July 12, 2019

The Golden Age of Beer

Beer has never been seen historically as a ‘fine dining’ option – but with the rise of microbreweries and craft brewing, this may soon change. Natasha Skoryk finds out more.

Peter Lebese, Beverage Consultant and Mixologist, believes craft beers are having a moment right now.

Aside from pure trendiness, a reason for this is that craft beer tend to come in lighter flavours. “If I want to have a beer, I do enjoy something a bit lighter, that’s not as full and as bulky compared to your mainstream beers – Castle Lager, Black Label… Those do fill you up more. Something like a Devil’s Peak First Light is a bit lighter, a bit easier and a bit more approachable just to get you into your drink.”

The versatility of beer:

Still, it’s one thing to drink a craft beer by itself and another to consider pairings. Is there any way to transform the image of beer as something to chug at varsity parties to a liquid pairing that satisfies a sophisticated palate? Byron Damonze, Brewer at Hoghouse Breweries in Cape Town, feels there most certainly is:  “The thing about beer is that there is much more variety than people realise. Wine is more restricted compared to beer because with a beer you can roast the malt, spice it, use fruit, sour it, barrel age it, and so much more.”

Peter has also noticed a trend towards heavy experimentation amongst brewers, which reflects this versatility. “People are doing more crazy things with beer these days, like making beer MCC! They’re changing what beer is, to actually reason with it more.” The people behind Cape Town’s first ‘beer MCC’ are Melaurea. In 2018, after two long years of research, recipe development and lots of experimental mead making, they launched their unusual and flavourful product. They’ve made Africa’s first bottle-fermented mead, handcrafted in an authentic méthode traditionnelle style.

The drink is described as tasting rather like a classically aged Brut champagne, with notes of honey and African botanicals. In short, it’s a far cry away from the sorts of flavour we’ve come to expect from a ‘cold one with the boys’.

Beer in the kitchen:

As craft beer culture grows, beer has increasingly moved out of the limitation of bars, and even out of the confines of glasses, and into restaurant kitchens. Some people have been experimenting with beer-style cold-pressed coffee, Peter says, which is exciting. They’re also making things like beer bread, and fermenting beer for longer to add flavour complexity. “Chefs are using beer a bit more and actually incorporating the flavour of beer and the roundedness of beer into their dishes,” he adds.

At the Hoghouse BBQ restaurant, Head Chef Juan van Zyl has long been playing around with their range in his kitchen: “A porter will be used with cooking, especially with meats and marinades, while a lighter beer like a pilsner or lager is better for batter as it does not carry too much flavour or bitterness. I use the porter for the Short Rib, which we serve on Fridays.”

Pairing and caring:

It’s also perfectly possible to pair beers with dishes. “Fish dishes and lighter dishes will work more with Saison and wits because they’re light with a perception of fruit. Both the dish and the beer can carry themselves. It’s nice to drink a lager with food and have a pale ale, which has a bit more flavour, after,” Juan says. Focussing on his own range, Byron adds: “The Hoghouse Roadhog Porter works really well with the smoked food we serve and is used in some of the cooking. The sour ale also  cuts through the fatty foods nicely and is quite refreshing.”

But it goes beyond one brewery and their attached restaurant. Peter explains: “A CBC Pale Ale or Devil’s Peak First Light will work really well to pair with savoury food because it has more of a fruity, lighter finish, but then it still has that taste of barley and wheat used to make beer. So it’s a bit more rounded and earthier.” And, he adds, beers aren’t only suited to appetiser and entrée courses. “I’d say if you’re looking to pair a drink with something that’s a bit more sweet, it’s best to go with something like a Blockhouse IPA from Devil’s Peak.”

Exciting possibilities:

So are there any other ways to use beer? Peter’s excited at the possibilities. “Definitely, beer can be used for cocktails, so I’d say there are a lot of really cool ideas. I’ve done things like beer syrup, like beer vermouth. You use beer to reduce it and form mouthfeel in your cocktail. Adding more botanicals to beer works out as well. There are a lot of ways that we are using it.” Given the exciting possibilities of beer, it’s clear there are going to be even more ways in the years to come.

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