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Homebru.net and Suip! proudly present the Best Beer on the Table 2011 Award.

January 13, 2012

Homebru.net and Table MountainSuip! proudly present the Best Beer on the Table 2011 Award.

The Southern African beer world doesn’t have many awards. Most praise handed to South African beers or breweries is, well, meaningless. It’s awarded by hack food writers in ill-considered feature pieces or given out at bogus competitions to which only multinational breweries are invited. (Has anybody even heard of those events at which Carling Black Label conveniently wins “gold medals” every few years?)

Real beer needs real awards. This is where the Best Beer on the Table Award comes in.

The winners this year will win a small trophy and a lot of recognition from our readers. They will also receive our own stamp of approval that they are welcome to use whenever or wherever they want. Although this might seem like only a fun small bit of recognition at the moment, in a couple of years we hope this award can be significant, to brewers and the drinking public alike. As craft beer continues its exponentially upward rise in this country, we hope to expand this award to include Brewers’ Choice and Drinkers’ Choice awards, as well as our critical choice (which we hope to expand with other beer writers coming on board), as a reflection of the camaraderie that (mostly) exists within the craft beer communities of South Africa and Namibia.

The jury this year consists of Nick Mulgrew (Suip!) and and Joakim Löfkvist (Homebru.net). Our nominations are, in no particular order:

1. Bierwerk – Aardwolf
2. Devil’s Peak Brewing – King’s Blockhouse IPA
3. Darling Brewery – Bone Crusher
4. Bierwerk – Renosterbos
5. Triggerfish Brewing – Bonito Bombshell Blonde
6. Triggerfish Brewing – Hammerhead IPA

A lot could be said about all these beers, but we keep our reasons short. Some are delicious, some are plain innovative, and some are helping to bridge the ever-widening chasm between craft beer and popular beer.

This year it wasn’t an easy choice, but after a lot of thought, three stood out above all else.

Second runner-up: Devil’s Peak King’s Blockhouse IPA

First runner-up: Triggerfish Hammerhead IPA

The Best Beer on the Table 2011: Bierwerk Aardwolf

Last year was a tremendous year for innovation – coming from within South Africa’s brewing ranks and also with international help – in the burgeoning craft community of the Western Cape, and our three winners reflect that fact.

The American-influenced stylings of Somerset West’s Devil’s Peak Brewing has brought forth four brilliant beers, with the Blockhouse IPA garnering the most superlatives, including an award from the Cape Town Festival of Beer, as well as our second runner-up award.

Eric Van Heerden leads Triggerfish’s homegrown experimentation. Joakim calls him one of South Africa’s best microbrewers, and he’s probably right. The Hammerhead IPA hits all the right visual and olfactory notes, as well as being a knock-out on the palate. It’s full-on but, crucially, it is never overpowering. Its balance is impeccable, and for that it wins first runner-up.

Two IPAs, though? Although that might seem excessive, it should go without saying that the IPA isn’t South Africa’s strongest draw card. You could probably count the amount of good pale ales in South Africa on one hand – and that’s not an exaggeration. That’s what makes the success of Devil’s Peak and Triggerfish’s brews that much more startling.

Our winner, however, is not a pale ale. It is something more dark and slightly more mysterious, in both conception and execution. Bierwerk’s Aardwolf is a five-malt, espresso-stained masterpiece from Christian Skovdal Andersen. It’s not only what much of the international beer community considers to be the best craft beer in South Africa (it’s SA’s top-rated beer on Ratebeer.com), but also what we consider it to be as well. It’s irresistibly morish and deep, rewarding the slow drinker with its veins of vanilla, its lingering and deliciously bitter coffee finish, and its almost kaleidoscopic spectrum of roast and malt notes. Locally, it takes not only the coffee stout, a favourite of seemingly every newcomer to the craft world, but also the stout to new heights.

Special Innovation Award: Bierwerk Renosterbos
Bierwerk’s Renosterbos is some kind of mad scientist alchemy. A barleywine brewed from SAB pale malt and Southern Promise hops, along with liberal amounts of golden syrup and yeast from both Rochefort and Da Chouffe breweries in Belgium, Renosterbos was aged in Brettanomyce-infected red wine barrels, supplied by an unnamed Western Cape winery, for seven months.

