‘Mzansi craves black-owned craft beer and wine’

Covid-19-related restrictions have ruined many craft beer and wine businesses, but it also gave birth to a new wave of consumers seeking black-owned alcoholic products. Brewmaster Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela believes this could revive the tattered industry

Mzansi alcohol lovers are increasingly embracing craft beer and wine produced by black owners. Photos: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Mzansi alcohol lovers are increasingly embracing craft beer and wine produced by black owners. Photos: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Remember in 2016 when all the SABC radio stations committed to playing 90% local music? This was seen by many as turning point for the industry as we celebrated #localislekker and #supportlocal. Sadly, the hype was short-lived.

Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela is a well-known craft brewmaster. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

In just a few months things were back to normal and stations went back to their usual playlist routines. As unfortunate as this was, to me it proved that South Africans were actually open and really interested in authentic, homegrown products and experiences. This being music, food, fashion and beverages. 

When I started Brewster’s Craft Brewery in 2018, I wanted to create a platform where black-owned brands would come to life and exist. During our year and bit of operations – before having to close down due to Covid-19 restrictions – we were brewing for more than ten black-owned craft beer and cider brands.

The interest was definitely growing with queries received daily from other alcohol and non-alcohol brand owners. From where I was sitting, the future looked bright for Mzansi’s beverage industry.

We had more curious consumers and entrepreneurs daring and innovative enough to want to actively participate within the alcohol industry. Unfortunately, as we all know, the pandemic together with all the various government-imposed alcohol bans happened. We all know what happened thereafter. 

A new wave of craft consumers

On the positive side, though, the alcohol bans got many people interested in home-brewing. I remember getting calls from people whom I never thought of as “typical” home brewers, calling to check which yeast to use and what temperature to leave their brews at.

This created a new wave of curious consumers who had come to learn that beer can be anything else other than the well-known commercial brands.

After the lockdowns, this group of consumers went out looking for new craft beers or wanted to start their own brands.

2021 was an interesting year for the industry with regards to introducing black-owned brands to consumers while forging relations among brand owners. In March last year we started with Wine of Colour, an event organised by Wine of Colour SA, a non-profit company that aims to address diversity issues within the wine industry.

The event, which was very well attended, saw 12 black-owned wine brands come together to showcase their great offerings. Participating brands included Mbali Wines, SeNa Wines, J9 Wines, Tshimologo Wines, Mkonti Wines, African Sips, AO Legacy, Siya Wines, Awali Wines, Kunjani Wines, Lucky Wines and Billion Wines. 

Later in 2021, in October, we had the Blacktoberfest organised locally by Brew4Change, a non-profit with a similar transformation and diversity mission within the beer industry. Taking from a concept started by Black Brew Culture in the US, this event saw black-owned beer brand owners come together in South Africa and simultaneously in North Carolina and Los Angeles to showcase and celebrate their brews.

In South Africa, we were hosted by TheBoxShop Lifestyle on Vilakazi Street, Soweto. In attendance were Pitori Craft Beer, Mohope Craft Beer, 1632 Crafts, Bosso, First15 Brewhouse, Halwa Premium Craft, Tolokazi Craft Beer plus our special Blacktoberfest limited edition Vienna Lager. 

Blacktoberfest went on to be voted as one of the favourite things to happen for the industry at the Capital Craft Beer Awards 2021. It was also voted as the second best festival in the country at The Brewmistress South African Beer Awards 2021.

Inspired by the US event, black South African brewmasters participated in their own version of Blacktoberfest in October 2021. Photo: Supplied/Blacktoberfest

Inclusive wine and beer brands

We ended off the year with the Touch Local Craft Festival, an event organised by owners of The Granary in Gqeberha, Eastern Cape. The event saw the best coverage of black-owned alcohol brands under one roof. 

The wine industry was represented by House of Mandela Wines, Thembelihle Wines and Lavo Wines. The beer industry was represented by Royal Waash Beer, Tolokazi Craft Beer, First15 Brewhouse and Bay Genuine Draught. The gin industry was represented by Kem Gin, Kwande Craft Gin and Soulicto Gin.

It was not well attended, but the event proved to be exactly what the industry and South Africans needed.

I hear there is already a Joburg leg planned for April this year. 

These events have, unfortunately, received some backlash from other members of the community for being seen to be exclusively targeting only a certain group of people. Talking to organisers of all three events, one thing that keeps clearly coming through is that these are not meant to exclude anyone but to celebrate the few black-owned brands in the industry.

It also creates platforms where not only consumers but retailers can become aware of these brands. 

Here’s hoping that in 2022 we get to see more of these events being embraced by all South Africans. 

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