Solstice Festival 2015 welcomes back the groovy Sixties

With flowers in their hair, peace in their hearts and pints of beer in their hands, festivalgoers celebrated the ninth annual Solstice Festival in Swinging Sixties style on 27 June 2015.

The Solstice Festival is a calendar highlight for craft enthusiasts, when some of the best South African breweries bring fresh beer to the Ale House grounds in Broederstroom.

Founder of Solstice Festival and owner of Ale House Dirk van Tonder says the festival has come a long way since it began in 2007.

“We started with only three breweries back then, and it’s grown steadily over the years. Today we have 16 breweries taking part.”

Among those was No 3 Fransen Street, offering two of the three experimental ales produced by SAB – the Krystal Weiss and Irish Crème Ale – which proved a hit among festivalgoers.

Despite the overcast weather, the mood was jovial. Tunes from a great line-up of bands, including Larry Amos, Coco and Charlie King, mingled with laughter from festive punters well into the late afternoon.

Here’s looking forward to next year’s Solstice Fest! 

The World of Beer welcomes brewing guru John Palmer

On 6 July, the day that he flew back to his home in Los Angeles after a brief visit to Johannesburg, the SAB World of Beer was honoured to host world-renowned brewer John Palmer for a tour and lunch at its Tap Room

Palmer started to brew his own beer at home in 1990, shortly after beginning a career in the aerospace industry in California, and around the time that he started to become bored with the Californian beers at his disposal.

In 2000, he self-published How to Brew: Everything You Need to Know to Brew Beer Right the First Time, a book that, by the time it was on its third edition in 2006, established Palmer as the pre-eminent authority on homebrewing (the first edition is available for free at the link above). He has gone on to co-author Brewing Classic Styles and Water: A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers

His experience in one field, he says, speaking of his work designing and writing technical specifications for the aerospace industry, aided with his passion for the other, brewing. "It was natural for me start looking at the brewing process and break it down into critical steps, explaining each step and what precursors are needed for it to be done more efficiently. Those writings eventually became How to Brew."

(It's worth nothing that Palmer, though mentioning his work in aerospace engineering in passing, fails to mention what a very basic Internet search tells us: that "he has helped design, build, and inspect hardware that is currently flying on the International Space Station". Which makes one thing clear: whatever Palmer's got to say, he knows what he's talking about. Listen up.)

When asked about his impressions of South Africa's craft beer scene, Palmer seems genuinely impressed: "I’ve been all over the world – from South America to Australia – and I’m pleasantly surprised by the quality of the craft beer that is produced here in South Africa. Not to denigrate South America, but they tend to have a lower supply of high-quality ingredients. Here, through SABMiller, the craft brewers have better access to fresh ingredients. And they’re brewing some really top-quality beer as a result."

Devil's Peak and CBC received particular mention.

Of his tour of the World of Beer, Palmer says, "It was a great tour. It's good to see some of the ancient history of beer, and I was delighted to be able to taste sorghum beer. I've never been able to try it before. I really liked it: semi-sour and very delicious."

Whether the South African craft beer scene will take off the same way that it has in the United States, is probably yet to be determined. Palmer, however, speaks confidently: "I really think it will. I see the same patterns worldwide ... Everyone is so accustomed to a single definition of what a beer is. They don’t know the full spectrum of beer. And so very often it starts with home brewers, trying and sharing different styles. As they start to serve these to the public, tastes change, and there is a slow groundswell of interest in the variety that beer offers."

Currently, Palmer spends the majority of his time travelling, attending various conferences and often speaking at them. He also does some consulting with smaller brewers.

Four tips for brewing a great IPA at home

A great IPA (India pale ale) should never mince words. It gets right to the point with a fistful of hops delivered straight to your mouth.

But brewing an IPA can be tricky – it’s one of those beer styles that’s fairly easy to get right, but difficult to do really, really well. There are a number of variables you need to keep in mind, and a ton of options to consider when it comes to your hop combinations.

If you’re a seasoned home brewer, then chances are you’ve got your recipe and process figured out. But for all those ‘beerginners’ out there wanting to try out a new IPA recipe, these tips should come in handy.

1. Keep the malt profile simple(ish)

Ideally, an IPA should let the hop profile of the beer shine through. But that’s not to say you can’t have a nice malty finish. About 75% to 80% of your grain bill should consist of simple pale malt, and the rest a combination of malts like Vienna, Munich, Biscuit and the like to add more complexity.

Go easy on the crystal/caramel malts, though – at about 5% of your grain bill, they will add a nice character and help with head retention.

