It’s been a couple of years in the making and last night Brewing the Republic, a feature-length documentary on the South African beer scene, was premiered at the Labia Theatre in Cape Town.
It was a perfect evening: glorious weather to mingle in the courtyard sipping on Newlands Spring brews, an impressive turnout of brewers, beer personalities and festival organisers and a thoroughly enjoyable 77 minutes spent watching Brewing the Republic on the big screen.
I’ve written already about the fact that 2018 was a tough year for microbreweries in South Africa and towards the end of the year we saw an increasing amount of in-fighting and bickering among brewers all desperately trying to keep their slender slice of the pie. It was the first time in the eight years that I have been involved in the industry that I started to feel like I wasn’t enjoying it so much any more; that I might actually step back and do a little less in the local beer scene and more time doing stuff that, y’know, actually earns some money. But I am rather thrilled to say that watching Brewing the Republic has restored my passion for the industry.
The documentary – directed by Roscoe Kleinloog and produced by Troye May – is perfect for beer beginners as well as those already involved or interested in the industry. It introduces around 40 brewers from across eight of the provinces (the opening credits said seven, but by my count only the Northern Cape was left out). It takes the viewer through the entire brewing process, starting with some sweeping shots of Caledon barley fields and meeting each ingredient in depth before detailing the brewing process, packaging, distribution and of course pouring (and sampling) the beer. There’s some beautiful camera work and while I am far from being a movie critic (Dodgeball and Dirty Dancing are two of my all time favourite films), I thought the editing was excellent.
But what I really enjoyed was the overwhelming air of cheeriness and positivity emanating from the screen. It was contagious. You really felt like these people love what they do and it made you want to get out there and try their beers. When I was writing African Brew and later Beer Safari, I had the great pleasure of travelling around the country meeting the brewers, but in the past couple of years I have become increasingly Cape-based and watching Brewing the Republic has inspired me to get out and visit the newer breweries around the country. Lucky then that I have an epic roadtrip planned next month (more on that later) and I am now particularly excited to visit Brewhaha in Jeffreys Bay. Brewhaha’s brewer-owner Marius Deetlefs emerged as one of the stars of the film, his contagious passion (and awesome accent) putting smiles on the faces of everyone in the room.
It wasn’t all sweetness and light. Most brewers gave an honest view of what it’s like to run a microbrewery in South Africa – the difficulties in sourcing affordable equipment, finding the finances, getting people to buy your beer. And there were a few slightly sad scenes featuring breweries that are no more, plus a rather awkward moment where one of the Mitchell’s team told us that the brewery had been in Knysna since 1983 and they planned to be there for another 100 years… (Mitchell’s ceased operations in Knysna last year and are now part of the Signal Hill portfolio, brewed in Epping, Cape Town).
Perhaps my favourite part was watching the brewing journey of the film’s director, Roscoe Kleinloog, from his rather questionable homebrewing techniques through the construction and launch of his KZN brewery, Happy Days. It’s right at the top of my to-visit list for 2019.
Once the film was over, the air of optimism continued and a highlight for me was chatting to the film’s cameraman, Schalk Hanekom and sound guy, Marius Retief. Freelance film makers who deal with all kinds of subject matter, the pair fell in love with the beer industry while filming Brewing the Republic. And I suspect many more will fall in love with local beer and its makers when they watch the film.