The results were spectacular: a knock-you-down-after-one-glass sort of brilliance that hasn’t been seen in any other quarter of this country all year. Andersen is returning to South Africa soon. Let’s hope 2012 brings more of that same brilliance, both from him and other brewers, newcomers and old hands alike. We can’t wait to see what’s in store.

 

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Schalk permalink
    February 12, 2012 9:45 am

    According to which system was the judging done?
    How can you compare beers from vastly different styles with each other?
    The only real method is using predetermined guidelines & a points system, i.e. BJCP or other.
    Otherwise it is simply a subjective opinion of the self appointed judges & the award has no real meaning. It is a people’s choice award….

    • February 13, 2012 7:28 pm

      Obviously it is subjective. Disregarding the fact that a not-insignificant portion of beer appreciation is a subjective affair, it is even stated that this award is “only a fun small bit of recognition at the moment” and written in a pretty tongue-in-cheek manner. We could implement the BJCP, but the scale for the layperson’s engagement with a BJCP-judged award right now in SA is very low. Joakim and I, as writers focusing on what is still an emerging community, were trying to gauge interest in this sort of award and what sort of guidelines it should follow. We get criticism on both sides: from the SA public who complain when beer is made too technical, as well as from more knowledgable people like yourself when we try to make it more accessible. Do we implement BJCP-style guidelines, or more Ratebeer-style opinions? Which works better? Which approach is more suited to SA beer as it stands now? Who are we aiming this award at? The craft beer novice, or the already educated?

      At the end of this year, we will be taking a very serious approach to this award in an attempt to bridge the gap. For now we just wanted to get the ball rolling. Thanks for your thoughts on how we can improve.

  2. Ryno permalink
    February 12, 2012 11:45 am

    Bierwerk is soooo NOT South African. Does not even exist. Which makes Hammerhead the obvious winner.
    Ryno

    • February 13, 2012 10:13 am

      Triggerfish makes really good beers. Hope to see some new ones this year. Maybe a winner ! :-)

  3. Joe permalink
    February 12, 2012 12:34 pm

    Don’t u wonder who is rating bierwerks beers tho considering they aren’t actually available anywhere?? I found that their barley wine doesnt actually taste at all like a barley wine though. Not bad beer, but mislabelled perhaps?

    • February 12, 2012 10:41 pm

      Aardwolf and Vlakvark has been avaliable in Denmark for sometime so many raters are Danish or Swedish. The beers used to be available at Bostons Breweries but I think Christian at Bierwerk has taken them now to export to Scandinavia and some more places.
      Ask Boston if you would like to buy some.

      Style is a tricky part of brewing (and not so interesting if you ask me). My advice is, brew great beer and do not look to much on style guidelines.

      • Joe permalink
        February 13, 2012 7:53 am

        I must say I disagree on the style issue. Brewing to style proves that you know what you’re doing and that you don’t just brew a good beer by chance.
        I don’t really understand how a beer that isn’t really available in sa can win an award for south african beer. Some nepotism here perhaps?

      • February 13, 2012 10:03 am

        What I mean is that you do not have to limit yourself to style. Brew a beer that you want even if it does not fit in to a specific style. Yes to be able to brew according to style is also a knowledge. We do not judge the brewers. If they brew a fantastic beer by chance “good for them”.

        It is an award open for beer brewed in SA and not about distribution. It has been available (what I know of) all the time at Bostons. We do not disqualify a brewpub if they do not bottle. Bierwerk is not qualified this year (up until now) because they brew at Camelthorn. Do you not like the idea of the award or is it just the winners you do not approve of?

        This was the first year and next year we are going to take the next step but I will come back to that when ready. We are thinking about a brewers choice, public choice and so on.

        Western Cape is small and there are not enough beers out there in order to make a blind test fully accurate. There are some SouthYeasters undergoing a BJCP course so there might be more people qualified to judge.

    • February 13, 2012 7:30 pm

      You make some good points, Joe. I think style guidelines are important, and we’re still working out the most appropriate way to implement them into this year’s award. Thanks very much for your feedback.

      P.S. No nepotism on the Bierwerk front. Pinky promise.

  4. Jean permalink
    February 12, 2012 10:07 pm

    I agree with Schalk, my objection is criteria used to judge the beer and only two judges…? No real merrit for the award, although the initiative is sound. I’ll have the Hammerhead.

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