On his recent boutique brewery stint, Alex Wheeler bumped into an interesting character at Wild Clover Brewery in Stellenbosch who really turned on his creativity. Well, it could also have been the beer and wine talking…
Do you ever wonder what happens to the minor film characters after their 96 minutes on the big screen have passed?
I mean, we all know what happens to the heroes. Take Snow White. We know that she gets her “happily ever after” with Prince Charming, but what about the rest? Did Grumpy get some valium? Did Sneezy get some antihistamines? Did Dopey get off the weed or did he have to go to rehab? What about the rest of the dwarfs? Where are they today?
Then you get Harry Potter. He committed the ultimate “boy” crime and got his best friend’s sister pregnant. If I’d been Ron Weasley I’d have given him the old Ava Cadaver I can tell you, but what about the others? Where did they go? Well, I don’t know about them all, but I can tell you that Hagrid has given up the movie star lifestyle, and is now happily brewing beer in Stellenbosch. Sure, he’s a bit shorter than he looked in the movies, and he is now going by the name of Ampie Kruger, but there is no mistaking that big welcoming smile and the magnificent beard.
There are a few more surprises at Wild Clover farm, too. I was expecting a small brewery and restaurant nestled in the vineyards, alongside the winery, but this farm is different.
It starts off as usual – the long driveway leading to the original farmhouse and outbuildings dating back to 1904, now housing Ampie’s brewery and an excellent restaurant. Ampie is making wine as well as beer, which he’ll be releasing soon, but the vineyards are gone.
Why on earth would you get rid of vineyards on a farm in Stellenbosch? Well, the owners of Wild Clover as well as the adjacent farms of Villeria and Cape Garden Centre have each taken a large portion of their land and created a single 300ha game park, 35 minutes from Cape Town. Yes, it’s early days yet, but it’s lovely.
Within the reserve, the stumps of the old vines are still visible but are slowly being reclaimed by natural growth. The black wattle, Port Jackson and willow are being eradicated while acacias and other endemic species are being planted.
Feral pigs are nature’s ploughs. The damage they can do to grassland when snuffling around is pretty impressive. They are certainly taking “tamed land” and making it wild again.
Then there are herds of springbok. Not just any springbok – these guys were brought down from the Kalahari, and were chosen for size and their genes. Pure white, pure black and bronze boks are well represented in the herds – certainly no one needs to worry about achieving quotas on this farm!
For us South Africans, it’s a real pity that the collective term for a group of springboks is a boring old “herd”. It should perhaps be a “scrummage of springboks” or a “pronking of springboks”, or even just a “team of springboks”. Anyway, it’s really nice to see some springboks running for a change!
Where was I? Oh yes… they have a herd of zebras, too. And some giraffe, black wildebeest, kudu, gemsbok, bontebok, duiker, grysbok and eland, including a few truly magnificent Livingstone’s Eland.
There are 11 dams and pans and 120 species of birds including a pair of resident fish eagles. Black eagles and martial eagles come down from the mountains in the calving season to claim an easy lunch.
The nature reserve is run by Rick Wilmot, who is a ranger with 30 years’ experience at reserves in Mpumalanga. It’s nice to go on a game drive with a man who is not only knowledgeable but passionate about his work.
The success of the reserve is amply demonstrated by the fact that the owners had to sell off 120 springboks and 24 head of other game this year, only three years after starting up.
There are six self-catering cottages overlooking the reserve and brown trout and black bass fishing in the dams. For the kids, there’s a family farmyard and party zone. They also have a 90m archery range, clay pigeon shooting range, a radio flying academy, a coffee roastery and “Johnny Rocket’s” tavern in the old barn for evening entertainment.
All this and CRAFT BEER TOO! Suddenly Wild Clover has gone from being an excellent lunch venue to an excellent weekend getaway.
