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Travel Review: The Franschhoek Beer Co, home of world-class beers

The Franschhoek Valley has long been loved for its world-famous wine estates, quality restaurants and historic Cape beauty – but now, there’s a new ‘kid’ on the block: beer tasting, second to none.

And our recent visit to Franschhoek revealed yet another of the valley’s gems: The Franschhoek Beer Co, producers of handcrafted, world-class beer.

In addition to its on-site brewery and excellent beers, The Franschhoek Beer Co now also offers a charming, child-friendly eatery called Tap | Eat, where elegance and a sense of laid-back calm meet.

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Combine their top-class beers with this stylish eatery, fun beer tours and a true sense of passion (evident across the board) and you have a recipe for beer (and food) success.

What’s more, with the ever-impressive backdrop of the Franschhoek mountains and surrounding farmlands edging them, The Franschhoek Beer Co possesses a dreamy location just outside of town. It is here that rural-meets-urban, and country vibes are complemented by chic facilities.

The Franschhoek Beer Co. story… so far

Now in its second year of existence (with one year of being online), The Franschhoek Beer Co has already made a big impression on the local beer scene.

So, where did it all begin, you ask? Well, apparently, with a Scotsman, an American and a South African – and no, this is not the beginnings of some cheesy joke – but rather, a touch of beer-brewing brilliance.

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The Franschhoek Beer Co’s partners, Alex McCormack, Frank Rodriguez and chef Reuben Riffel are all known for their individual stories of innovation and success, so when you bring them together for a joint enterprise, adding a passionate, dedicated and down-to-earth brewmaster/partner and bio-technologist in Olaf Morgenroth to the mix – success is essentially a given.

So it comes as no surprise to learn that The Franschhoek Beer Co. has already won the ‘2016 South African National Beer Trophy Gold Medal’ and ‘2017 South African National Beer Trophy Silver Medal’ for The Stout and the ‘2017 South African National Beer Trophy Silver Medal’ for their Three Oaks Craft Lager.

Fine-tuned research and development: The Franschhoek Beer Co-style

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Rumour has it that Alex McCormack, Frank Rodriguez and Olaf Morgenroth spent some time travelling the world looking for inspiration, after which time, Olaf, an inventive man with strong German roots, spent the first year and a half on development and research, as he experimented with ingredients and recipes.

In fact, brewmaster Olaf explained to us on the day of our visit that they worked their way down from 200 possible recipes to just six, ensuring the best is always on offer.

And thanks to high-quality brewing equipment (brought in from Italy), imported hops, the purest Franschhoek spring water and some local, environmentally-driven inventiveness to boot… they now have a testing brewery, main brewery and even an organic garden too.

The long-term plan is a stroke of genius: to have a rotating tap, with the end-goal of a new beer on tap each week. But, until then, Olaf is enjoying mixing things up, as he tries new and exciting beer flavours… blueberry or butternut-flavoured beers anyone?

An engaging beer tour in the Franschhoek Valley

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We started off our beer tour by heading outside to the testing brewery (cue chef Reuben walking past and greeting us), where Olaf gave us some wonderful insights into how it all began, as well as his latest ideas.

From there, we made our way to the main brewery, a sterile and well-controlled space, with the finest beer-making (think uni tanks) and packaging equipment possible. It was here that Olaf explained to us all about the beer-making process, sterile conditions, machinery and packaging.

We even got a taste of unfiltered OPA straight from the beer vat. If OPA, that is Orange Pale Ale, sounds new to you too, then that’s because it is Olaf’s own citrus creation.

It’s naturally more bitter when it’s unfiltered like that but it was great fun sampling a ‘raw’ product, still in the process of development. The OPA incorporates some of the peel, with two types of oranges used, and it has a beautiful, strong smell.

