Top beer

Richard Hammond of Napier Brewery shows Malu Lambert the tricks of his trade.

Richard Hammond, no, not that Richard but rather the master brewer at Napier Brewery, is mid-brew when we show up at his door. It took us a few good leans on the hooter to get his attention; you see Napier in the Overberg is a rather sleepy town, with not much other than a pub, a petrol station and a few scattered restaurants. There are, however, a few award-winning wine estates, such as Jean Daneel, famous for its wooded chenin blanc. This village is also home to Napier Brewery, which makes lager and ale.

Today we've interrupted Richard making a batch of the ale. Having already ground the different grains as well as the barley used in the beer's recipe, the batch is in the mashing process. Here the starches in the crushed grains will convert into sugars for fermentation. This will take an hour and a half in a mash tun at 65 degrees.

"After this," says Richard, "we do what's known as a sparging, this is where water is filtered through the mash to extract the sugars. Which I'm actually about to do..."

Napier Brewery started approximately four years, born from a hobby between friends, namely Mark Humphrey, Craigan Miller and Allan Smith. Richard joined the team a year ago, when he came on as a carpenter, among other things, "I do a bit of everything," he says laughing. He soon learnt the craft of beer making and is now the master brewer.

The brewery is simply laid out, with a mash tun, hot liquor tank and a boiling copper making up the brewery elements. There's also a cold storage room with stainless steel tanks for storing the beer once it's been fermented.

Now that the mixture has been filtered Richard is transferring the grain to the cooker. This is where he'll add the hops for flavour. Three different types of hops are added at 45 minute intervals. We watch him drop dark green hops into the boiling bubbling beer. The aroma of the brew fills the room, malty and warming, a bit like a hot cup of Horlicks.

Cheers!

"Time for a beer," says Richard. We settle in at the varnished wood bar, on display are different beer mugs from around the globe. But it's only one beer I'm interested in, well two actually. We start with the lager. Pulling on the tap, Richard fills a glass topped with a foamy head.

Richly-coloured the lager has a smoky, sweet flavour. "Most women prefer this one," says Richard. "The smoky flavour comes from the roasted barley element. Two thirds of the barley we use in the beer is roasted. We roast the barley on that skottel," he says pointing at the ‘outdoors gas cooker’. Truly a hands-on-job.

"The ale," says Richard filling another glass," is darker, more bitter than the lager. Here try it."

Soon we're drinking another glass of lager. And Richard is up and down from the bar to the brewery. We can see him sticking a large wooden spoon into the cooker to stir it up. I get up to peek over his shoulder, and see a swirling, frothy aromatic boiling liquid, more hops is dropped in and we resume drinking our beers.

Richard is an amiable fellow, and knowledgeable on his craft. It seems to me that the ingredients of being a master brewer are one-part knowledge and skill and one-part bartender demeanor—the combination of these two elements makes for a fun visit. And Richard has two parts of each.

While we're chatting (drinking) we hear another hooter outside. A group of English tourists have come to try the Overberg's local brew. We take this as our cue to leave. But before we go, I ask Richard what the future plans are for Napier beer.

"To take on SAB," he says laughing.

By Malu Lambert

Top tip: Find Napier Beer on tap at Long Street Backpackers

Napier Brewery | Napier | Station Road | Turn righ at Fick's Autowork onto a dirt road, Napier will be on your left | 083 703 8004

We've compiled a full list of Cape Town's craft beers and where you can drink them.

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