2. Adding the essential ingredient

Ah yes, hops ... surely one of the greatest plants found on this planet. Open a bag of fresh, aromatic hop pellets and you’ll probably agree. The trick is to impart that delicious aroma and taste into your IPA as boldly as possible, figuring out which hops to use as bittering, aroma and flavouring additions.

Popular hops for IPA include: Cascade, Amarillo, Warrior, Magnum, Apollo, Simcoe, Citra, Columbus and Summit, among others. But ultimately, it comes down to what you think works. Add high alpha acid hops early in the boil for bittering, and chuck in plenty of hops late in the boil (during the last 10 minutes or so) for aroma.

Then, be generous with your dry hopping! After you’ve racked to secondary fermentation, work out a daily dry hopping schedule (running for about five to seven days) using more aromatic hops like Cascade, Amarillo and the like. Don’t be afraid to chuck in 15g or more each day.

3. Choosing the yeast

One of the most popular choices for an IPA is California Ale yeast (WLP001), as it helps accentuate the hops while imparting a clean, dry character to the beer. Another good option is English Ale yeast, although you’ll need to take a few things into consideration – mash at a lower temperature to account for the lower attenuation of this yeast strain, and ferment cooler (usually at around 17°C to 18°C) to get a cleaner ester profile.

4. Experiment

At the end of the day, practice makes perfect, and experimentation will eventually lead you down a hoppy path of success.

Never settle for a mediocre recipe that just tastes OK. Keep notes during each brew, allowing you to keep track of everything you did when that perfect batch finally happens. Consider investing in the hugely popular BeerSmith software to help with brewing accuracy and consistency.

Then make sure you stick to the tenets of good brewing practice (sanitation!) and you’ll be on your way in no time.

Good luck hopheads, and in the words of brewing legend John Palmer – brew strong!

Getting crafty: March's beer pairing

Our next beer-pairing lunch is fast approaching and, this time, we're getting seriously crafty.

The craft beer industry has taken the world by storm – and South Africa is no exception. Beer drinkers and non-beer drinkers alike have been drawn to the subtleties of beers that use a wider variety of ingredients in greater quantities to enhance flavour and overall quality. SAB's very own craft beer, No 3 Fransen Street, continues to be one of the best-selling beers at the SAB World of Beer Tap Room.

The flavours inherent in craft beers, typically richer and more complex than commercial beers, lend themselves naturally to being paired with unusual and interesting dishes.

With this in mind, the SAB World of Beer team has put together a menu unlike any other we've created before.

Our March craft beer pairing includes:

  • Cold oak-wood smoked salmon on a bed of crunchy baby leaves, rosa tomatoes and mandarin segments drizzled with ceviche dressing, served with No 3 Fransen Street Krystal Weiss
  • Slow cooked Asian-style pulled pork slider topped with creamy wasabi coleslaw and lightly sweetened maple syrup, served with paprika spiced potato wedges, served with No 3 Fransen Street Red Irish Ale
  • Apple and ginger granita Cape Malay shrimp and chicken curry served with a duo of jasmine and plain basmati rice, chutney, sambals and a poppadum shard, served with Carling Blue Label
  • Banoffee cheesecake with decadent chocolate crumble, served with a No 3 Fransen Street Cream Ale

This amazing offer comes with at a cost of R450 per person. Please note that this extravagant menu comes with two warnings: book early and come hungry. Bookings are open until Friday 4 March; contact us today.

From extract to all-grain: the evolution of home brewing

If you’re reading this as an enthusiastic home brewer, think back to the first time you made beer … what equipment did you use? Did you start with extract, or did you jump straight into all-grain?

It was a brisk winter’s day in 2013 when I brewed my first batch – a dark stout that came out looking like motor oil. Kinda tasted like motor oil mixed with Marmite, too.  

My friend and I had read up about extract versus all-grain, and after brief deliberation, we decided to jump straight into the deep end and try our hand at all-grain. If you get it right, it’s so much more rewarding. Using actual grain as opposed to malt extract allows for much deeper complexity in the beer, and greater control over how the finished product turns out.  

Although the first brew was a pretty steep learning curve and errors were made (like forgetting to sparge), our next batch – a crisp, blonde ale – turned out great.

If you’re looking to take the next step on your home-brewing adventure, here’s the basic equipment you’ll need …   

Getting into all-grain

  • A 35-50L pot to heat your water
  • A mash tun (a brewing vat where you’ll mash your malt grains)
  • A 50L boil kettle
  • A 30L fermenter
  • Cleaning equipment
  • A paddle/spoon to stir the mash
  • A gas burner and bottle of gas
  • An immersion wort chiller

The main difference between extract and all-grain is the way you produce your wort (sweet liquid extracted from the mashing process that contains fermentable sugars). Unlike the extract process where the wort is made by dissolving malt extract in water, an all-grain batch is made from malted grains and water.

