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Master brewer sees a fizzing future for African beer

Beermaker Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela (35) has big plans to develop the brewing industry in Mzansi

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The craft brewing industry boasts many passionate women who are shining in this male-dominated industry across Mzansi. But there is one jewel in the mix that is taking the industry by storm. Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela is South Africa’s first female black brewer to own a brewery and the first black African to obtain a master brewer qualification from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling.

With over twelve years of practical brewing experience, Nxusani-Mawela, raised in the small village of Mgomanzi, Eastern Cape, never imagined that she would one day hold this title.

For the 35-year-old, being known as the one who paved the way for aspiring brewsters is something she considers a privilege and honour.

“My career is no longer just about me and what I want. It’s about that little girl in the village who has big dreams. She needs to know that if she works hard and has passion for what she wants to pursue in life, anything is possible,” Nxusani-Mawela says.

Stumbling into her dream career

While her peers chose their careers, Nxusani-Mawela stumbled into hers. She was first intrigued by the science of beer making when she visited an open day at the University of Johannesburg, when she was in Grade 11.

After taking a trip home for an imcimbi (traditional ceremony), Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela started brewing a sorghum pilsner to celebrate Africa and promote traditional beer.
After taking a trip home for an imcimbi (traditional ceremony), Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela started brewing a sorghum pilsner to celebrate Africa and promote traditional beer.

“Because of my interest in science I went straight to the science faculty. On display they had a beer can that intrigued me. I wondered what beer had to with science, but they then explained it to me, and I was completely stunned,” she says.

After the open day Nxusani-Mawela did her research and was pleased when she discovered that by venturing into brewing she could be employed by SAB (South African Breweries). “Back then SAB was considered one of the most successful companies and paid well. My mind was set on doing a BSc Honours qualification in microbiology,” she explains.

After completing her BSc degree at the University of the Witwatersrand in 2005, Nxusani-Mawela completed her Honours in Microbiology from the University of Pretoria.

“I was busy mastering the art of Western brewing, while knowing nothing about what we as Africans have been brewing for generations.” – Nxusani-Mawela

She joined SAB in 2006 through the company’s graduate programme and underwent training for 18 months. The programme is designed to give graduates technical skills and experience, as well as to familiarise the trainee with SAB’s philosophies.

Nxusani-Mawela worked there for seven years, holding different positions within the giant brewing company, including brand brewer, brewing area manager and craft brewer.

The passionate brewster has also completed a diploma qualification in brewing and master brewing through the UK based Institute of Brewing and Distilling (IBD). Nxusani-Mawela was the first in Africa to obtain this qualification and in 2010, she also became the first in Mzansi to complete the National Diploma in Clear Fermented Beverages which she did through FoodBev SETA (Food & Beverages Manufacturing Sector Education and Training Authority).

“Imcimbi” sparks a new interest

Shortly after she started working at SAB, Nxusani-Mawela took a trip home for an imcimbi (traditional ceremony). Her father requested that she return home to give thanks to their ancestors for guiding Nxusani-Mawela on her educational and career path.

Spending time with her relatives back home and making traditional beer with her mother and aunts, Nxusani-Mawela realised something. “I was busy mastering the art of Western brewing, while knowing nothing about what we as Africans have been brewing for generations,” Nxusani-Mawela exclaims.

Apiwe with her head brewer, Yamkela.
Apiwe with her head brewer, Yamkela.

She then enrolled at the University of South Africa (UNISA) where she participated in their short course “Thought leaders for Africa’s renewal”. She did this through the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute (TMALI) in partnership with the Thabo Mbeki Foundation. The objectives of the course include advancing the African continent and contributing to the ongoing process of the development of leadership in Africa.

Nearing the completion of the course, Nxusani-Mawela found herself questioning her contributions in life. “My heart started beating for Africa and I wanted to contribute to the development of Africa within the brewing industry. I asked myself, how can I elevate Africa within my own space?”

Ready to become a leader in the industry, Nxusani-Mawelaml resigned from SAB to partner with Brewhogs Microbrewery, a brewpub in Johannesburg. She was both a co-owner and brewmaster.

Launching Brewsters Craft

In 2015 Nxusani-Mawela felt well-equipped to take her career on a solo path and started her company, Brewsters Craft, the first black female majority owned brewing company in South Africa. The brewery, based in Roodepoort, Johannesburg, is a contract brewing facility, offers accredited brewing training and quality testing services for anyone in the industry.

In her brewery, Nxusani-Mawela mainly employs women, who also oversee her lab. She believes that more women should take up space in the beer industry.

“It’s not just about getting more black women into the beer industry, but women in general.”  – Nxusani-Mawela

The first beer she brewed there was a sorghum pilsner. The beer celebrates Africa and promotes traditional beer. “It has the traditional taste and feel of umqombothi, but without it being thick,” she explains.

To educate people about traditional beermaking and the brewing industry at large, Nxusani-Mawela does talks at high schools to create awareness. “One of the reasons why few people end up in our industry is because they don’t know that it even exists. I want to change that,” Nxusani-Mawela exclaims.

Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela serves as the chairperson of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling (Africa Section) and chairperson of the Beer Association of South Africa. She also forms part of the board of directors for the Craft Brewers Association of South Africa.
Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela serves as the chairperson of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling (Africa Section) and chairperson of the Beer Association of South Africa. She also forms part of the board of directors for the Craft Brewers Association of South Africa.

Currently she serves as the chairperson of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling (Africa Section) and chairperson of the Beer Association of South Africa. She also forms part of the board of directors for the Craft Brewers Association of South Africa.

Nxusani-Mawela says that she looks forward to taking her business higher, while contributing to the development of Africa within the brewing community.

“So far, Brewsters Craft has launched over ten beer brands and I plan to launch much more in the coming years. We have to be seen as the home for the development of new generation beers.”

Duncan Masiwa
Duncan Masiwa
DUNCAN MASIWA is a budding journalist with a passion for telling great agricultural stories. He hails from Macassar, close to Somerset West in the Western Cape, where he first started writing for the Helderberg Gazette community newspaper. Besides making a name for himself as a columnist, he is also an avid poet who has shared stages with artists like Mahalia Buchanan, Charisma Hanekam, Jesse Jordan and Motlatsi Mofatse.
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