It’s been a great year to be a craft beer drinker in South Africa. At last count I heard there were around 180 craft breweries operating commercially in South Africa. At the 2015 National Craft Brewers Championships held in December, Craft Beer South Africa's Brian Stewart said, "There's between 160 and 200 craft brewers in South Africa." It is a number difficult to pinpoint as there are so many breweries entering and leaving the industry.
There are probably a few hundred more home brewers with aspirations to take their craft to the next level in the coming years. Indeed, we are in beer paradise.
To round-up the year I asked my fellow craft beer pundits to list their Top 5 craft beers this year. The list does not necessarily cover beers launched this year, rather, beer that stood out for us in 2015.
We’ve also compiled the official Top 5 All Time Craft Beers of 2015 for CraftNation. There are some beers you’d expect to find and others you may have never tried, either way, these are the beers to add to your shopping list, all CraftNation approved. If you cannot get them from your local craft merchant, check out The League of Beers and order it from them. You can also go straight to the brewer and find out where to get their beers in your area. You will not be disappointed.
Let us know what’s your Top 5 All Time Craft Beers of 2015 by leaving a comment below. Doing so could win you a Monthly Mixed Case of cider or craft beer, courtesy of the wonderful folks at The League of Beers. We "discovered" many of the beers on our list thanks to their monthly mixed case subscription - so consider that as one of your New Year's resolutions.
CraftNation Top 5 for 2015
Woodstock Breweries Californicator
CraftNation’s Beer of 2015
Woodstock Breweries seemingly came out of nowhere and introduced a range of really great beers this year. The Californicator is an American IPA which is one of the most drinkable, sessionable and affordable craft beers on the market today. If this one is not on your regular shopping list, you should add it now. Do it, we’ll wait here while you grab one to sip while you read the rest of this article. You can also check out the review here.
Garagista Tears of the Hipster
The Tears of the Hipster not only featured an award winning ad campaign (check out the video here) but it has one of the most iconic label designs around. This American Pale Ale is deliciously smooth with bold hints of grapefruit bitterness. At around R56 this is a pricy craft beer but it’s one you savour every time you take a sip. Check out the review here.
Darling Brew White IPA
Our favourite seasonal beer is undoubtedly the Darling Brew White IPA and we hope to see this brew late into 2016. The White IPA from Darling Brew is dry hopped with Hull Melon hops and infused with Coriander and Orange peel. At first taste there's a mixture of aromas that deliver strong wheat beer flavours but that's quickly replaced with a beautiful hoppy aftertaste. The orange peel leaves a hint of flavour that will make you wonder if you are actually drinking an IPA. Read the review here.
Agar’s Brewery Tomohawk IPA
Unveiled at the Craft Fair in November this is one of the best IPA’s on South Africa’s Craft Beer scene this year. The Tomohawk IPA features an IBU rating of 100 making this one of the most hopped-up IPA’s you can buy in SA. Surprisingly, the Tomohawk IPA is smooth and easy drinking, making this a great session beer for hop heads. Check out the review here.
The 400 Brewing company Frost Hammer
A newcomer to the craft beer scene in 2015 is the Frost Hammer from The 400 Brewing company – named so because they only brew 400 liters of beer at a time. The Frost Hammer is a very easy drinking beer that is ideal for anyone looking to venture into craft beer drinking but it is also very satisfying for the more seasoned craft drinker. It is not quite an ale but not quite a lager. This means that Frost Hammer is a lager beer with ale characteristics - imagine a hoppy, malty lager and you'll get the picture. Read the review here.
Ivor's Top 5
Ivor Swartz [Kleurlingbierman]
Devil's Peak King's Blockhouse IPA
This has been my go-to all year round. Apart from my "hopsession" (hops obsession), this is one of those rare well-balanced, (almost) perfect IPA's. Loaded with just enough bitterness not to overwhelm you, and aromas that's as refreshing as a Beach Boys song on the open road.
