Out Of Africa

OK, admit it: The main thing you know about Namibia is that it’s a country in Africa where rich white celebrities like to go to steal adopt poor black babies. You might also know that they have the highest rate of income inequality in the world. But you probably didn’t know that they make some surprisingly decent beer there.

Actually, it shouldn’t be that surprising, considering that the country was a German colony known as German South-West Africa from 1884 to 1915, and there are still roughly 30,000 Germans living there. Still, given the generally poor quality of most well-known African lagers, such as Kenya’s Tusker and South Africa’s Castle, I wasn’t expecting to be that impressed by the four beers from Namibia Breweries that were passed on to me by the folks at Roland + Russell a while back.

I’d actually already tried one of them a few years ago when a friend shared a bottle of the flagship Windhoek Lager (named for Namibia’s capital city, and location of the brewery) at a tasting session. It had been brought back to him by a girl who was his girlfriend when she left for Africa, but his ex-girlfriend when she returned (her choice, not his), so I think he was glad to be rid of it. It wasn’t very good, although I suspected at the time that the green bottle was the primary reason for that, as it was stale and slightly skunked.

This time around, I shared my own bottle with a couple of other friends at a recent tasting night. Funnily enough, the friend who shared the first bottle with me was also there, along with his current girlfriend (now fiancée). He didn’t drink any of this new bottle, but the rest of us did, and it wasn’t much better than the last time.

A slight step up is Tafel Lager. Thanks to the brown bottle, it lacked the skunky character of Windhoek Lager, but it’s otherwise a solidly mainstream lager with a clean and balanced flavour. Probably a nice choice under the hot African sun, but not too impressive otherwise.

I got a bit more aroma and flavour off the Windhoek Special, which was also the strongest of the lot at 5% versus the 4% of the others. The malt had a pleasant note of honey to it, and the light but discernible hops in the finish had a slightly grassy and herbal character that gave a hint of the brewery’s German heritage.

That heritage is even more evident in the last of the four, Windhoek Draught. I normally have an instant disdain for bottled or canned beers that are branded “Draught”, but I’ll set that prejudice aside in this case, as this beer turned out to be a very respectable take on an easy drinking European-style lager. It had the freshest flavour of the bunch – most likely due to it being canned rather than bottled – and while the malt profile was quite similar to the others, the hops had a more prominent floral note that was really enjoyable. If I was given this in a blind tasting and told it was from Germany, I wouldn’t have any problem believing it.

From what I’ve been able to gather, it appears that Namibia Breweries is the only active brewing concern in the country, having been formed by the merger of several breweries in 1920, and another in 1967. And as you’d expect from a warm weather brewery, they don’t veer much from the “crisp, clean lager” formula – the only exception seems to be a well-rated Urbock which I must admit I’m very curious to try. But it’s nice to see that they’ve stuck with the traditional German brewing standards even though it’s been nearly a century since they were a colony, and that the celebs have something decent to drink when they’re over there hunting for new children.