Basically, you’ll soak crushed, malted grains in water to change starch into sugar, and drain that away into your boiler. 

The most important piece of equipment you’ll need for this is a mash tun. When we started out, we converted a cooler box into a mash tun, which is a lot simpler than it sounds, and incredibly effective. Check out this great article on how to tackle that conversion process yourself.

Once you have all the necessary gear, simply follow the recipe you’re making and make sure all your equipment is sterilised before you begin. A basic overview of the all-grain brewing process looks like this:  

  1. Heat up your strike water to necessary temperature on the gas burner
  2. Mash in by slowly mixing the malt and hot water together in the mash tun; leave for about an hour according to the recipe and monitor temperature
  3. Sparging – add more heated water to the grain in order to extract more fermentable sugars and drain into boil kettle. Add mash-out step if necessary 
  4. Heat up the wort to a rolling boil on the gas burner and make your hop additions as necessary. Usually this process takes an hour
  5. Cool down the wort as quickly as possible (down to about 22 degrees) using the immersion chiller
  6. Transfer the wort into your fermenter. Add from a height to allow for some aeration to help the yeast do its thing. Add the yeast and leave to ferment for however long the recipe calls for
  7. Bottle your beer and enjoy (hopefully) in a week or two     

Where to next?

We’re now in the process of converting our three-tier gravity fed system into an electric brewery. It’s quite a task, but we’re excited about the potential it holds. If you’re looking to take your brewing to the next level, check out this website.

But that’s a separate blog for another day …

I’d love to hear more about your days of early brewing – what equipment did you start out with? What were some of your most memorable success stories, or funny failures? Let us know in the comments below.

And if you’re thinking about tackling your first all-grain brew, good luck!   

The journey and revival of India pale ale

It’s a style of beer that is known for its bitter flavour and light colour. While some find it too strong for their palate, to fans the perfect balance of hops gives them the flavour they love. This is the hoppy India pale ale, commonly known by the initials IPA. It’s a style of craft beer that is today celebrated in different parts of the world.

IPA is a well-travelled craft beer, having made appearances on three different continents in its history of nearly two centuries. In recent years, IPA beers have been growing in South Africa. In 2011, breweries and beer enthusiasts around the world began celebrating this iconic brew in what was to be become known as IPA Day, which is now held every August.

But what is IPA? It may have India in its name, but don’t be mistaken, this is not its country of origin. The history of IPA is a debated subject, but the story goes that IPA beer was first brewed 175 years ago in Britain for export. It was to supply British soldiers stationed in its colony, India.

High temperatures in India and lack of refrigeration at the time made it difficult to brew beer there, which gave rise to the idea of packing beer with hops and shipping it to India.

Hops contain acids that make the beer last longer and have a stronger taste. This made it possible for the hoppy beer to survive the six-month-long journey from England to India. Like wine, the beer improved in flavour during the transportation period. The first known IPA was brewed in the late 18th century by Bow Brewery in London. It was called the October Ale.

IPA beer was brewed to last, but ironically with time it faded out due to the invention of refrigeration. It was the rise of craft breweries, however that led to the rediscovery of IPA in the US in the 1970s. American craft brewers added more hops to the beer, creating different flavours. From there, it returned to Britain where it all started. Craft brewers have truly led the revival of IPAs, reintroducing the innovative flavour to the palate of beer lovers.

There are three IPA styles:

1) American-style India pale ales are fruity, floral and citrus-like in flavour. Their colour ranges from pale gold to a deep copper.

2) English-style India pale ales have a medium-high bitterness and medium to medium-high alcohol content. They are a pale gold to deep copper colour.

3) Imperial or double India pale ales have an intense hoppy bitterness, flavour and aroma. The alcohol level is also high. They range from deep golden to medium copper in colour.

In South Africa, there are a number of locally brewed and imported IPAs available. Locally brewed IPAs include Devil’s Peak King’s Blockhouse IPA, Hammerhead IPA, Copperlake IPA, Citizen Saboteur English IPA and Toti Hopstrosity IPA.

Five steps to growing your own hops

Satisfying though it can be to brew your own beer using a kit, what about taking things further and growing an ingredient for your chosen brew?

