Over the past few years, many have tried putting together beer indabas in South Africa – I was most excited a year or so ago to receive an invite to speak at the same lectern as Stone Brewing’s founder Greg Koch. But alas, most of these conferences have ended up disappearing into oblivion and SA has remained, shall we say, Kochless.
But next month – well, next week actually if you want to be pernickety about it – another major American beer name will land in Johannesburg to speak at Beer Boot Camp, South Africa’s first beer indaba. John Palmer, author of the homebrewers’ bible, How to Brew, is the headline speaker at the one-day conference, to be held near OR Tambo airport on July 4th. I chatted to the event organiser, Wendy Pienaar to get a bit of boot camp background.
Brewmistress: Where did the Boot Camp idea come from?
Wendy Pienaar: I first got the idea last year when we were looking for an event to go to where beer enthusiasts and brewers could get together and share ideas, get a bit of education and have fun with likeminded people. Looking online I was blown away by the conferences held overseas, it was just the type of event I wanted to attend! Locally we have plenty of beer fests and brewing club meetings, both are good in their own right but neither ticked all the boxes, so I decided to go head and organise one myself.
BM: What made you want to set up a conference like this in South Africa?
WP: Unfortunately our Rand is not kind and travelling to a conference of this sort overseas, especially with all your mates, is just out of the question. Also the craft industry in SA is still really small. We need events that stimulate the industry; inspire brewers, encourage new breweries and get people to always choose beer as their drink of choice.
BM: Who was on your wishlist for the conference?
WP: John Palmer and Dr Brad Smith were my first go-to people. I love reading up about brewing and John’s books were often where I ended up. I love the way he speaks to brewers like me, who don’t really want to wade through the science to get the answer. Brad was also an easy choice, his podcasts are so informative and he has a great natural way of presenting. I know many a beer enthusiast who looks forward to his next podcast!
BM: Was it easy to get John Palmer to agree?
WP: Before I spoke to John I really did some homework so when I chatted to him I already had most of the programme and other event details set up. I didn’t want to look like we were going to waste his time. We chatted a bit online and he is really a great guy. I was thrilled when he agreed to come out and I think he’s really excited about his first trip to Africa.
BM: What is Brad Smith’s involvement?
WP: Brad would have loved to come out as well but his family always go away for the 4th July celebrations. He has sent us a great presentation he filmed, and he has also done a bonus video answering some of the questions delegates sent through to me earlier in the year.
BM: Are you aiming the indaba more at homebrewers, craft brewers or both?
WP: The indaba is aimed at bridging the gap between homebrewers, craft brewers and beer enthusiasts. At the end of the day we all love good beer and that is the most important thing!
BM: Do you plan for Beer Boot Camp to become an annual thing?
WP: Yes, I would love to do this every year and maybe add a Cape Town leg on as well. I already have a wishlist of people I’d love to have as presenters next time around!
BM: Any hints as to who that might be?
WP: Well, I wouldn’t want to give much away, but Randy Mosher is top of my list! We will probably look to Europe as well, next time around.
BM: What are you most looking forward to?
WP: I’m looking forward to meeting John, I’m in a lucky position to be showing him some South African sights before and after the conference. And of course I’m looking forward to the beer! We have been very lucky to get some great sponsors for beer and there will be plenty to drink.
BM: What would you like to see happen in the South African craft beer scene over the next five years?
WP: I would like to see more of a sense of community between brewers who work together to improve the industry as a whole. A craft beer in every pub and restaurant across the country. More breweries brewing flavours specifically to suit what their local communities enjoy. More people supporting their local brewery and more people choosing to drink beer!
There are still a few tickets left for the conference. Head on over to the Beer Boot Camp website for all the details.
Over to you…
I’ll be lucky enough to sit down for a quick chat with John Palmer while he’s here in South Africa and want to know what YOU would like to ask him. Please post your question suggestions in the comments section and I’ll pose them to John on July 4th.