Blood Moon Rising

Our massively anticipated collaboration with the guys from Beer Country SA launched Friday 29 November at the Cape Town Festival of Beer. Blood Moon brightened up Black Friday and brought joy to many lives.

Blood Moon, our limited edition Kalahari Pale Ale was tasted and loved by all. Stories of adventure and the brewing of an iconic beer in the Kalahari were shared. The  camaraderie that produced an iconic beer, flavoured with toasted seeds from the Tsamma melon and fruit of the prickly pear endemic to the Kalahari, was legendary. Blood Moon rose to conquer.

A love of beer and the wild open spaces of Africa hangs in this tale. Our fine Kalahari Pale Ale was born over a couple of beers, nurtured in our minds and finally brewed in the Kalahari Desert. A dry-hopped pale ale, it’s not too bitter, perfectly refreshing even in the most extreme conditions.

You can watch the video of the making of Blood Moon here, follow Darling Brew in Instagram, or keep up with Greg and Karl’s adventures in beer with Beer Country SA.

With warm and appreciative thanks to In House Publications, we’ve published the original story written for On Tap Magazine by Greg Gilowey. It’s about a road trip and the first brew of Blood Moon deep in the Kalahari, an ancient and beautiful land.

Brewing a Blood Moon

It was at the bottom of the third Bone Crusher that the idea hit.  We were filming the Darling Brew episode of Beer Country on the ocean’s edge in Paternoster and we had an epiphany: let’s hop in the Landy and go brew a beer deep in the Kalahari.

Now, if you have ever met Kevin and Philippa you’ll know the real reason why the brewery is called Darling. Geography aside, they are clearly soulmates, but Kevin did let us in on a little secret – his first love was always the Kalahari. This adventure was going to happen come hell or high-tide, which by this time was lapping the front of the fire pit. The night ended with more wood on the fire, furious planning, beer discussion, and a moon rise over the beach.

Chasing the sunrise

Now Kevin might operate on African time some days, but true to his word, three years later he came up and said the magic words: pack your bags, we’re going!

We love the feeling before heading out on a road trip: the pre-dawn morning coffee, double checking that you packed the beer, closing the hatches, starting the Landy and chasing the sunrise. When you love journeying for journey’s sake, you don’t get butterflies, you get bats – big fat dusty bats and they were ready to hit the open road.

Travelling through the Northern Cape isn’t for everyone but once you pass Clanwilliam, you hit Namaqualand. It’s wild, open, dusty and one of our favourite places in the world. We kicked off with breakfast at the crazily-named Bagdad Café, perhaps the last place you’d expect to find in the one-horse town of Vanrynsdorp. And do you know what pairs really well with a roadside breakfast? An ice-cold Slow Beer, so it was bottoms up for everyone except Kevin who was on driving duty. He never lets anyone else drive his Landy, which meant we got to take charge of the tunes – and enjoy his beers.

Roadtrip bumps

A few kilometers down the road we discovered why they call this place Die Knersvlakte (The Hardship Plains). The view from the top of the pass is amazing, but the climb proved too much for the Landy. Near the top, Kevin slowed down, stopped, climbed out and well, this is a PG-rated magazine so we’ll leave the language off the page. We had burst a water hose and the engine temp had skyrocketed to hotter than the tar we were standing on.

There was nothing to be done but hook up the tow-rope and roll our way into Nieuwoudtville with the sinking feeling that the trip was over before it had begun. With the bonnet up, our Land-Cruiser driving mate, Mickey chirped, “Land Rover – the first car to come with UV-protection for the engine.” Well, I guess we deserved that. Then without skipping a beat, Kevin levels up the jab-scores with, “At least we don’t need a petrol tanker as a support vehicle.” Good times.

Back to the task at hand. After a little head-scratching investigation, some pocket-knife hose surgery, a piece of scrap metal pipe and two heavy duty hose-clips, we had MacGyvered ourselves back into business.

With the sun getting low, we set up camp on a nearby farm and it was time to light the first braai of the trip. There was only one choice for dinner – the Bone Crusher mussel pot we cooked all those years back on the beach.

