Hot on the heels of last week’s look at SA’s least alcoholic beers we explore the more season-appropriate topic of the strongest craft beers in South Africa. Snuff out those wood burners and crack open a few of these instead.
For context, the strongest beer in the world is Brewmeister Snake Venom, which weighs in at a liver-withering 67.5% ABV. As with most -est claims this too is disputed (accusations of doping the brew with ethanol), but a 330ml bottle from the Scottish brewer sells online for 49.99 (~ R900).
Creating such a high alcohol beer is an expensive and time consuming exercise. In the fairly effortless scheme of fermenting things even the most ambitious super-yeast could only create ABV in the 20s. After that a technique called freeze-distilling is used to amp the alcohol by volume, which relies on freezing the beer to a point just above where the alcohol still remains fluid. Once the ice is removed, the reduced water content means a higher ABV, and the process can be repeated.
It would be a struggle to make this technique commercially viable and, the odd experiment aside, hasn’t really been used as such in South Africa. Thus, our strongest craft beers are still thanks to the muscle power of yeast alone.
South Africa’s Strongest Craft Beers
To compile this list we took to the hinterlands of South Africa’s craft brewery websites to gather all the beers we could find. Non-beer and cider products were excluded, as were contract-brewed brands.
631 beers later (fun fact, only 445 of them lists an ABV), we’ve compiled a list of all South Africa’s beers of 8% ABV and higher. Below, for your reading pleasure, is that list in order from relatively meek to mild to whoa-nelly.
13. Titan Imperial IPA, 8%
At No.13 the Titan Imperial IPA is one of many entries from what must surely be South Africa’s most prolific brewery, Triggerfish. The brewery has no less than 22 beers in their lineup, and most are in stock at the brewery. Their first appearance on the list is the 8% Titan Imperial IPA, a single-hop showcase of South Africa’s very own US4/78 hops, renowned for its bitterness and fruity aroma. Titan’s grain-bill features pale and various crystal malts and the beer pours a golden hue. Said to be a lovely winter warmer, it’s also balanced enough to enjoy even on a summers day.
12. The Dog Father Winter Beer, 8%
Basset Breweries in KwaZulu-Natal is one of just three breweries outside the Western Cape with a significantly high ABV offering. Incidentally all three are in KwaZulu-Natal. The Dog Father is a darker, seasonal Winter Beer and, although brewed for the South African winter, aims to deliver Christmas in a bottle. Expect the spice characteristic of the style with stone fruit, dried fruit, and orange peel wrapped in a warm, cuddly 8% ABV perfect for those cold winter evenings.
11. Hammer of Thor, 8.3%
Also flying the high ABV flag in KwaZulu-Natal is Robson’s Real Beer with their Hammer of Thor. Featuring a strong hop presence with citrus and marmalade flavours, the Hammer of Thor is labeled an Old Pale Ale and clocks in at a thunderous 8.3%.
10. La Saison, 8.4%
A relative newcomer to the South African craft beer scene, the Franscchoek Beer Co. make their presence felt on the strong beer list with their La Saison that registers at the higher end of the style at 8.4%. La Saison pours a pale straw colour with a thick, white head in ideal circumstances. Late-addition hops delivers a big hoppy nose with complexity thanks to aromas from the classic Belgium Saison yeast. There’s plenty of grapefruit in the flavour, and a grapefruity-bitterness, which is quite prominent in a rather dry finish. The strength of the beer is not apparent on the palate, but you do start to feel it halfway through.
9. Belgian Trippel, 9%
Sticking with the Belgian styles as we move up a rung on South Africa’s strongest craft beers ladder, the beer of Honingklip Brewery in Botriver near Hermanus is next. At a hefty 9%, their Tippel is a Belgian-style golden ale inspired by Trappist and Abbey beers. Honey overtones on the palate creates an illusion of a lighter beer, but the slight alcohol singe in the finish quickly groundsyou.
8. Warlord Imperial IPA, 9%
Darling Brew’s Warlord stands head and horns above the 15 beers in the line-up from this West Coast brewery. The Warlord is a very drinkable Imperial IPA that’s full-bodied and flavourful. Between the tasty balance of flavour, hops and alcohol you might just quaff this one faster than is wise.
