The rise (and rise!) of Mzansi’s craft beer movement

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Five years ago, the term “craft beer” could easily have been mistaken for a swear word or an upper-class sangoma’s attempt at making ginger beer. Since then, the industry has exploded with a brewery almost behind every hipster’s man bun – each bringing ranges of beers with the weirdest names, including “Durban Poison Cannabis Lager”, “Karma Citra IPA, or “Zero to Hero”. “Zero to Hero” is an alcohol-free pale ale, I’ll have you know. 

My own interest in craft beer started in 2011 when I named myself the “Kleurlingbierman” (“Coloured Beer Man”), simply because I didn’t see any other people of colour at craft beer gatherings. The name was chosen tongue-in-cheek, but also to make a statement. One that said, craft beer is inclusive.  

Ivor Swartz also known as Die Kleurlingbierman (Coloured Beer Man).
Ivor Swartz also known as Die Kleurlingbierman (Coloured Beer Man).

Today, that picture looks different despite some people’s reluctance to pay R55 for a coconut-infused Pale Ale brewed with South American hops. The industry brewers and drinkers are growing even though South Africans, black and white alike, are predominantly a lager-drinking nation. I mean, who can be disloyal to our beloved Zamalek – your 40-year-old unmarried uncle’s liquid courage – also known as Carling Black Label? That’s why it took the number one spot in the Beerhouse People’s Choice Awards 2018, alongside four other lagers in the top ten.

Soweto Gold, the first black-owned township brewery, opened the craft beer industry specifically, but not exclusively, to the non-white middleclass when they built their brewery in the heart of Soweto. Their slogan, “Born eKasi. Brewed for all”, speaks of the new era for craft beer they wanted to introduce to South Africans.

There’s also my friend, Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela, who is a craft beer brewing scientist, so to speak. She owns a laboratory where she offers training, testing, consultation, and even home brewing, to anyone in the industry. She’s a force to be reckoned with in brew science around the country.  

But for those of you who are still too sceptical to even try something other than Zamalek, let me introduce you to just three of my favourite beers around Mzansi.

Remember, the most exciting stories always start with, “Ah, screw it. Let’s do it. What’s the worst that could happen?”

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Devil’s Peak King’s Blockhouse (an India Pale Ale)

This has been a go-to beer for me since the beginning. I’m what is considered a “hop-head” in the beer industry. That is someone who prefers their beer to be loaded with hops, the ingredient responsible for bitterness in a beer. This beer is the full package: enough bitterness to not overwhelm you, but packed with bold flavours that make you ask for another one. And, with 6% alcohol volume, you’ll be “tanne nat” (sloshed) by the third one. 

Die Kleurlingbierman (Coloured Beer Man)
Perfect served ice-cold.

Mad Giant Electric Light (a Weiss)

I like this beer, because my wife loves this beer. She’s more obsessed with the strong banana-type flavours of the beer than anything else. It’s a light beer, not too high in carbonation, but having two straight after each other can make you feel like you’ve just finished a whole gatsby by yourself. That’s just plain greedy, bruh! With only 4.5% alc. volume, it’s a great entry craft beer for the sceptic. 

Impi Brewing Company Warrior (a Pilsner)

Impi Brewing is a new kid on the block, but already sports a few awards for their beer. I enjoy their pilsner, usually from the tap at their brewpub in the newest hipster area of Joburg, Victoria Yards. It’s as crisp as a lager but not as full as one and goes down extremely well with a bunny-chow or one of Impi’s amazing pizzas. 

There are many other great beers I could list. Look up the nearest craft brewery in your area, or find them at the next local beer festival. Not only will it will it change your perception of beer in general, but you will never want to go back to drinking uninspired bland beer again. The Kleurlingbierman guarantees you that! 

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