Packaging freshness

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From within this gorgeous main brewery – which you can see clearly from Tap | Eat – Olaf and his team run a very slick beer-making process. At this stage, they package inside there too, with some 250 bottles being filled and labelled per hour. They do this with no more than one very cool machine and 4-5 staff…

Olaf also showed us how each bottle has an expiry date and will not be kept longer than they are still fresh to drink. Generally, the unfiltered variety takes four months to expire, while the filtered can last for between 8-12 months.

This adds another personal touch to the whole process, further showing how The Franschhoek Beer Co values quality over quantity.

Another thing I love about The Franschhoek Beer Co’s fine products is their labelling, which is simplistic, yet elegant. Olaf explained that these are something of a throwback to the wine heritage of the valley, where elegance and simple beauty dominate.

Eco-friendly practices – and an organic garden

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From there, we headed to the organic food garden, which, aside from its breathtaking mountain views, offers a good variety of crops and plants. Not only are these goods diligently used in the in-house restaurant, but Olaf also uses the some of the organic goods for his beer inspiration, as he dabbles with new flavours and beer concoctions.

This was the final leg of our tour, after which we made our way back to the Tap | Eat for some beer tasting!

On an eco note: To minimise standard drinking water usage, The Franschhoek Beer Co uses borehole and spring water for the beers, and try to cut water usage as far as they can. They also use solar power in the brewing process and recycle all spent grains for feeding neighbouring farm animals.

The food side of things

tap-eat-franschhoek-beer-coPhoto credit: @jakkalsfontein

Not every brewery can boast a food collaboration between chefs, Nick Oosthuizen and Reuben Riffel, two men who have bucketfuls of cooking experience and highly reputable chef’s CVs between them.

The inspired food menu at Tap |Eat is delivered and designed by Nick, with Reuben’s valued input provided whenever and wherever needed.

In addition to chef Nick, there is also Julandi Groenewald, a chef herself – although these days, it seems she prefers the front of house to the kitchen… Based on our visit, Julandi is doing a great job in this role too!

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The restaurant has been open since December and offers well-balanced, tempting seasonal menus, which also have some dishes for the ‘wee’ ones (that is, children under 12).

Add to that, stylish interiors, a beautiful lawn under oak trees and both indoor and outdoor deck seating and you’re guaranteed a memorable meal or beer tasting.

We didn’t eat at Tap | Eat but the food looks and sounds great, so I would definitely recommend giving it a try!

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A great, six-beer tasting at The Franschhoek Beer Co

For those who don’t book the beer tour, you can still enjoy great value-for-money when you opt for six-beer tasting for R60 (single tastings of 15ml are R15). Alternatively, you can try the Shandy (330ml), which offers the Belgian style, La Saison, with Nick’s homemade lemonade for R34.

The Franschhoek Beer Co not only currently offers the following beers: Three Oaks Craft Lager, La Saison, Liberty American Pale Ale, O.P.A and The Stout – but it also has beer cocktails (or ‘beertails’)!

Yes, you read right – and these beer cocktails sound really good! For those who aren’t out-and-out beer lovers, this seems like a good alternative to the standard beer tasting.

And it doesn’t hurt that these drinks are prepared by mixologist /beer-tender David Van Zyl, currently one of Cape Town’s Top Ten Finalists in the World Class Bartender Competition 2018.

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Although, even if you are not a die-hard beer drinker, don’t make the mistake of thinking you won’t enjoy the beers, because, in general, they are great tasting. And, compared to some of the beers I’ve sampled in the past, make for pretty easy drinking ones too.

In addition to the beer tasters, our tasting offered an attractive, carefully arranged colour-coded beer guide, which has a breakdown of the beer’s ingredients, flavours and names and the order you should drink them in too.

How the beers ranked

The order of tasting we followed was: Three Oaks Craft Lager, Weissbeer No5 (which is only sold at The Franschhoek Beer Co), La Saison, Liberty American Pale Ale, O.P.A and The Stout.

The Three Oaks Craft Lager – a pretty golden straw-coloured beer – is a balanced, easy drinking beer. It was very good but not my personal favourite of the six.

