Sometimes sober, often bearded and almost always friendly, brewers are an eclectic bunch, so it’s no surprise to find that as South Africa’s craft beer craze explodes, the brewers’ unique characters are bubbling over into the brewpubs that they operate.
Here are 10 of the country’s quirkiest breweries, notable for their location, their brewer or indeed, their unusual beers.
1. Irish Ale House (Broederstroom, North West)
Sitting on what brewer Dirk Van Tonder calls his 'beer farm', the Irish Ale House is a rustic, ramshackle brewpub where patrons scribble on walls and donkeys wander the dusty grounds.
What you might find on tap is anyone’s guess, but Dirk’s beers are usually generously hopped and highly drinkable.
Enjoy with a wood-fired pizza or visit in June for the annual Solstice Festival.
2. Misty Meadows Microbrewery (near George, Western Cape)
As paved roads turn to dirt roads and dirt roads become rutted farm tracks, you can’t help wondering if you’re heading the right way.
Persevere and you’ll find a particularly peaceful place for a pint.
Barn-like Misty Meadows serves just one beer – the light and easy-drinking Buzzard Country Ale, made with entirely South African ingredients.
Sip it alongside artisanal cheese and local meat, with a view of the Outeniqua Mountains.
3. Triggerfish Brewing (Somerset West, Western Cape)
Two things instantly set Triggerfish apart – its funky location in a former dynamite plant and the vast array of unusual beers on offer.
Beers are brewed in a one-time anthracite store and served in the brick-walled taproom.
Here you can sample around 15 of Triggerfish’s impressive 24-strong range of brews.
Alongside familiar pale ales and stouts, you’ll find a pink-hued beer-wine hybrid, a blonde ale infused with buchu and a big, bold barley wine at 10% ABV.
4. Gilroy Brewery (Muldersdrift, Gauteng)
Sometimes it’s the beers that are quirky and sometimes it’s the brewer. At Gilroy’s there is no doubting that it is the latter.
Brewer, poet, showman and expletive fan Steve Gilroy is the main draw at this long-established brewpub. Visit on weekends when he addresses the crowds with one of his politically-themed poems and raises a middle finger to pretty much anyone he wants to.
Beers and food are loosely modelled on an English-style pub.
5. Sneeuberg Brewery (Nieu Bethesda, Eastern Cape)
Despite its rather unlikely location deep in the Karoo, Sneeuberg is one of the country’s longest-running breweries, established in 2003.
André Cilliers gave up life as a Cape Town lecturer to brew beer, bake bread and make cheese in the dusty dorp.
Instead of heading straight for the admittedly quirky Owl House, opt for some art of an edible kind at one of the country’s most bucolic brewpubs.
6. Dog and Fig Brewery (Parys, Free State)
If petite Parys isn’t out-of-the-way enough, Dog and Fig is just that bit further off the beaten track. Occupying another 'beer farm' outside the town, the brewery and taproom sit in an echoing barn.
The winter cold can be brutal and only the superb ‘Sturdy Stout’ – or the steam from bubbling brew kettles – can keep out the biting cold.
7. SMACK! Republic Brewing Co. (Johannesburg, Gauteng)
SMACK! is the drinking hole of choice in the Maboneng Precinct, one of Jozi’s urban regeneration success stories.
The brewery currently only opens on weekends, when hipsters and foodies flock to the Arts on Main Market for artisanal eats.
Meet the young brewmasters, sip their Jozi-inspired ‘anarchistic’ brews and admire works from local artists in the pop-up gallery above the brewhouse.
8. Dieks’ Bru (De Rust, Western Cape)
Dieks Theron has an interesting tale to tell, working at various times as a minister and a metallurgist, then becoming a brewer at the ripe old age of 70.
His duo of brews can be found throughout the Karoo town he chose for his retirement project.
Visit the brewery for a peek into the process, then enjoy the Karoo ale with a plate of local lamb in one of the tiny town’s restaurants.
9. Lakeside Beerworks (Kommetjie, Western Cape)
Some breweries have snazzy sipping areas with tutored tastings, others offer a more relaxed experience, with typed-out tasting notes to take you through the range.
At Lakeside, tasting takes an even more casual stance, with beer fans leaning on the brew kettle while they sample the ales.
The regulars flock to the Friday afternoon sipping sessions, where draught weissbier, pale ale and red ale flow and scrupulous sippers pay on an honesty system.
10. Makana Meadery (Grahamstown, Eastern Cape)
It’s not a brewery per se, but this mead-making venture is as quirky as they come and definitely worth adding to your list of must-visit booze producers.
Sitting in an eerie and architecturally awesome one-time power station, the meadery is almost empty save for some oak barrels for ageing the honey-based beverage and a storey-high tube, the genius fermentation system designed by Dr Garth Cambray.
Taste the full range, which includes versions infused with chilli, coffee or figs.
Lucy Corne is a freelance travel writer who contributes toOverlanding Africa, Lonely Planet, Getaway Magazine and a number of in-flight magazines. She also write a blog about beer.
Follow Lucy Corne on Twitter @LucyCorne