re watching sport on a Saturday afternoon. Of the many festivals to emerge, two are especially notable. The Cape Town Festival of Beer and the Durbanville Beer Fest, both of which celebrated their fifth year in November 2014, feature almost 100 different brands across the micro- and mega-brewing spectrum. It’s a real blessing for beer fans, seeing as so many craft beers can be frustratingly hard to get hold of, particularly those from South Africa’s other regions.

Such is the explosion of popularity for “different” beer (by which we really mean beer that doesn’t come out of a can) that even some wine estates in the Cape Winelands are getting in on the act. Dieu Donné in Franschhoek is a standout example, using spring water from its own farm and a self-taught brew master to create its own micro-brewed offerings.

Notable breweries from further afield include Somerset West’s Triggerfish Brewing and Napier Brewery from tiny Napier in the Overberg. Then there’s also Birkenhead Brewery in sleepy Stanford, between Hermanus and Gansbaai, where no less than five beers and a cider are brewed for the pleasure of day-trippers and passers-through.

Go any further than that, and you’ll start hitting the really obscure stuff, like Darling Brew from the West Coast and Karoo Brew from Montagu. Both are available at select bars in Cape Town, but as with all local craft beers, you have to know where to find them.