Ampie’s brewery is also a little different from the last two breweries we visited in terms of its target market. Where Triggerfish and Honingklip sell most of their beer directly from the brewery, more than 80% of Wild Clover’s 4000 litres a month production is sold through other establishments – “exclusive” bottle stores and restaurants. But there is a tap room, and the beer is sold in the restaurant.
There are four regular beers on tap and bottled, and again, like all things Wild Clover, it’s slightly different in that all the beers are priced the same – R25 per 440ml draft or bottle. This is unusual because the cost of producing a more specialised beer varies significantly. Ingredients, and electricity to heat and cool it in its various processes, vary widely and some beers are aged far longer than others. Some breweries will charge R25 for 500ml of Pilsner-styled lager to R35 for 200ml of the more exotic types. I’ve seen local craft beer sold at R450 for a 750ml bottle in a restaurant….
This prompted a conversation on the price of craft beer, and its sudden popularity, despite the price. A “take away” is significantly more expensive than a bottle of SAB beer from the local bottle store, but a draught at a craft brewery is actually the same price as a draught out of an SAB tap at a bar or restaurant – or less. So craft beer is clearly good value for money and it’s got a lot more than snob appeal.
Ampie has some familiar beers which are – guess what? – rather unusual. Go with the tasting tray to start with. The Eagle Weiss is a Weissbier, in that it’s made with wheat grain, but it’s brewed as a lager, not as an ale as Weissbier usually is. In other words, it’s made with bottom fermenting yeast at a low temperature, which imparts a very fruity flavour with a dry aftertaste.
After that, you’ll have a “Blind Mole” traditional German Pilsner. This is the familiar Saaz hop beer we all know and love, except that it’s made properly. It’s what you really wanted every time you cracked a bottle of mass produced beer. It’s fresh and fruity, well carbonated with an excellent white head, but with that familiar bitterness that is so refreshing on a hot summer’s day.
The only problem was, this wasn’t a hot summer’s day. It was in the middle of the Cape winter, with a cold front doing it’s damnedest to flood the entire winelands. It was cold and wet. So it was on to the British-styled beers, which brought about another interesting discussion – the temperature that the beer is served at.
Now, the problem is that warm beer has a bit of a bad rap in SA. This is for a very simple reason: warm beer is associated with “Souties”. Only mad dogs and Englishmen drink warm beer. I could carry on, but the truth is that South Africans drink cold beer. Which is fine for summery, fruity beers like Eagle Weiss and Blind Mole, and it’s the only way you can swallow a mass produced lager, much like crisp white wines. But your darker beers are more like red wine. The beer likes to be served warmer. Not warm as such – English summer room temperatures are more like South African winter room temperatures – but 10 to 18 degrees is how you want to serve your darker ales. (Ales are defined as being fermented at warmer temperatures than a lager, with the yeast being suspended in the beer while it ferments.)
Ampie’s Double Owl Brown Ale and Black Dog Irish Porter are served cooler than I find ideal – which is hardly a train smash. It warms up quickly enough if you let it!
The Double Owl has a lovely nutty flavour with a hint of orange. It is very lightly carbonated and has a small head that quickly vanishes.
The Black Dog is Irish heaven. It has a vague, almost whiskey-like smokiness, with those lovely dark chocolate coffee flavours that a real stout should have. There’s barely any bitterness at all, and it has a thick, creamy off-white head. The warmer it is, the more the flavours come out. It’s perfect with a block of dark chocolate or a sweet main course – perhaps a steak with dark chocolate and chilli sauce. And its definitely better at around 15 degrees!
Come and enjoy a beer, stay over and have a day out. And if you are not staying over, remember to drink responsibly.
It’s worth mentioning to all the hopheads out there that there are now many bottle stores and restaurants in and around Cape Town (as well as in the less civilised cities in SA) stocking the products of the smaller craft breweries. You don’t have to go all the way to the source for a decent beer.
Where: Farm 27, R304 , Stellenboch, 33°50.833’S 18°48.079’E
Contact: www.wildcloverbrewery.co.za; 082-898-9413