Devil’s Peak revolutionised craft brewing in South Africa when they launched onto the scene with highly-hopped beers inspired by the American craft movement. Now they’ve come to the UK and they’re taking an equally bold approach.
While Cape Town has long been home to a number of breweries – including several of the small, independent variety – craft beer as we know it took a while to find its place there. Devil’s Peak started brewing in 2012 and has defined what craft beer means in South Africa’s second city.
One of their first beers, King’s Blockhouse IPA, pulls no punches at 6% ABV and 56 IBUs (international bittering units). It has won awards from day one and is instrumental in earning the brewery its place as South Africa’s best craft brewery year after year.
Now, moving into their third premises in five years, the appetite for their beer continues to grow. Director Russell Boltman tells me this should be the last move for a while. “We have just moved into a new brewery that will support us for at least the next 10 years where we have also built a dedicated barrel ageing and sour facility called Afrofunk that we are amped to start making magic in.”
Head brewer JC Steyn is a born experimenter; before joining Devil’s Peak he was a keen home brewer making everything from beer to balsamic vinegar. After nearly a decade working in wine, he took his experiments into the brew house. He keeps up the high standards across the core range and pushes boundaries with his speciality series. His wine background has been put to good use with the barrel-aging program and limited-edition Vin de Saison, a fusion of a traditional saison and locally grown Chenin Blanc grapes.
While the brewery goes from strength to strength, Devil’s Peak want to spread their trend-setting beers beyond the penguin-inhabited shores of Cape Town. You might expect the next logical step would be to take the tried and tested range of beers from their brand-new brewery and ship them direct to the UK.
The Devil’s Peak mantra, however, is “beer as it should be” and one of the pillars of this is freshness.
If beer was shipped from Cape Town, it would already have been in the bottle for six weeks before it even reached port, let alone shop or warehouse shelves.
This can be an advantage for certain styles – you can expect to see many of the new Afrofunk barrelaged experiments to reach us first, as Russell says, “the appreciation for sour beers hasn’t quite hit South Africa yet so most of these beers will make their way over to Europe.” – but freshness is important for IPAs where the fruity hop aromas can quickly decline.
Shipping time was not the only concern. The team took several years to research the UK market and quickly realised that the craft beer movement here is in a very different place to the relatively fledgling scene at home.
Russell is enthusiastic about these differences: “You are so hungry for new beer experiences. The appreciation for the diversity that the craft beer category offers is nowhere stronger than in the UK. It is truly amazing to witness the craft beer revolution unfolding here right now. Having spent lots of time in the US over the last 15 years witnessing the rise of craft over there, I would go so far as to say there has never been a more exciting time in beer than in the UK right now.”
The decision was made to brew in the UK, with a whole new range of beers thought out for local tastes that would continue to push the boundaries in a more crowded and diverse market. Think juicy IPAs and a dry-hopped sour for starters.
Enter Fierce Beer – recent winners of the Scottish Beer Awards “Breakthrough Brewery” award and “Beer of the Year” for Café Racer coffee and vanilla porter. This Aberdeen brewery are an even newer entrant to the craft beer world, opening their doors in May 2016. They’ve made a big impression with their quirky branding and unique beers, by making flavour a priority at every stage of the brewing process.
The two breweries met last year and a firm friendship ensued. Starting with collaboration in the form of Imperial Café Racer – adding an African flavour with Madagascan bourbon vanilla and Kenyan espresso then amping up the Fierce original to imperial strength. The reciprocal brew in South Africa was a raspberry pale ale, a fruitier reimagining of Fierce’s Cranachan Killer, described by one reviewer as “a gem for the craft beer lover, with a smoothie touch to it”.
It was only fitting that Fierce Beer would become the home of Devil’s Peak in the UK. Russell says of the partnership: “They are lovely people and have become almost like family. We share the same passion for pushing the boundaries on the beers we make but with quality always at its centre.”
This relationship was important to get right, as there is no one from Devil’s Peak on the ground in Scotland to oversee the brewing. “JC has a close working relationship with Fierce’s three brewers and they troubleshoot remotely. It has worked very well to date and we have absolute faith that they treat the brewing of our beers with the same love and attention to detail as their own.”
As Devil’s Peak describe it themselves, the UK business is “a reincarnation of sorts, the same soul in a new body”.
With the first four beers now brewed and bottled, the experimentation continues. Russell says: “We have been late to the game when it comes to collaborations on beers.” But they are more than making up for that now. “We have a big craft beer festival coming up in Cape Town in December and we will have 5 international collabs at the event… Three of them are from the UK.”
If you don’t make it to Cape Town this December, you can sit back and savour the first four UK releases while you anticipate the creative experiments still to come.