On June 1 the bottle stores opened and the mild Highveld sun made the air just right for drinking beer. I hadn’t had beer for a while now. A real, proper beer. A beer with a buzz. A beer that I would drink too quickly and would make me burp out loud and proud.
I’ve had alcohol-free beers. They are okay as a placebo, but, yeah, you know. I bought some peach-flavoured free-of-fun beers by mistake and still drank them, the pointlessness of it all never leaving me for a second. Like the rest of South Africa, booze was acquired by means foul and fair during level four and five. In one such acquired stash, I found a Castle Free. I felt cheated.
Anton Erasmus, one of SAB’s first trade brewers, once spoke to me at length about mouth feel when drinking a beer. We were sitting at Giles, my local, with pints of Castle Tank. He told me to take a sip and hold it in my mouth for a few seconds before swallowing it. I did. It grew in depth of flavour, but also in the sheer joy of the bubbles. It rocked and rolled, having a pre-party before heading off to the next journey towards buzz central.
I drank the next two the same way. I was 50 and finally learning to drink a beer properly. But that’s Anton. He always finds a clever way to celebrate beer better. He told me he believed Castle Tank, unpasteurised and fresh, was perhaps one of the best beers on the market. I can only agree with him.
It will be a while before we get to drink Tank at Giles again. There won’t be deliveries of draught beer there for a while, until the far far away land of level one is opened up. Mind you, there was a shortage just before lockdown as the brewery in Rosslyn did not deliver. Next week, they said. Next week became two weeks, then a month. There was a rumour that one of the special trucks used to transport and fill up the 100-litre bladders inside the shiny façade of the “copper” tanks in bars had broken down and the only place to find a part for it was in the Netherlands.
And when they finally did deliver, it was just before lockdown kicked in officially and in the end Giles were trying to shift Tank at half price so it didn’t go to waste. Everywhere you turned on Thursday, March 26, bottle stores and bars and sports clubs were selling more grog in one day than some of them had done in two weeks.
And, then, when the ban was lifted, the stampede to bottle stores in the streets on June 1 outdid the great wildebeest migration in the Serengeti. Drinkers queued from early morning for the 9am opening. Social distancing so they could get home and do some unsocial drinking.
A week later, on June 8, there was panic on the streets of Joburg yet again as a mysterious WhatsApp message, voiced by an Afrikaans woman, claimed the sale of alcohol would be banned from Wednesday until we hit level one. A friend ran out and got three bottles of gin, two bottles of whisky and loads of beer. There were queues around the block at the bottle stores. As a friend who has a friend who owns a Tops bottle store said, the reinstatement of the ban was bull, but it was incredible marketing for them as they did extraordinary business.
I don’t like standing in queues. I don’t like waiting for my beer. I don’t like that Giles is closed. I don’t like that I can’t sit down and take a sip of Tank and roll it around my mouth and realised I’d been drinking beer the wrong way all these years.