Darling Brew, named after its hometown on the Western Cape, also puts forward a lager flagship, invoking the slow food movement and hinting at the extra time lagering demands by naming it “Slow Beer.” Owner Kevin Wood was actually inspired locally by a friend who homebrewed. “I didn’t drink homemade beer, but his beer blew me away,” Wood says. He was hooked. “I was brewing 100 liters a day. After about the 25th batch, I thought, ‘What do I do with all this beer?’” After three years learning and developing recipes, he and his wife, Philippa, released their first commercial beer in April of 2010. “I remember looking at first 1,000 bottles, thinking, ‘How am I going to sell all these bottles?’” Kevin says. “In three weeks they were gone.”
Today his range includes several seasonal beers, each inspired by local wildlife, an interest of his. Bone Crusher, for example, owes its name to the spotted hyena, and is a Bavarian-styled Weissbier rather than the Imperial IPA the name suggests—the name’s about the white, cloudy color, not its ABV.
The Cape—essentially the southwest corner of the country—is home to South Africa’s craft beer scene in a way analogous to the West Coast of the U.S. in the late 1980s; about three-quarters of the country’s 20 or so craft brewers are based there.
The suspiciously named Boston Breweries in Cape Town is home to several brands that contract brew there, but the name has nothing to do with Sam Adams. When founder and brewmaster Chris Barnard started brewing outside his home, he borrowed some space inside the Boston Bag Co.’s factory. As he was making more than he could brew, he gave some away to the workers in the plant, who subsequently stuck their “Boston” labels on it and sold it on to local shebeens (a sort of informal township pub). Barnard only learned of his unconventional distribution system when a shebeen owner called and asked why a Boston rep hadn’t come to see him. Suddenly Barnard found he had moved from homebrewer to professional without being aware of it.
Now 12 years old, Boston Breweries is one of the larger, more established players. It expanded rapidly at first, doubling its initial 8,000 liters-a-month capacity in the first year and quickly grew further to its current 32,000 liters a month. Jack Black is brewed there, preferring for now to invest its capital in its distribution system. “The contract brewing model was very attractive to us, allowing us to use our capital elsewhere,” McCulloch says. “When the numbers work, we’ll look into building our own brewery.” Darling actually outgrew a facility in NieuBethesda, farther east, and subsequently moved production to Boston Breweries; in January it moved back to expanded facilities in Darling, an hour or so north.
Barnard enjoys the mix of work contract brewing affords him. “Our contact brewing works well, and it allows more people to enter the market with their own brands. I also enjoy the variety of beers I get to make.” Boston Breweries’ own range of beers has focused on classic, mostly Germanic styles; Barnard developed his program with an eye toward the brewing traditions of Bavaria. At 10 percent ABV, its Hazzard Ten Ale, which Barnard describes as a bock, has made waves as South Africa’s strongest beer to date.
Further experimentation may be in the cards, prompted by local interest. “We just released a seasonal pumpkin ale. This was from all the telephone calls I got after Discovery showed their documentary on Dogfish Head! Thanks, Sam!”