Into the Kalahari

The next morning after kakpraating our way through every last piece of firewood, we set out on the long trek north, over the Orange River, heading to Twee Rivieren – the gateway to the Kalahari. Between the game and the bush, the 160km dry-river-bed drive flew by in a cloud of dust. We made the camp gates at sunset, set up under a huge Acacia, and lit the braai-fire. It was time to brew. On the agenda: Blood Moon.

Being a Kalahari beer, we needed Kalahari ingredients. Two fruits that are endemic to the area are Tsamma melons and prickly pears. Tsamma melons make eating raw hops seem like a walk in the park. The bitterness will strip tooth enamel but the seeds are amazing. When toasted they give an earthy, nutty flavour which really compliments the malt. Prickly pear fruit has the most delicious paw-paw and mango character that works a treat with tropical hop aromas. We did mess around with using real Kalahari water, but the road to ruin is paved with good intentions, and if you have ever been to the Kalahari, you’ll know that soapy-salty water doesn’t taste great.

Mashing-in in the bush will get even the most chilled camper out of their lazy-chair and walking over to see what’s happening. Within an hour, we had the whole campsite kuiering around the brew. They became even more interested in lengthy brew-chats when they found out that we had ice-cold beer pouring on tap.

We brewed a 50-litre batch in the one-pot brewhouse, just enough to fit in our keg-fermenter. We like to think that the sun going down helped with the cooling, but truth be told, nothing cools quickly out here, so “borrowing” some ice-water from the beer chiller did help. Pitching the yeast was long after sunset, and we put our new baby to sleep for the night – only to have to chase the shade for the next few days to keep her cool.

As for the spent grain, well in Darling it gets used for beer chips, but out here it seems the jackals are partial to it. All we found the next day was a half-full bag, dragged to the bushes. On further inspection we discovered the jackals had claimed permanent ownership and marked it accordingly – and let me tell you, no soap invented by man or beast can get rid of that smell.

The sounds of Africa

With the brew done, it was time to chill. So we did what people do in Africa and dug out a fire-pit, cracked open a few cold ones, sat back and listened to the wind, the barking geckos, the laughing hyenas, and the crackling fire. These are the real sounds of Africa, until a few beers later when we were all “blessing the rains” with a chorus of jackals. We thought they were joining in, but in hindsight, they may have been complaining about Greg’s singing.

The next morning around 5am, the sounds got really real, really fast. If you haven’t experienced a lion roar less than a half-a-kay away, it’s one hell of an alarm clock. It’s pure magic that will humble you, and remind you that out there under the African sky, you’re not top of the food chain. As the sun came up, we could see the two black-maned brothers at the camp watering hole. This was once-in-a-lifetime stuff.

They walked closer and closer, until there was nothing but 50 metres and a small wire fence separating us. Hearing that beast roar that close will shrink a fence faster than you can say “Mufasa.” You quickly remind yourself that you don’t need to out-run the lion, you just need to out-run the tasty tourist next to you with the half-ton camera and the sock-and-slop combo. No problem, we’ll get a head start.

Toasting Africa

The next few days were spent in a blur of brunch-time beers, hammock chill sessions, night swimming under impossible stars, bushveld bonfires and epic braai-chow thanks to a collection of recipes that we’ve managed to compile into our book – Beer. Food. Fire.

At first light on our last morning in the Kalahari, we hit the dirt with a little drive South, before taking a sharp right to Namibia. Once we hit the 50km of dunes, we suddenly understood why Kevin had told us to bring sea-sick tablets – up and down, and up, and down across an endless ocean of red sand. It’s called Dune Sickness, and it’s a real thing.

Soon after, we crossed the border into Namibia for a few days of ice-cold beers, big-sky sunsets, braais, bonfires, and the best gemsbok steak any of us has ever had. It all went by pretty fast, and before we knew it we were heading back down the Weskus to Darling. We did stop at a red container in the middle of nowhere, perched against a rusty farm fence with a “Biltong” sign. Still to date, the best droewors we have ever tasted. Rolling into Darling at sunset, we realised how lucky we were to have been on such an epic adventure, with good mates, great beer and the best this place we call home has to offer.

Here’s to you Africa!

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