I am guilty of sometimes focusing on the negative when it comes to the South African craft beer industry. I have moaned about brewers not wanting to invest in training or equipment, grumbled about lazy contract brewing and rambled on and on about the perils of screwing up bottle conditioning. These posts are really meant to be constructive – they’re not written out of spite but out of frustration. Well I can happily say today’s post is not written out of frustration . It is Valentine’s Day, so here is my heartfelt love letter to the people of the South African craft beer industry, written out of admiration.
This is a young industry; young in every sense really. Craft beer has only been a thing in SA for eight or nine years and we are still finding our feet. It’s also an industry filled with young players: 20-somethings looking for a cool way to use their newly-acquired chemistry degrees, 30-somethings investing their life savings and their future kids’ varsity fund in their brewing venture, 40-somethings (yes, they’re young too) lucky enough to have the kind of partners who not only have great jobs, but don’t mind using their hard-earned salaries to fund their loved ones’ dreams. And a shout out of course to all the 50, 60 and 70-somethings who party harder than the 20-year-olds….
PASSION BEFORE PROFIT
It is an industry driven not by profit, but by passion, and as soon as you get out to a brewery, a beer event or best of all, a festival, you can sense that passion as soon as a brewer opens their mouth to speak. It’s no secret among my friends that I have been partying fairly hard of late. I’m about to turn 40 (told you 40-somethings were super young) and I guess it is in part kind of a mid-life crisis thing. But lately I’ve been feeling such a sense of pride and passion, of positivity and – I don’t know how to describe it – zest?? from the people of the beer industry that I just kinda want to hang out with them all the time. They’re awesome. You’re awesome.
Of course, gatherings tend to get merrier when there’s booze involved and there have been some very merry gatherings of late (CTFOB, the Southyeasters xmas bash, Soul Barrel’s Super Powered party and the Beer Country book launch spring instantly to mind). But it’s more than the cheery banter of a bunch of drunk mates. There is this wonderful sense of taking pleasure in other people’s accomplishments: “Shit my brewery hasn’t turned a profit in months, but here I am at the opening of your second successful taproom and I am truly, genuinely happy for you.” These are often people that haven’t even known each other for long, but the industry is a welcoming one and new arrivals quickly feel like they’ve been a part of it forever. At least, that’s how I hope it feels. (Industry newcomers – please confirm or contradict in the comments section).
In 2018, the doomsayers were readily sounding the death knell for SA’s craft beer industry. And I suppose they had some grounds for doing so. The torrent of new breweries slowed to a trickle, the number of closures gradually rose and there was an air of nervousness and negativity that I hadn’t sensed before. Then December arrived, bringing with it that December-like sense of goodwill and happiness – and that December-like sense of partying, of celebrating and just generally being magnificent.
THIS IS DECEMBRUARY
Suddenly, spirits lifted and they seem to have stayed that way through January and into a month I like to call Decembruary. Some call it the month of love, but I prefer to think of it as the month of beer. It kicked off in superb style with South African National Beer Day. I don’t know about you , but in the lead up to that day – and of course on the day itself – I felt an excitement, an energy usually reserved for those aged under 10 a week before Christmas. Beer lovers came together to laugh and drink beer and support each other’s small businesses and it was wonderful.
So let’s keep the Decembruary spirit going. Get out there and visit a new brewery, try a new beer. Go talk to a brewer, high-five a server, go hug a beer writer or send a cheery social media message to someone who has brightened your day with a good beer, whether they brewed it, served it to you or simply went to the bar and bought it for you. Let’s keep the beer love going this year and show those doomsayers that their death knells are of no use here.