7. Foreign Exchange Student Belgian Ale, 9%
The third and final high alcohol beer on the list, that’s from outside the Western Cape, is brewed by 1000 Hills Brewing Co. in KwaZulu-Natal. After rebranding from Porcupine Quill Brewery, and consolidating the many beers they produced, the 1000 Hills Brewing Co. emerged with a smaller range of beers. Among them is the one that always stands out, the Foreign Exchange Student. TheFES is from Belgium, obviously, and at first glance might seem like a pushover, but with 9% packed in a 440ml bottle you’ll soon realise this FES is going to push back. Hopped withPerle & Fuggles this strong dark ale exhibits caramel, toffee and just the right amount of bitterness to getyou in trouble behind the bleachers.
6. Golden Strong Ale, 9.2%
As the ABVs rise we head on over to Porterville. Here we find the Indie Ale range of beers brewed by the Independent Beer & Spirits Company. Brewing on a 300? system, this small brewery produces about 7,000 bottles of beer per month. One of the beers is the limited edition Golden Strong. A strong Belgian Ale, the Golden Strong packs a wallop at 9.2%, but is described as a very easy drinking ale. Apparently all that alcohol is hidden among inviting notes of banana and tropical fruit that settles into a comforting malty finish. You’ve been warned.
5. Black Marlin Sweet Stout, 9.9%
As we head upwards on our list of South Africa’s strongest craft beers, we head back into Triggerfish territory. The Black Marlin is from the brewery’s Big & Wild range of beers and, at 9.9%, rightly so. Pouring pitch black, it shows off a dense, tan head and then the fun begins. The aroma and taste is an entanglement of 7 different malts, 3 types of hops and a bit of Triggerfish’s own treacle. Recommended to be enjoyed at a nearly-warm 11C,Black Marlin will hook you and pull you down through layers of coffee, dark chocolate, aniseed, fruit and caramel before leaving you in the dark, murky depths of a lingering, bitter finish.
4. Off the Dock Doppelbock, 10%
Pushing us up into the teens is Drifter Brewing Company’s limited edition Off the Dock Doppelbock. Launched in July 2017, what started as a German-style strong lager went into first-fill bourbon barrels from Kentucky, U.S.A. and came out as a high alcohol darkbeer. It’s apparently very easy and balanced to sip on considering the big 10% ABV.
3. Sugarman Belgian Quad, 10%
Quite the rock star, Woodstock Brewery‘s Sugarman is one of the brewery’s speciality beers that has a cult following among its fans. A barrel-aged Belgian Quad-style ale, Sugarman is dark and velvety smooth with an oaky richness and spiced, dark rum flavours. At 10% it’s very much meant to be enjoyed at a slower pace, but with an exceptionally high gulpability coefficient, it goes down much too fast. The odd variant might be re-racked on fruit for several more months in the barrel and emerge even stronger.
2. Loaded Canon, 10%
From the brewer of South Africa’s lightest craft beer comes a decent whack at South Africa’s strongest craft beer. At 10% ABV Loaded Canon Ale from Boston Breweries is poised as the ideal sipping beer, recommended for pairing with crispy duck or slow roasted pork ribs as the high alcohol helps cut the fat. At the same time it’seasy drinking with liquorice and treacle toffee in the aroma and caramelised notes in the flavour, but a boatload of hops balances the alcohol and ensures the sweetness doesn’t become overbearing.
1. Crazy Diamond, 13.2%
And at No. 1, for now, the title of South Africa’s strongest craft beer is held by – no prizes for guessing – Triggerfish Brewing, and Andre De Beer. Andre, formerly from Cockpit Brewhouse, and Triggerfish regularly collaborated on this brew, but Cockpit recently changed ownership, so the future is unknown. Nevertheless, Crazy Diamond is a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, a quadruple fermentation achieved by adding additional fermentable sugars every time the fermentation threatens to die down. At the time of writing there’s limited quantities of two vintages available at the brewery, with the pricier of the two, the 2013 vintage, selling in 750ml bottles for a little bit over R400 each.
Have you had any of South Africa’s strongest craft beers? Did we miss any? Have your say in the comments below or leave it on the contact us page, we’re always happy to hear from you.