Early in September, I launched a new Facebook page. It’s something people in the industry had been discussing for a while and something that I somehow got involved in a few months back – the Gugulethu Craft Beer Festival. It began when I was contacted by Vuyani Blom, who told me he was an event organiser based in Khayelitsha.
Vuyani didn’t have much of a plan for the festival, but he seemed a nice guy with the beginnings of a good idea. He’d obviously done at least a little research to find me, and he knew a bit about some local breweries. After a few emails and calls and one face-to-face meeting, I agreed to come on board to help liaise with brewers, to give industry insight and to help promote the festival in return for a small cut of the ticket sales.
I began to contact Cape Town breweries I thought might be keen and we – of course – started a WhatsApp group to chat about the viability of the event, the initially exorbitant stand fees and whether or not to take the gamble. I tried to find out what I could about Vuyani Blom and learned that he had attempted to put on the Khayelitsha Wine Festival a year earlier. I couldn’t find any post-event write-ups, so began to ask a few wine contacts for their insight. Eventually, I was contacted by a winemaker who told me that the fest was cancelled and the exhibitors didn’t get their stand fees back. It was a huge red card, and I passed this info on to the brewers.
We decided to sit down with Vuyani and after meeting him and negotiating on the stand fees, the brewers were leaning towards doing the fest, despite a few misgivings. He showed us that he’d applied for the licence and after requesting a letter from the venue confirming they were on board, the brewers decided to ignore their doubts and follow their hearts.
You’re probably wondering why, and you’re probably thinking that we got what we deserved. But here’s the truth – the brewers involved dearly wanted the festival to be a success. It’s not the first time someone has tried to put on a craft beer fest in Gugs and while most of the brewers involved didn’t think Vuyani Blom was the best man for the job, he seemed genuine enough. So together we moved forward and officially launched what we hoped would be the first Gugulethu Craft Beer Festival.
The brewers went out of their way to help behind the scenes in a way that is not the norm. Usually, you pay your stand fee (in this case R2000) and other than a few social media posts, you expect the organiser to deal with pretty much everything else. But as I said, the brewers really wanted this thing to succeed, so they offered advice, they shared contacts, they found quotes for festival services and in the case of Hester Bergh from Beerworks, spent a lot of time developing some pretty sexy marketing materials.
I was working on getting the word out there – building the Facebook presence, sending out press releases and listing the event on different platforms. Vuyani Blom was tasked with sorting out the licence, arranging insurance and booking essentials like security, toilets and allotting a budget to promote the event. Sadly, it turned out that he wasn’t dealing with any of this.
Things fall apart
After a few weeks of worry, of continuing to push the event while waiting in vain for email responses or a marketing budget from Vuyani Blom, it became clear that he was not organising the event at all. No security or toilet suppliers had been booked, the venue, Mzoli’s Meat, hadn’t heard from him in weeks and he missed a crucial meeting with the municipality to secure the event licence.
We weren’t sure whether this was incompetence, disorganisation or whether this had been his plan from the start, but with two weeks to go and no licence or wristbands or cups or posters or the slightest idea who would check tickets or where people would pee, we had no choice but to cancel the event. Vuyani agreed and cancelled the event with Computicket, and those who had bought tickets got a refund. The brewers however, were not so lucky. While Vuyani has apologised to the brewers, he has admitted that he has spent their money and cannot refund them. This is the money that should have been used for the festival infrastructure, making it clear that he had little intention of actually putting on the festival.
Some research after the fact – and yes, I wish I had done more research earlier – shows that Vuyani Blom trades under a number of companies, including Blom Investment Company, Lazy Media, Dream Concerts, Inaba PR and The Live Group. I have no idea how many times he has done this or if we as the craft beer industry are his second victim or his seventieth, but in writing this post I sincerely hope no-one else, regardless of their industry, is duped by him again.
But that is not my only goal in writing this. One great thing at least has come from this – a demonstration that there is a real desire for a kasi craft beer festival in Cape Town. And this is from both brewer and consumer. As I said, the brewers ignored their misgivings out of a deep desire to see this thing succeed. There are two reasons for this: first, brewers of course want to expand their reach and to tap into a potentially huge market – let’s face it, there’s a limited number or man-bun-wearing hipsters you can sell craft beer to, and half of them are moving onto kombucha anyway.
But it wasn’t just about selling more beer. Some of the breweries involved are tiny and don’t distribute further than their own taproom, but they still dearly wanted the festival to succeed. Let’s be honest, craft beer has a diversity problem and we’d all like to see it go away. It’s not an inherently exclusive industry – I’ve met some of the best people I know through craft beer and they’re a welcoming bunch. But it’s uncomfortable and weird to be in a majority white industry in a majority black country and it’s something we would all love to see changed. The Gugulethu Craft Beer Festival would have been a small step in making that change.
Ticket sales were slow for the event, but it turns out a lot of people planned to come. Since we announced the cancellation of the festival, I have been contacted by a number of disappointed folk, some of them asking when they can expect a kasi beer fest, others wanting to work together to put on a successful event. I don’t want this post to focus on the negative, so let’s end on a high. I don’t know if I will be involved in it, but I want to confidently predict that there will be a craft beer festival in Gugs – or Khayelitsha or Langa or somewhere else in the area – by the end of 2020.
And for now, can I ask you to support your local brewery, particularly those that were burnt in this sorry tale. A couple of grand is a big deal to a fledgling start-up, and as we come out of a long and difficult winter for craft beer, even the larger breweries are struggling. So buy a beer – or cider, or mead – from Old Potter’s, Little Wolf, Shields, Stellies, Darling, New Age, Everson’s, Beerworks or Melaurea and raise a glass to their positivity, their passion and their desire to grow this little thing called craft.