The German weiss beer, Weissbeer No5 (which is 50% wheat) was a big hit with me personally; I really liked this one.

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We then tried the La Saison, a personal favourite of Olaf’s. It’s a refreshing, well-balanced Belgian-style beer. I found it unusually sharp (though not in a bad way), as it definitely has a unique taste. Interestingly, my boyfriend, a true beer fan, loved this one the most.

The fourth sampling was the Liberty American Pale Ale, which has 5% alcohol and offers a crisp, clean bitterness and fruity element too. Again, it wasn’t my favourite but I could appreciate that it’s a good beer.

We followed that up with the finished, filtered version of the O.P.A, which has a crisp bitterness (one that doesn’t linger) and a hint of orange, aside from its beautiful citrus aroma. My boyfriend liked this one the most after La Saison and I also enjoyed it.

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Weirdly, the final standard tasting offering, The Stout, was one of my favourites. It’s a good winter beer (with lactose), which offers rich dark chocolate and coffee aromas.

Our final sampling was something very special (particularly as we were the first guests to try it)… The Blueberry Weiss. This is an amazing beer, which is a gorgeous, almost grape juice-like colour. Along with the Weissbeer No5, this was the best for me!

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Beer tour details

As far as possible, Olaf told us that he likes to give the tours himself, which is certainly something extra to look forward to – but obviously, he can’t be everywhere at once, so this will not always be the case.

Usually, tours (which cost R100, with the tasting included) last for an hour, running on Tuesdays and Thursdays, between 10:00 am to 11:00 am.

Visitors tour the test brewery, organic gardens (weather-permitting), main brewery before enjoying the six tastings and a regular beer of their choice.

To pre-book a tour, please email restaurant@franschhoekbeerco.co.za or book online. (Private or group tours by arrangement only.)

The Franschhoek Beer Co experience overall

franschhoek-beer-companyPhoto credit: @jakkalsfontein

Overall, the beer tasting and tour was excellent and enjoyable throughout. To complement this, Tap | Eat offered a great vibe and pleasant atmosphere.

Our tour with Olaf was excellent and interesting from start to finish, especially as he really engaged with us and patiently answered all of our questions.

What’s more, everyone we encountered or dealt with at The Franschhoek Beer Co was friendly and professional.

After our visit, The Franschhoek Beer Co is definitely a favourite of mine. I can easily award them a 10/10 overall rating for great professionalism, top-class beers, a wonderful tour experience, quality facilities and of course, a stunning setting in Franschhoek.

Thank you very much to The Franschhoek Beer Co, with special thanks given to Jacques Burger, Olaf Morgenroth and Julandi Groenewald, for ensuring our visit, beer tasting and overall tour was so memorable and fun from start to finish.

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For more information on The Franschhoek Beer Co and their beer or food offerings, please contact: +27 (021) 876 2092 or sales@franschhoekbeerco.co.za (for wholesale orders and purchases) or info@franschhoekbeerco.co.za (general queries).

The Franschhoek Beer Co is open from Tuesday – Sunday, 10:00 am – 18:00 pm, but is closed on Mondays.

Tap | Eat at The Franschhoek Beer Co. is open Tuesday to Sunday 12:00 pm – 17:00 pm, but is closed on Mondays.

You can also visit The Franschhoek Beer Co’s website or find them for yourself at:  The Franschhoek Beer Co, R45, Franschhoek, Western Cape, South Africa.

The Franschhoek Beer Co is also on all leading social media platforms, including FacebookTwitter and Instagram, so be sure to connect with and follow them there!

Author: Tamlyn Amber Ryan

Content writer by day and blogger by night, Tamlyn Ryan passionately runs her own travel blog, called Tamlyn Amber Wanderlust, from her home base of Cape Town, South Africa. And, despite a national diploma in Journalism, in her free time, Tamlyn’s preferred niche remains travel writing.

Tamlyn is a hopeless wanderer, equipped with an endless passion for road trips, carefully planned, holiday itineraries and, above all else, an innate love for the great outdoors.

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