Devil's Peak King's Blockhouse
Devil's Peak King's Blockhouse
I t was a pretty ballsy move. In a country where craft beer had only really existed for a year or two, where most drinkers had never tasted anything more outrageous than a dry stout, at a time when most of the other 30-or-so breweries across South Africa were producing pale lagers or blonde ales, Devil’s Peak Brewing Company launched with a not-shy-on-the-hops West Coast IPA.
I remember their debut well. It was the 2011 Cape Town Festival of Beer and there was a buzz around the Devil’s Peak stand that suggested South Africans were in fact ready for hops, that this wasn’t simply, as so many were fond of saying, a land of lager drinkers.
So lyrical did I wax about Blockhouse that I was often accused of being on Devil’s Peak’s payroll. Nope, I would tell them, I just like well-made, flavourful beer.
King’s Blockhouse was the beer that made Devil’s Peak what it is today. It was never their biggest seller; possibly never made them any money at all. But it turned their garage setup into a household name – at least among the country’s burgeoning band of beer nerds. It showed South Africans what beer could be and provided the sort of craft beer epiphany that causes many drinkers to never return to their trusty pint of lager.
It became a victim of its own success of course. South Africa’s first classic West Coast IPA taught other breweries to dare when it came to hops, to brew outside the country’s once particularly restrictive beer box. As time went by, Devil’s Peak expanded and, as filtering and pasteurisation were introduced, Blockhouse undoubtedly lost a little of its character. Other, smaller breweries were emerging with bigger, bolder beers and Blockhouse lost its spot at the top of all the best lists. Had it really changed, or was it our palates that had changed as the market evolved? It’s tough to say, but it’s true that breweries were releasing increasingly adventurous beers and none more so than Devil’s Peak.
Over the past couple of years I have lost count of the number of special releases Devil’s Peak have put out: NEIPAs and barrel-aged beer-wine hybrids; coffee-infused imperial stouts and collaborations with everyone from Cape Town nanobreweries to global players like Mikkeller, Amundsen, Fourpure and New Belgium. For a while it felt like they were releasing some limited edition experiment every Thursday, and while those beers kept Devil’s Peaks profile high, they also served to overshadow Blockhouse – a has-been, ignored by the increasingly fickle drinker.
People deserted the beer in search of something more exciting. “It’s boring,” they’d inevitably announce, “a shadow of its former self.” I too abandoned my love for a while, but recently it has regained its status as a staple in my fridge. Sure it’s not as flashy as an ocean water gose or chilli bacon porter aged in a second-fill South African brandy barrel, but it’s a damn good beer: crisp and bitter, with hints of mango and orange peel and just a touch of toast. It’s a beer that helped shape a country’s beer scene; a beer that taught people how to love hops. And for that I will always bow down to the King.
Flagship beers were chosen by the individual writers with no input from the #FlagshipFebruary partners or sponsor breweries.