Beer is one of the oldest addictions known to man.
This is due to its smooth pairing with manly contact sports and dried hunks of meat (beer and croco-tong were abundant during Ancient Roman gladiatorial contests) and because it goes down better on a hot day than your girlfriend’s bikini top.
Nearly as old as the Creationist Earth, beer has been around since the ancient Egyptians (Sphinx Lager was their staple, a forerunner of Lion Lager with a similar body but less head), improved by some Dark Age monks (known as “Piss Cats” because their brew tasted like cat piss) and perfected (debatable) by the Europeans, specifically the Germans and the Dutch (infamous for their deliciously saucy lager, Red Lite, which usually is served with quite a lot of ‘head’).
Most of the above is of course complete horse poo, except the bits about beer being old and delicious and your girlfriend’s flagrant exhibitionism, and in the immortal words of Adams I ask you like to “please forgive me” for trying to spice things up before we hit the business end of this story.
Which begins now.
Joburg as we know is the financial capital of Africa – we’re big business boet and we stick to what we know. We drink the wine we’re told to drink by the hippest, savviest, best-connected wine reps in town, thereby losing out on a whole lot of really affordable, really delicious options at most of our favourite restaurants (with the recent exception of Eatery JHB – check them out if you’re a wine fiend).
We watch musicals we’ve heard of before, because frankly if we do manage to clear our schedules for long enough to watch a play, it had damn bloody better have cats in it or at the very least, some Creedence covers.
When it comes to beer, we drink green bottles to look sharp, we drink brown bottles to save cash and we drink whatever brand has the snappiest commercial on television at any particular time.
We’re slaves to branding and the big boys of booze are firm favourites in the beer business.
The Republic of Cape Town in contrast, likes to support smaller enterprises, partly because that’s all there is and partly because it’s just SO mainstream to support listed companies. And to be honest; what little money they do have, Capetonians like to spend on food, booze and organic clothing.
And so, this tourist-heavy economy, has breed some awesome micro-breweries that are sorely lacking on the Highveld.
As an avid beer fan, there is nothing more satisfying than ordering a Jack Black on tap or a Darling Bone Crusher, when the opportunity presents itself.
Jozi lacking in the artisan beer department
My point is that Jozi is severely lacking in the artisan beer department but after much scratching around, I have uncovered a few beer savvy gems in the Big Smoke. (Which reminds me: Do you remember Scratch Patch? Wow. Memories. Whatever happened to that Capetonian Tupperware of precious stones?)
Without much further ado about nothing, and in no particular order, here are a few of my favourite places in Johannesburg, to get beer with a difference:
The Radium Beerhall
Punted as the oldest surviving pub and grill in Johannesburg (est. 1929), The Radium is a classic joint that has seen more action than that still-alive guy at an old age home.
With a number of beers on tap, including Guiness, Kilkenny and the usual suspects, the charm of the Radium comes from its Cheers-like quintessential bar atmosphere – complete with funny newspaper headlines and the occasional live performance by rocking geriatrics, the Hip Replacements (I kid you not).
So while the Radium Beerhall doesn’t offer craft beers or fancy-pants imported stuff, it does the old favourites and it does them well. Your beer arrives cold, promptly and, if you’re smart, accompanied by some mean peri-peri chicken livers.
Worth a visit, if only for the cultural experience, like going to Robben Island when you’re in the Cape, but with more beer and less feeling guilty.
P.S. On the first Sunday of every month, 19-piece Jazz band, The Fat Sound, sounds phat at the Radium.
You’ll like this if you like antiques, the good old days and knowing it’s going to rain because your new hip starts tingling.
Where? 282 Louis Botha Avenue, Orange Grove
Tel: 011 728 3866
The Neighbourgoods Market
The Jozi-based younger sister of the Old Biscuit Mill’s Saturday Market, The Neighbourgoods Market in trendy Juta Street, Braamfontein, has a couple of artisan brews on sale.
It buzzes with a nice blend of Jo’burg’s in-the-know, from hip parents with wide-eyed children to curly moustached, skinny androgynous kids in plaid.
The atmosphere is always relaxed and buzzing, helped largely by the Brewers & Union Table that keeps the Neighbourgoods punters liver-deep in the expensive but cleanly branded craft beers, the Darling Brewery guys, who dish out a lekker selection of locally brewed artisanal offerings including the epically named Bone Crusher and the Camelthorn Brewing Company, a Windhoek based brewery with a killer Red Ale among others. Mop all of that booze up with a Balkan burger and you’re in the zone.