Hops are the most logical candidate. They are the cone-shaped flowers from the female hop plant, known as climbing bine. Believed to have been used in beer production since the 11th century, they are added to beer to give bitterness, aroma and flavour.

A single hop plant can yield enough hops to flavour 20 to 40 gallons of beer. While the SAB Hop Farms team in South Africa cultivates hops over many acres, anyone can have success growing hop plants in pots on a terrace, or in some other sunny outdoor space.

The essential requirement is vertical space, as hops grow upwards – at least eight feet for dwarf varieties and to around 20 feet for commercial ones. You will need space to erect a pole, garden canes or strings for them to climb.

Here are five simple steps to growing your own hops:

  1. Hops can be grown from seeds or rhizomes, which is a root-like stem that produces roots below and sends up shoots. Growing hops from seeds can take a long time, so if you're a first-time hop grower and without much space, try a dwarf hop rhizome such as Prima Donna.
  2. The best time to plant hops is during winter. Choose the sunniest spot in your garden with room for strings or a climbing pole and plant your rhizome as soon as possible in high-quality compost. If you're not planting your rhizome during winter, keep it in the fridge for at least a week before planting.
  3. As your hop grows, train the earliest shoots to climb. Once two or three bines per string have been established, remove any surplus ones in late spring. With plenty of sun and water, your hop should reach its maximum height by summer, sprouting feathery buds, full of aroma.
  4. Your hop plant will need three years to fully establish itself, but you can still harvest its cones in the first year. Harvesting should take place in early autumn when the cones begin to feel dry and papery. Protect yourself by wearing strong gardening gloves and a tough fabric long-sleeved top, as hops can cut your skin. If you're using the cones fresh, you'll need to do so within 12 hours of picking, otherwise dry the cones for later use.
  5. Hops are perennial, so your hop will regrow every year. After harvest, prune your hop plant and allow it to die back and lay dormant during winter, before it sprouts new shoots again in spring.

* This blog was first published on the SAB Miller website.

What to expect from Beer Boot Camp 2016

Established in 2015 with the aim of offering brewers and beer enthusiasts the chance to learn about beer, taste it, and engage with other beer lovers, the second Beer Boot Camp is about to hit Johannesburg and, for the first time, Cape Town too. If you've got even the most cursory interest in brewing – whether for personal or commercial purposes – this is the not-to-be-missed event on the annual beer calendar.

"This year we have six top presenters representing five different countries around the world," says Beer Boot Camp coordinator Wendy Pienaar. "They're all experts in their fields, and include best-selling beer book authors, technical hop and yeast specialists, master brewers and serial beer entrepreneurs."

The impressive speaker line-up comprises creative consultant Randy Mosher, award-winning beer writer Pete Brown, Hops Academy head Christina Schönberger, Devil's Peak Brewing Company head brewer JC Steyn, master brewer and CEO of Hawkers Beer Mazen Hajjar and White Labs vice president of operations Neva Parker. 

Beer Boot Camp offers delegates both a learning and a trade space.

The learning space provides practical sessions that include group discussions and break-away elective sessions. The elective sessions fall into two categories: the home brewer and the experienced or commercial brewer, ensuring that information offered during these respective sessions is targeted to each audience.

"The trade show will be larger this year," says Pienaar, "and it will be where delegates get to see the latest brewing paraphernalia in action, meet brewing-supply retailers, purchase merchandise and brewing supplies, and have the chance to ask advice from the experts whose products they use. 

"The trade show will also be where delegates can meet some of the top beer book authors, buy their books and get them signed, and where they will have a chance to meet some of South Africa's top craft brewers and learn more about their beer."

Beer Boot Camp is about raising awareness about beer brewing, sharing knowledge and experience, inspiring brewers and enthusiasts to new heights, improving the quality of South African beer and building relationships between South African brewers, service providers and the extended brewing community.

The day includes two catered breaks and lunch. 

Here are the details once again, just in case you don't yet have them highlighted in your diary in bright red as a do-not-miss-this event:

Date: Saturday 2 July 2016
Time: Registration kicks off at 7.30am, the first session starts at 8.30am and the exhibitor hall closes at 7.30pm
Venue: Birchwood Hotel, Boksburg
Tickets: R850 (available online)

Cape Town's Beer Boot Camp will be taking place a week later. Here's the low-down:

Date: Saturday 9 July 2016    
Time: Registration kicks off at 7.30am, the first session starts at 8.30am and the exhibitor hall closes at 7.30pm
Venue: The River Club, Liesbeek Parkway, Observatory
Tickets: R850 (available online)

For more information, take a look at the Beer Boot Camp website

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