Two Okes Pilsner
One of the better sessionable Pilsners for me. Low in both ABV and IBU, along with its crisp finish, it made for a good, "let's braai and get it on" kind of beer. My mate and I often had it over our weekly spatchcock chicken braai. You should try it.
No. 3 Fransen St. Cream Ale
This was a WOW beer for me in 2014 - had copious amounts of it at the Joburg Fest Of Beer last year. It's perfect for those who don't like beer, but are over the typical ciders (before craft ciders though). It could almost be a Cream Soda (which makes it even more perfect for me).
Innis & Gunn White Oak Wheat Beer
I'll start off by confessing that I have a full case of this beer that I've put away specially for the festive season. It is a refreshing, citrusy beer. It's basically summer in a bottle. When I opened my first one, I immediately thought of December, poolside, laid-back vibes.
Smack Republic Newtown Nemesis
It's the vanilla and bourbon that got me hooked. One after the other I emptied my cups at Arts On Main. Every beer fest where Smack were present, I had at least 3 or 4 of the Nemesis. It's also not a heavy stout, which is all the more reason to indulge liberally, but responsibly, right?!
Thandi's Top 5*
Thandi Guilherme [CraftGeek]
Mad Giant True Grit Amber Ale
I’d heard a lot about this brewery, and had admired their packaging for some time. I finally got my paws on their True Grit amber ale and I was blown away. I really enjoy the style and this is pretty much the perfect amber ale. Truly balanced with all the flavour and body that one expects - definitely a winner!
This, along with the Stimela Black Diamond stout are my highest rated stouts in SA right now. It is perfect. From the coffee nose to the full body and creamy head, it is the style that got me into beer to begin with, and it’s sensational.
Agar’s Tomahawk IPA
This one packs a punch. I wasn’t always a fan of the hoppy IPAs (mostly because of the fruitiness) but over time I’ve learnt to appreciate them and this one blows my mind. Crazy bitter but exceptionally balanced.
Smack! Republic Maboneng Maverick Saison
I love the interesting things that brewers do with saisons. This, along with the Agar’s White Dog and CBC Harvest Lager, is just interesting, refreshing and completely drinkable. I love the herbs, spices and overall strange taste of the style and these guys are rocking it!
I enjoy the weird and wonderful seasonal beers. It’s not everyday that you want a cinnamon, nutmeg and clove infused beer. And this Oktoberfest was one of my “finds-of-the-year”. It is just beautifully subtle and rich at the same time.
Backwards Bean The Beagle (bitter)
This was my “beer of the day” at Solstice in June. Given I may have been a bit tipsy already when I tasted this, it was like tasting heaven. For some reason I keep trying to find bitters, brown ales etc. and this one is, by far, the best I’ve tasted.
* ok so there are 6 beers on her list, she's a rebel that way.
Shae's Top 5
Devil's Peak King's Blockhouse IPA
This is a safe go-to for me. I’m a definite hophead and this IPA is right up there. Some say it’s a heavy way to start an evening out, but quite frankly… life’s too short to compromise: if you know what you want, then go for it.
Soweto Gold Apple Ale
Some would categorise this as more of a cider but I’m dropping it onto this beer list as fresh, very light, very juicy, very apple-y ale. Pair it with pulled pork and you have yourself a party. This is a summer keeper.
Smack Republic Hillbrow Honey
This is a badass honey for sure! Rooibos and honey specialty pale ale is a truly South African treat – there’s nothing else like it. Also, it gave me a good chance to sport a Mohawk. [for reference click here]
AND UNION Beast of the Deep
The first sip had me hooked. This unfiltered lager was one of the first in the SA market and it holds true to a good lager. It’s got a good backbone but it won’t crush you. Beautiful from start to finish.
Darling Brew Slow Beer
This premium lager has a good hops flavour and it goes down very easily without the concern of a high alcohol content. This is a good all-rounder for me.
Don't forget to let us know what’s your Top 5 All Time Craft Beers of 2015 by leaving a comment below. Doing so could win you a Monthly Mixed Case of cider or craft beer, courtesy of the wonderful folks at The League of Beers.