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Rocking the Keg

A cable water ski resort turned craft beer host. Somewhat incongruous, is it not? My first thoughts as I entered the strangely hidden grounds of Blue Rock, on the corner of the N2 and Sir Lowry's Pass Road. On the dam, obstacles and ramps, and a confusing array of pylons and cables. On the right, a paintball course. Paintball and beer? Now that could be something interesting ...

The occasion is a media launch for a new Oktoberfest, celebrating another launch, that of Red Sky Brew, Gordon's Bay's very own craft brewery. Somerset West, as are the many farms and smallholdings all the way from there to Gordon's Bay, is known for its German population. It's rather strange, in that way, that Oktoberfest has never been celebrated here. Coupled with the fact that the well travelled likes of H.V. Morton see it as the best place in the world to live, it certainly calls for at least one beer festival.


I speak with the Swiss owner, Lukas Reichmuth. What they're planning is a craft market too, and music. It's a very cosmopolitan community. And hoards of tourists. It's getting cold in Europe. No-one would mind a second Oktoberfest.

We get sat down before cups with home-made bread sticks and jugs of water. Ghostly déjà vu grips me for a moment. Then the presentation starts. I struggle with these things. When a call for questions comes, I ask whether one may swim in the quarry.

As we get up and spread out, a man hands me an extreme sports brochure. Grassroots Sports Development it says. I remember: Monster has plans for a showcase skateboarding event. I should get out more. Some beers get handed to me.

I arrive at a little table with bottles, presided over by a friendly bearded man. He thrusts into my hand a glass of porter. I appreciatively take a sniff and then sip. “Hmmm. It reminds me of something I can't quite put my finger on.” And then of course I had to, quite knowingly, put my foot in it. “You're not going to like this”, I say, “but I think I know what it makes me think of: dog pellets.” In all honesty, the last time I smelt dog pellets approximately coincides with the last time I ate one – about 44 years ago. “Daar moet iets met jou neus verkeerd wees,” says Ampie, a little taken aback. I try to remain on my feet: “It might be brewers yeast”. This is something I had to eat in tablet form as a child, which I didn't much like either. Ampie looks unconvinced. The thing is, there's probably not much wrong with my nose. What's failing is the little bit which remembers and recognises, which is also the little bit which names, and remembers them. Later I stumble on the unsurprising truth: what I thought I recognised as dog food or yeast was in fact a seed mixture we used to blend with water to feed to the Muscovy ducks that we, for one reason or another, kept. Simple wet grain, after all of this. And lest I be misunderstood, the Porter was really nice. In fact, I strongly recommend it, and not only because it took me back to my childhood.

Grinning from ear to ear, as always, Tamsin from Windermere is handing out cider. I strike up a conversation, hopelessly hoping to be handed a glass or two of this drink I keep coming back to, forgetting that a beer in each hand might discourage someone from offering a third. They're making an apple MCC, she tells me. Matured in oak, with almost a year on the lees – the real thing. I am intrigued. How about Calvados. She smiles mysteriously.

The beer in my other hand, of course, was Birkenhead. It's not their famed honey beer, but I taste honey. A very well-made beer. When does it stop being a craft beer, I ask. A limit on a maximum monthly quantity of beer brewed, I'm told. A hundred thousand litres? Sounds like a lot of beer to me. But there seems to be another criterion, having to do with how the beer is made and what may be used to do so. And there's only one brewmaster. OK, I think I get that.

CBC are handing out tasters too. An Amber Weiss is on tap. It should work well for Oktoberfest. Two similarly clad ladies with beaded braids are pouring the drinks. They're Dutch, one says. The Dutch don't much like the Germans. After all, Holland was occupied for most of the Second World War. Well, that's been a while, I think, remembering Anne Frank.

Stellenbrau, one of the guilty parties of filling my arms with drink, presented a lager. I'm no great friend of lager, but this one appeals. Their ale even more. I'll have to reconsider a wariness for their beers acquired at the Root44 market one Sunday. It's simply not done, I think, to judge any beer on its lowest moments. A faulty beer is a faulty beer, but it's variation, I think, which keeps craft breweries alive and varied. Was it Max Beerbohm who said: “Only mediocrity can be trusted to be always at its best”? My sentiment skirts this argument, echoing Wilde: “Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” What makes craft beers what they are, might well be exactly that.

Before leaving I speak with Mark Goldsworthy. He's on his way too. His two beers are brewing. An ale, of course, and a gluten free beer. I have some thin friends who'll like that, I say. Well, it's a beer made from sorghum and maize. Count me in, I say.

The 5th is drawing close. It's going to be big, I think. And I'm going to be there.