It’s well worth a solid Saturday arvie beer binge. Just bring cash and don’t rock up expecting to watch rugby, because you’ll be disappointed and then cut a potentially lekker afternoon short as you try and drag the missus (or mister) home in time to watch the Lions getting lambasted again.
You’ll like this if you like picking at DELICIOUS market-style food, being a part of a little Jozi gentrification and music no one else has heard of.
Where? 73 Juta Street, Braamfontein
A thorn in the paper mache rose that is the Muldersdrift wedding strip, Gilroy is an authentic Irish pub and micro-brewery run by the very Santa-esque Steve Gilroy. Steve loves to talk and I swear he’ll do it if you sit down for longer than half an hour, but he’s kind of funny in a cheesy old man kind of way and he really believes in his product. With his ‘Up yours salute’ where everyone has to say “up yours” together (reminiscent of a rude children’s party magician) his ‘weekly ode’, which is basically a poem recital (his poem’s are pretty good, his humour is just a bit ‘England two hundred years ago’) and his chubby mate Rusty “Pavarotti’s” operatic Happy Birthday rendition, it’s all in good fun and best enjoyed with a couple of Steve’s world class beers.
Brewed on site with love and care, Gilroy focuses on their ales ranging from the 4% Favourite (a Pale Ale) to the Traditional (a 5% Ruby Ale) to my personal favourite, The Serious, a 7,75% dark ale. They also serve a lager, which has been crafted with the same love, attention and time.
And did I mention that the food is bloody great? Well it is. Steak and Ale pies and fish and chips with mushy peas are the order of the day, washed down with a couple of Gilroy’s finest Ales. Mmm. Up yours!
You’ll like this if you like fat men in Viking helmets singing opera through a beer foamed moustache, cover bands that looked like they’ve been defrosted after falling out of a cryogenic time capsule; and saying “up yours” a lot without getting in trouble.
Where? Off the M34, Muldersdrift
Tel: 011 796 3020
Chalkboard Collaboration Café
Set in the ever-bustling, ever-growing Maboneng District, Chalkboard is like the canteen/ticketing office/lobby for niche cinema The Bioscope Independent Cinema. Meant as a collaborative, creative space for anyone who feels like setting down their Macbook Pro and picking up a piece of chalk, Chalkboard is a friendly environment frequented by the artistic and fashionable. Maboneng as a whole feels like a creative collaboration and the district is proudly growing by the day, with loads of exciting businesses, stores and events popping up in the nicely remodelled precinct.
Chalkboard incidentally, has chalkboard paint on the walls and tabletops, lending legitimacy to its name and more to the point, serves a mean selection of craft beers.
Chalkboard dishes out Brewers & Union, Robsons, Darling, Camelthorn, Mitchell’s, Nottingham Road Brewing Company and The Boston Brewery Range.
I really enjoyed the one litre plastic bottle of Notties ‘Pickled Pig’ a massive porter that left me feeling like one (a pickled pig, not a massive porter, although I was probably carrying the boss’s handbag so… maybe a bit of both.)
Why not catch a movie, a couple of brewskies (a brew-vie?) and revel in Jozi’s inner city rejuvenation?
You’ll like this if you like art house cinema, getting out of the ‘burbs and chalking up a few cold ones. Har, har.
Where? Ground Floor, Mainstreet Life, 286 Fox Street, Maboneng Precinct
Tel: 01 000 70119
The Home Brew
So lastly, if you can’t find any decent beer anywhere, make it yourself. The Home Brew is one of the best places to get everything you need to brew your own beer if you’re too lazy to source everything online. It’s a one stop Home Brew shop, run by some of the most stoned looking individuals I’ve ever seen. But they brew a mean beer (I’ve tasted) and they seem to know what they’re doing, despite the red eyes and slow motion sentences.
Our first attempt at brewing resulted in a frankly delicious honey and treacle dark ale that trounced Gilroy’s serious hands down. Even if I do say so myself. It was called Mad James because we brewed it in the house, in which a psychotic guy called James used to stay. Brilliant. But because of a bottle shortage, we didn’t transfer everything and let the mixture brew for about a month longer than it should have resulting in a plastic bucket of disgusting sweet, malty urine. So while quality isn’t a problem for Mad James Dark Ale, consistency is.
Better luck next time I suppose.
Your first brew will set you back about R1200 for a starter kit, but you get 22 litres of beer out of that and you’ve got the equipment for the next batch.
We’re looking forward to our Proudly South African lager Ja Bru, which will be hitting my fridge in about a month’s time. Stay tuned.
You’ll like this if you like to be hands on, talking to goofballs and making up funny names for your wares.
Where? 93 Komatie Rd, Emmerentia
Tel: 011 646 9022
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Tell us in the comments below where you like to drink your brew.