Beer exploration – the Clarens Craft Beer Festival MzansiBride

Winona Griggs

Exploring Beer: The Clarens Craft Beer Festival

Imagine this: 27 brewers, 92 different beers, and eight hours of pure enjoyment. It may sound like a recipe for chaos, but trust me, it was a resounding success. Welcome to the Clarens Craft Beer Festival in the breathtaking Free State. This festival is still fairly young, only in its second year, and yet it has already grown exponentially in both size and popularity. In 2011, the festival attracted 1,100 beer enthusiasts who savored 56 unique brews. Fast forward to this year, and the festival showcased an impressive assortment of beers, with 2,100 thirsty beer lovers flocking to the idyllic town to indulge in the stunning mountain views and a wide array of delightful brews.

It was a lively gathering with a family-like atmosphere. Some of the Jozi students even sang raucous drinking songs to make the event more festive. Beer tasting was the main focus, and at just R3 per sample, customers were encouraged to appreciate and explore different types of beer, rather than just drinking lots of it.

The most important thing about this event was the opportunity for exploration. There was an abundance of beer styles to choose from. Triggerfish and the Dog & Fig offered Bucchu-infused brews, while festival sponsors SAB had a tamarind beer. Everyone was buzzing about the mango, passion fruit, and lavender wheat beer from the new Three Skulls brewery. And KZN’s Porcupine Quill brought some seriously flavorful brews to the table.

The beer festival was filled with an array of bold and unique brews, but one beer stood out among the rest: Mtunzini Brewery’s Chilli Beer. This blonde beer had just the right amount of kick to give it an extra edge. Unfortunately, the judges felt that it had a bit too much kick, preventing it from placing in the top three. However, Mtunzini’s English Bitter took second place, showing that they still had a winning brew in their arsenal.

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In third place was last year’s champion, De Garve, with their exceptional Belgian Blonde, Jolly Nun. As a lover of hops, it came as no surprise to me that the winning beer was Cockpit’s Mustang IPA. This robust and full-bodied beer boasted upfront hops and a delightful hint of sweetness.

Although Mustang IPA narrowly missed out on winning the people’s choice award, coming in second to the Brauhaus Am Dam Farmer’s Draft, it was evident that festival-goers were more inclined towards familiar flavors. While there was an eagerness to try something new, a sense of comfort was found in the classics.

But let me tell you, there were some other winners that day, if you ask me. Jonathan Nel from Three Skulls Brewery fought through technical difficulties to present his highly anticipated IPA – and it was a hit with all the beer bloggers who were craving some hoppy goodness. And then there were a couple of surprises, two new breweries that really stood out, even though they didn’t have as much buzz before the festival. One of my personal favorites was the Weikersheim Weiss from Chameleon Brewhouse. It had this Belgian wit vibe that reminded me of sipping on a Hoegaarden right here in South Africa. And I have to give a special shout-out to the Pilanesberg Craft Brewery, because let me tell you, they have one heck of a location near Sun City. They brought a trio of deliciously crafted ales that left a lasting impression.

Hey, I wanted to share my experience at the festival in Clarens. It was such a blast, although there were a few hiccups along the way. Firstly, there were some issues with the toilets, and the food options were pretty limited. But you know what? It didn’t ruin our fun!

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Clarens is a small town, so it was easy to find a solution. We simply wandered out of the village green, which was conveniently surrounded by restaurants, whenever we needed to grab a bite or use the bathroom. Problem solved!

I have a feeling that next year’s festival is going to be even better. It’s going to spread across the other half of the square as more and more beer enthusiasts flock to Clarens. The beer selection is incredible, and the views are breathtaking. My advice? Make sure to get your tickets and accommodation early because this event is going to be a hit! I hope to see you there!

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