One thing that I’ve been struck by time and time again is how few brewers in South Africa actually do it as a full-time job. For most, it’s a passion that, if they’re really lucky, might earn them a bit of beer money (for tasting the competition with). When he stepped away from the corporate world and threw everything he had into brewing, Jonathan Nel of Three Skulls Brew Works was realising a dream that many of us have. But alas, for now, the dream is on hold.
That’s not to say that the beers are on hold though. in fact, they’re going to be more available than ever. They’ll be brewed and bottled on a larger scale and distributed more widely, now that the two flagship beers (Gravedigger and Banshee) are being brewed under contract at Standeaven in Durban.
“Trying to operate a full time brewery that can produce beer, bottle and distribute is extremely difficult when you are trying to keep costs down and doing all the work yourself,” Jonathan told me. That, along with worries about consistency, distribution, quality and brewing enough beer to actually make a profit, led him to opt for the contract brewing route.
There’s quite a lot of snobbery when it comes to contract brewing, particularly in South Africa. It’s a topic I covered briefly here, though there’s probably a lot more to be said. Some think it gives an unfair advantage as these brewers don’t have the costs associated with operating a brewery, but for some, those costs are prohibitive and the only way to achieve the dream is buy contract brewing.
“Some might say I’ve “sold out” – this is entirely untrue!” says Jonathan. “Doing a contract brew will give me a lot of advantages up front and hopefully in time provide the funds to setup the brewery I know I need to make the impact I desire. Until then, our two core brands will be contract brewed and I will still make the interesting, experimental brews that have made the Skulls a name that resonates with innovation and pushing boundaries.”
The Gravedigger American Blonde Ale and Banshee Irish Red Ale will relaunch at SA On Tap this weekend, with bottles being released in Jozi the following week. Hopefully, Durban and Cape Town will follow in due course.
“Looking back,” says Jonathan, “I wouldn’t trade everything I’ve learned by doing it the hard way, but contract brewing is a win win for everyone!”
This post was originally published on The Craft Beer Project.