The Western Cape has it's various winelands where one can take daily tours to taste wines and learn more about how they are made. Port Elizabeth does have it's share of wine lovers, but the closest wines they can taste at source are in Plettenberg Bay so they usually end up having wine tasting events with Western Cape wines. But how about beer? Craft beer in particular. This is probably what Tony Neveling of Gecko Tours here in the Bay was thinking when he came up with the idea of a craft beer route in the city. More exactly, the Hop On Beer Route tour.
I joined a few journo's, photographers and tourism peeps for the launch of the tour and although I'm not a big beer drinker, had a fab time tasting what is being brewed right here in Port Elizabeth. The tour starts in the parking area at Bridge Street Brewery where we left our cars and hopped onto a bus that was to shuttle us around to the three breweries that we were going to be visiting.
Out first stop was at the BeerYard in Richmond Hill. The BeerYard has become one of the city's most popular gathering places for lovers of beer, where they may not always know your name (hope you get the Cheers reference) but you can write it on the walls with pleasure. The venue is extremely laid back with the pool in the backyard even stating that bikini's are optional. Ok, so it's probably not that laidback, but I'm sure that pool gets thoroughly used in summer. At this stage BeerYard produces two of their own beers, namely Car Park John and Two Rand Man, with a new micro brewery being built next door that will allow them to expand on their offering. They do offer what is probably the biggest variety of craft beers in the city so you will be truly spoilt for choice when visiting for a cold one. We didn't just have a cold one, but rather four cold ones, tasting their own two brews as well as another beer and a cider. Then it was time to head back to the bus and move on to brewery number two.
Our second stop was at an extraordinary brewery which I hadn't heard of before. Dockside Brewery in the lower Baakens Valley is a true artisans brewery producing extreme, exotic and extraordinary beers for a small but extraordinary niche market. Notice how I have used the work extraordinary three times (four time now) in this paragraph. It is because that is what Dockside Brewery is.
I had never heard of Dockside Brewery before the tour, but I won't forget it any time soon. They are located just behind the Herald in the Baakens Valley and have been producing beer for just over a year now. Their beers are very unique and not to everybody's taste, but those who appreciate a proper craft beer will really enjoy it. Personally I prefer ciders or a pilsner, but tasting their beers was an experience. They don't compromise on quality, make sure they don't skimp on the ingredients and take much more time to produce a lot less beer than most other breweries. Most other breweries produce ales in 11 days. At Dockside they take between 42 and 56 days. The other unique ingredient they use is spring water from the Elands River Valley. So no municipal water going into their beers. Another thing to note is that Dockside don't produce their craft beer in kegs as draft. Their beer gets bottled and thus also allowing them to be sold directly to the public through the shop on the premises.
Except for getting to taste not just four (as planned) but all five of their beers, we also got to try beer bread baked with beer from Dockside Brewery. They found the very first beer they produced not really to anybody's liking and decided to bake beer bread with it. The beer bread turned out to be a winner and the decision was made to continue brewing that beer specifically for bread. Now Dockside doesn't only sell beer, but also beer bread kits which we tried at home and was very impressed with the result. Tour guide Tony couldn't keep up cutting the bread as the group was tucking in.
The last stop on the tour, eight (or was it nine) beer tasters and some beer bread later, was back at Bridge Street Brewery where we left our cars earlier. In the few years since opening, Bridge Street has become an iconic spot where one gets to not just have excellent craft beer, but also scrumptious food. We started off with a tour led by master brewer Lex Mitchell himself before we got to make ourselves comfortable in the tasting room.
At Bridge Street we got to taste all four of their own craft brews; three beers and a cider. Amongst them the Celtic Cross Pilsner, my favorite beer. These were accompanied by their lip smacking, hot out the oven pizzas. The beer tour includes a meal so it wasn't a case of trying to impress us but rather to show us exactly what people on the tour would experience. This would also be the end of the tour, but most people would probably opt to spend the rest of the afternoon or evening here at Bridge Street or perhaps head back to BeerYard. Just make sure you keep to the limit or have a dedicated driver on hand if you are going to enjoy a few too many. All in all the Hop on Beer Route tour was a huge hit with everybody present and I am sure as word gets out it will become a very popular tour not just with visitors but also for corporate and end of year groups. Cheers.