As we find ourselves once again in the midst of a total ban on the sale of alcohol (ban no. 4 in case you’ve lost count) it is easy to feel a little despondent. The situation in South Africa’s beer industry isn’t quite as bleak as predicted last year, but since the pandemic and associated lockdowns began, we have lost a number of local microbreweries.
In recent weeks, three well-loved brands have announced that they cannot carry on: Cape Town’s Little Wolf (although founder Stefan Wiswedel remains in the industry at Constantia brewpub Patiala where his beloved Hoppy Wheat can sometimes be found on tap); the Brewers’ Co-op in Woodstock (their equipment and premises is up for sale) and Brewsters Craft in Johannesburg. Inspirational and aspirational brewer Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela has announced the closure of her brewing facility, although training courses will continue and I have a feeling that her brand Tolokazi will rise from the flames, so don’t weep into your sorghum pilsner just yet.
Anyway, there is so much misery, doom and gloom out there that I thought it might be quite nice to focus on some positives. Despite the booze bans, the restaurant closures and the fact that most people these days are struggling financially and don’t necessarily have money to spend on luxury products like craft beer, some breweries have persevered and even launched new ventures. Considering the year they’ve had, anyone who has managed to stay afloat could and should be considered a success story. But in case you missed them (and let’s be honest, I have been utterly useless at maintaining this blog over the past few months) here are ten cool things that have happened in SA beer over the past few months – I hope they make you smile.
Ukhamba opens new taproom at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront
Since first launching, Ukhamba Beerworx has had a number of homes – first at the Brewers Co-op, then the debut taproom in Woodstock and following the closure there, the restaurant and bar on Main Road in Claremont. But the brewery has now found what is hopefully a permanent home at the new Makers Landing centre at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront. Based at the Cruise Terminal, Makers Landing is a funky market that opened in December and showcases South African food and drink, mostly from young startup producers. Ukhamba’s brewery and taproom overlooks the main restaurant and has great views of the harbour from the patio. I highly recommend visiting on a Sunday afternoon, when the lamb spit is served and a DJ plays chilled end-of-weekend tunes.
Mad Giant launches popular suburban taproom
Although their city-centre taproom and restaurant has sadly remained closed since the first lockdown began, the Mad Giant team has been busy. Production continues at 1 Fox, but consumption is now taking place at Mad Giant’s Taproom in Blairgowrie. As well as fine beer on tap, the taproom serves excellent food, with a focus on smoked meats. And this isn’t the only project the MG team has rolled out in the past year. They also launched “Extra Fresh”, a milkman-style delivery service that sends beer straight from the brewery to nearby customers in returnable 500ml bottles.
First ever hop harvest on a downtown Jo’burg rooftop
Yes, you read that right. Khaya Maloney is a self-taught hop farmer who has set up a hydroponic farm on the rooftop of a Jo’burg car park. And he did it right in the middle of a pandemic. His first mini harvest was bagged up and shipped to Franschhoek earlier this year, where you can now taste it in Soul Barrel’s South African Pilsner (or at least you will be able to once Oom Cyril lifts the ban). The story is far too fascinating to tell in a montage blog post like this one, but luckily, I have written the full thing over on the Good Beer Hunting page – please have a read.
Starke Brews opens doors in Durbanville
I first met Rob Starke about five or six years ago when he was attending an advanced brewing course we were running in Cape Town. He mentioned his plan to open a small brewery on a Durbanville farm. Fast forward to January 2021 and the brewery finally opened (following red tape wrangling and of course close to a year of booze bans). The result though, was worth waiting for. Dubbed “The Aegir of the North”, Starke Brews has a great range of beers , superb pizza and an impressive kids’ play area. There’s also mountain bike trails on the property but I can’t comment on those since I don’t even own a bike… If you haven’t visited yet, do yourself a favour and add it to your post-level four to do list.
Two Gauteng brands seek to conquer the townships
Craft beer still accounts for less than 1% of all beer sales in South Africa and people need to woo new customers to grow our collective piece of pie. Until now, craft brewers have struggled to tap into the township market, not least because they don’t understand it, according to Township Brew co-founder Vusi Radebe. Their brand, FourtyFour Premium, is already making waves in several Gauteng townships. Also intent on transforming the township with craft is Sibusiso Skosana, whose 1632Crafts brand is based in Tembisa. Both brands launched last year but they’re battling to make a success of things despite the huge hurdles. To read the full story, check out the latest issue of On Tap Magazine, available to read online for free.
At Hops End moves to new premises
Collaborative taproom At Hops End has moved from its location in the Modderfontein Nature Reserve to new premises in Benoni. A joint venture between Just Brewing Co. and Greyton-based Old Potter’s Inn, the friendly taproom has plenty of space to linger around the bar, as well as an airy upstairs taproom that overlooks the brewhouse. They are also offering contract brewing and canning services.
Hey Joe wins gold at European Beer Challenge
Franschhoek brewery Hey Joe brought home gold medals for two of its beers at the European Beer Challenge. The brewery’s new session IPA took a double gold while the witbier, part of Hey Joe’s core range, took a gold medal. The annual competition, held in London, is judged by European buyers representing large retailers and importers. Judges assessed beers from 39 countries in the 2021 competition.
Durban Brewing opens new taproom at The Point
Durban Brewing Company moved into a sexy new taproom at the On Point Waterfront in central Durban late last year. The warehouse-like space features a number of pop up restaurants alongside the sizable taproom and has one of the best views of any brewery in SA. Check it out next time you’re in Durbs.
Swagga Breweries relocates to Henley on Klip
Swagga Breweries has moved from their industrial address in Alberton to vast premises in Henley on Klip, south of Johannesburg. Swagga on Route 59 is still in an industrial park, but once you’re inside the brewery you quickly forget. There’s a kids’ play area, popular pub food, live music on weekends and plenty of tables out on the lawn. The upstairs taproom overlooks the brewery and is open Tuesday to Sunday.
African Beer Cup gets record number of entries
This one is particularly special to me as co-founder of the competition. Last year’s comp had to be cancelled – like pretty much everything fun had to be last year – and I had no idea how many entries we would receive this year. We ended up smashing all our goals, with 210 entries from 12 different countries around the continent. A total of 67 medals were awarded, including 16 golds – check out the full results here. Despite a difficult year, the brewers supported the competition in part, I think, because they needed something to celebrate. We were lucky to be able to hold a small but fabulous awards evening in early June, where the brewers gathered to toast to each other’s successes.
Keep an eye on my Facebook and Twitter accounts for ways you can support the industry as it battles through this latest ban. And in the meantime, please share any celebratory stories that I’ve missed in the comments section below.