This is South Africa, home of rooibos and indeed, the only place where it grows naturally (or even at all?) So the question “Can I put rooibos in my beer?” seems a silly one. The answer though, depends on what you mean by “can”. Are you physically able to chuck some rooibos into the boil, or throw a bit into the secondary fermenter? I’m sure you are – the stuff is easy to get hold of and adding some to a brew isn’t too tricky. But it by “can” you’re asking for permission, then the answer might just be “no”.
There was a bit of Twitter chatter last week about this article on IOL news. Could it be true that a company had patented the act of using rooibos in any alcoholic beverage? Or was it the process that was patented rather than the ingredient. I contacted Red Dawn IP Holdings to clarify.
The initial response I got was confusing, but after trying to understand the patent (it’s here, if you care to read and decipher) I got the following statement from Trevor Strydom of Audacia, one of the wineries that owns Red Dawn (the other is KWV):
“If any brewery is interested in brewing commercial beer using the patented recipes and processes in South Africa or in any of the other 83 countries where we have pending patent applications worldwide, we would be only be too happy to meet with them to discuss patent licensing.
Licensing will occur taking into account that there is currently an ‘explosion’ of craft breweries springing up all over South Africa, as has already occurred in many other countries throughout the world. History and hindsight showing that most of them will not be financially viable over the medium to long term. We will eventually have a shakeout, as has already occurred in other countries, with a few regionally based well run craft breweries surviving. These are the Breweries we are interested in licensing.
It is for this reason that we would like to meet all potential “Licensees” on a ‘face to face’ basis in order to engage them in meaningful discussions around their business strategy and business plan. We will also need to understand each other’s business ethos, ethics and values to ensure we can work together. From our side we would want to get to grips with the Brewers ability to produce a high standard of licensed quality products on a constant basis.
In summary our approach is to only grant licenses to Breweries who demonstrate that they have the ability to produce and distribute top quality ‘licensed’ products on a consistent basis.”
The patent also covers honeybush and for the record, Stellenbrau, who are brewing Governor’s Red Lager (a rooibos infused lager) are brewing under licence from Red Dawn – it’s not them that’s stopping any other brewers from joining the red party. Considering they published this on their blog in June, I can understand why people were confused. The line “We believe so much in the Governor that we went to the extent of patenting the recipe to ensure that we will be pushing him to new boundaries amongst South Africans and beyond” is pretty misleading and turns out to be completely false. It’s not Stellenbrau that hold the patent, nor is the patent for a specific recipe.
The thought occurs that there are already a few breweries utilising rooibos in their beers and were doing so before the patent was filed. Do they have to stop or pay for a licence to brew the beers they were already brewing? It seems likely. Homebrewers though, can continue chucking all the fynbos that want to in their brew.
My two cents: South African microbrewers are trying to do something different something that sets their beers aside from international styles by adding the likes of buchu and rooibos to their brews. Is it necessary to prohibit the use of certain ingredients in the beer? Is it really to preserve the good name of rooibos? Or is it, perhaps, to make some cash out of a small, burgeoning industry of passionate brewers struggling to make a name in South Africa… ?
What are your thoughts?