Drinking With The Locals: Clarens Craft Beer Festival, South Africa

7:02 AM Jmo 1 Comments

     Beer. If you don't like it, you should probably stop reading this right about now. My affinity for beer started where most do: In college. But! I stand firm in my proclamation that my tastes and palettes have matured since then, (dare I say, much like a fiiiine brew...), and I've moved on from the beer pong swill variety to more delectable concoctions.

     Being from Michigan, it's a little difficult not to be on the craft beer train. It's everywhere. And it's damn good. With over 120 breweries to its name, we seem to be doing something right. And, at least  from my perspective, we have little sign of stopping. It's now ingrained in our culture.
     That's why I'm so excited to be in South Africa during this steady and relatively recent upswing in craft beer interest. It's not just about the beer (though, some may argue differently). In my opinion it's about a community of people. A community of people crafting a meticulously labored and painstakingly delicious product. Beer brewed with heart tastes better. 
That's just science.

     Based in Pretoria, I headed out with the three founding members of the Friar's Habit Brewery round the river and through the woods to the Clarens Craft Beer Festival. Louis, Friar's Habit's Brewer and festival judge, has long lauded that this festival in Clarens was the best and the one to be at in South Africa. I couldn't of been more excited. Sign me up!
     This festival, nestled into a small town bordering the country-locked nation of Lesotho, featured twenty of South Africa's top breweries and gourmet food to pair. This, combined with the pang for yet another road trip, did my Michigan heart good.
Day I of the Festival: No Rain, YET!

     Clarens is approximately a four hour drive from Pretoria (though my boyfriend claims he got us there in 3 and a half). It's a beautiful little town with overtly tourist-welcome shops, art galleries, inns, and stopovers. The beauty and the mountain air drew us in and breathed new life into us as soon as we stepped out of the car. But along with the mountains came rain. Lots and lots of rain. Actually, "rain" doesn't really do it justice. 
     Just after we finished off a commemorative brew at a Clarens staple, Clarens Brewery, the wind began to pick up and the skies quickly turned a cool grey. We entered the festival across the street and within a half an hour the skies opened up and unleashed some mountain fury. There was thunder, there was lighting, tents and tables were beginning to take a tumble... If this were a festival in The States there is no doubt in my mind that it would've been called off. But, nope! Not here. The beer lovers pressed on and hunkered down; ready to battle the elements with a pint in hand. 

     The beer was going down, the scenery was amazing, the rain was subsiding, but there was one problem: We didn't have a place to stay. Like a squid with no ocean! We were left to the elements in a town packed full of beer goers; everything was full. Now now, we did have accommodation at the start of all this, but the weather took it upon itself to deny us our camping ground. The woman who ran our accommodation called us mid-storm to ask what type of vehicles we were driving...  

     We're in a Polo. 
     -Oh. And what about the other car?
     It's a Golf.
     -Yep. No, sorry. Your cars wont make it up the hill in this rain. You need to find somewhere else.

     Or I assume that's how the conversation went... Anyhow! We were without a roof over our head for the evening. At least we had a beer tent?

     Just when it looked like we were sleeping in our cars, the amazing family from the Agar's Brewery offered to take us in! They were such lovely people and honestly couldn't of been treated any better. Their home was beautiful and the view was just as surprisingly lovely as the offer to stay. I hope to meet up again soon. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Louis playing bagpipes to the mountains of Lesotho.
     My time spent in Clarens at the Clarens Craft Beer Festival was well spent. It felt warm. It felt homey. And I felt cradled among good friends and new just as the mountains cradle this beautiful town. This was a much needed road trip out of the city of Pretoria. South Africa's countryside is vast, ever-changing, and full of surprisingly little towns like Clarens. I hope to return soon; and yes, drink more beer. ~Cheers! (Psssst, tasting highlights below!)

Enjoying the beer, the crowd, and the rain!

Tasting Highlights:
Here are some beers that, personally, stood out to me. Whether it was creativity or staying true to a classic, these beers kept me and the crowd going all weekend long.

-Riot: I'm a sucker for a good, hearty, IPA. Safe to say, it's one of my favorite beer styles. But IPAs can't just all be hops and fuss, there has to be some heart in there or else. That's exactly what I enjoyed about their Simcoe IPA. It was good, ohh so good. Their Simcoe IPA was a single hop IPA with a warm, amber, color. Tangy, not at all overly-bitter, MMM! I had... multiple of them. I'm actually craving one right now... -I just found out they took home 3rd in show! Nice!

-The Cockpit Brewhouse: Yes, I was a sucker for their 1940's pinup girl branding... but after I was lured in by their facade, I stayed for their beer. Cockpit's Spitfire Ale was predictably great, but, what was surprisingly good was their Strawberry Weiss. Now, I'm normally not a "girly drink" kind of girl. But. This stuff. This stuff was lovely. It had the fruitiness and slight tang of a daiquiri with the nice light finish of Weiss. I've heard from brewers and tasters alike that it's difficult to pull off a good, flavored, Weiss without being too overpowering and 'blehh'. Well Cockpit Brewhouse, put me down for a "Yes, please." and a "Thank you."

-THAT Brewing Co.: Taking home best in show for obvious reasons, THAT Brewing's award winning stout was just THAT good. It was rich, it was deep, and it was, simply put, a nice, beautiful beer. It wasn't overly filling for a stout, (Which I feel may be a South African characteristic, and one that I happen to enjoy) but didn't rob you of any of the loveliness a stout craver would crave either. Good job everyone involved!  

     But remember: Beer is not the answer. Beer is the question.
 "Yes", is the answer.

Friar's Habit's Creative Director, and taste-tester, enjoying the fest~!

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