Bacchus, Ninkasi, Dionysus, Teshub and Osiris all smiled down on me by having Johannesburg’s first celebration of World IPA Day fall together with the start of my new blog. While perhaps not as big as many of the other craft beer festivals that have sprung up in recent times, it is sure to become huge in the near future and then I’ll be able to play the hipster card of liking it before it was cool.
So what exactly are we celebrating?
IPA, a short history
India Pale Ale is exactly what it says on the box, British pale ale destined for India. Back when India was still a British colony, brewing beer on the subcontinent was not yet established and the Brit expats were desperate for something to simultaneously cope with the heat and remind them of home. However, sterilisation was not what it was today and to prevent spoilage, the makers of export pale ale added more hops (a natural preservative) and more alcohol (ditto), and a new style was born. Far be it from me to endorse colonialism, but the happy accidental discoveries that come from conflict situations never ceases to amaze.
Upon their return to Britain, the expats retained their taste for this new-tasting ale and the style survived to this day. Nowadays, craft brewers in particular continue to push the envelope with IPAs, challenging the palate with increasing bitterness and complex malt character. Given the high alcohol percentage and unique taste of these babies, it is probably not the best place to start when you are just getting into craft brew (a controversial term, I know), but it is a pretty good place to end up as your palate develops.
The event’s first instalment was hosted at Arts on Main in the city centre, and a more vibey and trendy place you could not ask for.
I took my mate and fellow brewer, Cor, along and before we started sipping, we discussed strategy. If we tried all the beers on show, there would be a good chance of us not remembering where we lived afterwards.
Gee, thanks, Cor.
We therefore decided to go with the beers that we haven’t tasted before and that we would not have a good chance of getting hold of in Joburg. This meant that we did not sample the fine products from BrewDog, Rogue, Devil’s Peak and Brewers & Union, which just gives me an excuse to do so again in the near future. Watch this space…
So first up just had to be the ZAR Imperial Red IPA by Experimental Brewers. This batch was brewed in very limited quantities and may never be repeated, so it was a no-brainer and certainly worth the hype. I managed a quick chat with The League of Beers’ Rob Heyns, one of the collaborators on this beer and he believes that they have brewed the most expensive beer in the country’s history, with many of the ingredients having to be imported in small quantities. At 75 IBUs (international bittering units) and 7.5% alcohol it certainly is no shrinking violet and the complex hops that went into making this beast is apparent even if you hold the beer at arm’s length. The complexity of the mash bill is also to be admired, but in the end, this beer is a canvas for the hops.
Next up, we experienced Citizen’s Saboteur, a new arrival in Jozi. This was another great strong beer that naturally also emphasised the hops, but with some lovely malt flavours joining the party. It was around this time that we realised that we were doing this tasting arse about face, starting with the monster beers first. Too late, all we could do was to move on to the lighter stuff and save Three Skulls’ Valley of the Skulls Black IPA for last.
We duly sampled Clarens Brewery, Boston and SMACK! Republic’s fine fare (see the detailed tasting notes here), but then it was time enter the Valley. Leaving this for last was clearly astute. A brilliant beer that seamlessly combined what are probably the two biggest styles in beer, the IPA and the Russian Imperial Stout. Huge fruit, huge hops, huge malt complexity and just a perfect way to round of the evening.
As the legend of the IPA continues to grow, I am certain that the 1 August celebrations will follow suit. I’ll certainly be there in future. Having attended 100% of Joburg’s IPA days thus far, I’m not ready to break the streak!
- Johannesburg IPA Day Tastings (whatsintheglass.wordpress.com)