NEW BEER TO ROCK DURBAN
Craft beer brand, Poison City, keepers of all that is naughty but nice in this quirky city on the African East Coast, have a new brew – the Punk Rocker.
Maverick entrepreneurs, Graeme Bird and Andre Shubert, introduced the new kid on the Poison City block to the media at a recent lunch at Market restaurant. It had just been bottled and, by their own admission, they were more than happy with the result.
Andre traces this ale-cum-bitter back to a 1987 visit to England where he encountered two important things – the punk rock movement and his first “pint in a pub”.
Graeme chips in – the punk rock movement was a middle class, intellectual rebellion, a kick back by the educated middle classes against the political conservatism of Maggie Thatcher. It wasn’t just about the music and it left a strong cultural, fashion and even gastronomic legacy.
Fast forward to today and the last outpost of the British Empire. The Punk Rocker label says it all: “Anti-establishment, yeah, we Durbanites totally get that. And, while we might have kicked the Poms out of our province, we’ll keep the inspiration for their ale and their punk music legacy and make it Durban born and bred.”
Andre says this new brew is his interpretation of the tastes that he remembers. These come from the hops and the malt rather than the yeast. “You seldom find a beer with this taste profile and this little alcohol.”
Ales are traditionally quite flat unlike the largers that are the beer of choice in South Africa. These tend to be very carbonated. They decided to lightly carbonate The Punk Rocker to better fit local choices.
For the most part it sticks to origins and is a rich beer that can be teamed with flavourful foods such as a gourmet burger, bangers and mash and pork belly.
The South African beer market is “maxed out on lager” – but Poison city is not the stuff of six packs at braais or pints consumed en masse during rugby matches.
The crux of the craft beer revolution – which only reached Durban a few years ago – is that these thoughtfully created brews are meant to be paired with good food in much the same way as fine wine. Andre talks of the flavours and the nose of the beer in much the same way.
For starters, craft beer is more expensive than conventional ones and Poison city is definitely not a replacement. But, in South Africa, the market has grown by 50% and Durban’s escalation, although not quantified, is probably no different.
“Our priority is having quality product. We don’t want to be main stream. We’d rather be true to our roots. We’re not doing this for the sake of it. We want to have beers that hit the right note. Not all (craft beer brewers) are getting it right. Many are trying too hard,” says Graeme.
Poison City was officially launched at the end of September last year with the pair’s first beer – The Bird, a light malt lager.
It has gone down well to the point where they are now supplying via 51 outlets city wide. This includes 12 bottle stores. The balance is eateries and restaurants where Poison City is served up in bottles and on tap.
Poison City was about to be launched in Johannesburg this month but they have had to delay for another two months. The idea is to dip into bigger markets whilst pushing the Durban vibe.
The chosen launch venue – the Bannister Hotel in Braamfontein – has echoes of Durban. “We chose it because it is a cool replica of what we are like,” explains Schubert.
The Cape Town launch is due before November.
Although they’ve set out to become the beer of choice in their home city where the market is the smallest, they don’t see this happening elsewhere.
Cape Town –where 80% of local craft beer is made but only 20 percent consumed – presents a special challenge and they are determined to “be noticed” there. Gauteng, where 65 percent of craft beer is drunk, simply makes good business sense.
The Poison City brewers are putting a lot of thought into their products and are turning to Durban top artists to design their labels. There’s a fashion element to craft beer. It needs to look attractive on a shelf, have an identity, they agree.
Andre says that the plan was to ensure that their first three beers were accessible – then they’ll move on to more esoteric beers that will appeal to craft beer purists.
Their third beer – a Weiss beer to be known as The Kiff – will be ready for a first tasting in three weeks. It will be named for a slang word that is only used by Durbanites.