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Empowering women with South African beer
02:35 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

For more than a century, beer-making in South Africa has been dominated by South African Breweries (SAB), a subsidiary of multinational giant Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD). But now a growing movement of craft brewers is trying to get the nation’s drinkers to broaden their tastes.

“A blossoming craft beer sector enables startups to grow and gives the little guy a chance to help disrupt an industry that for decades has been controlled by one company,” says Nick Smith, chairman of Craft Brewers Association South Africa (CBASA). “We compete against the Goliaths by focusing on making amazing, innovative beer.”

A blossoming industry

Craft beer is brewed by small or independent breweries. It started to become popular in South Africa in 1983 with the opening of Mitchell’s Brewery in Knysna, in the Western Cape, says Smith. It really began to gain traction in the mid- to late 2000s and has “come on in a big way in the last five years or so,” says Smith, who is also founder of Soul Barrel Brewing Co.

According to Craft Brewers Association South Africa, there are more than 200 craft breweries in the country.

There are now around 215 craft breweries, according to CBASA. Still, craft beer accounts for just under a 1% share of the beer market in South Africa, Smith estimates.

South Africa “went from a handful of microbreweries dotted around the country prior to 2010, to suddenly taking an interest in craft beer,” says Brendan Hart, founder of Frontier Beer Co., a craft brewery established in 2016. “This meant an explosion of brands from garage brewing origins, some of these good, some of them bad, and not many with the packaging technology to present a beer well in retail and distribution channels.”

“Craft in South Africa is still quite small, but it does have its share of the market,” said Zoleka Lisa, vice president of corporate affairs at SAB. “Younger consumers are looking for alternatives.”

Health-conscious young people were also looking for low- or no-alcohol beers, prompting SAB in 2017 to launch Castle Free, the first alcohol-free beer to be brewed in South Africa, she adds.

Broadening tastes

One challenge for the craft brewers is to encourage South African drinkers to move away from lager, say Smith and Hart.

“South Africans are very lager familiar,” says Hart. “We like to pull people into the wider world of beer, to try new things and explore some of those styles that other countries are very familiar with.”

“There’s something for everyone,” Hart adds. “From the fruity, sour, spicy, malty, rich and dark. You try to let your product talk.”

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Craft beer is generally more expensive than the bigger brands. Because production costs can be around 10 times as high, says Hart, customers typically pay twice as much for a custom brew.

“In general, our biggest task is to educate the public on why craft beer and local breweries are amazing and worth paying more for,” says Smith. “Once people are exposed to the amazing world of beer, they never turn back.”

Anything you can brew, South Africa can brew better?

South Africa is the world’s 12th largest beer producer, according to the Beer Association of South Africa. The global craft beer market generated more than $38 billion in sales last year and is expected to grow 14% a year through 2023, according to market research company Orbis.

The global craft beer market  is expected to grow 14% a year through 2023

South African breweries are moving beyond styles influenced by the U.S. and Europe to make original beers drawing on local ingredients and beer culture, says Smith. Brewsters Craft, for example, makes one of its beers using sorghum grain, an ingredient found in many traditional African beers.

Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela set up Brewsters Craft with 8 million rand ($530,000) in 2015, having worked for SAB for seven years. It was the first black female majority owned brewing company in South Africa and has the capacity to produce 20,000 liters a month – although at the moment it’s only operating at half that level.

Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela.

“I felt that the South African craft industry was growing,” said Nxusani-Mawela. “I’m passionate about our continent and I’m passionate about what we can do in our continent.”

She is a passionate champion of women brewers. “I wanted to celebrate my Africanism. I wanted to celebrate women in brewing because historically, we’ve been making the beers,” says Nxusani-Mawela.

In August, to coincide with Women’s Month, SAB launched Bold Brew – a limited edition beer designed and brewed entirely by women. It was produced by Brewsters Craft, with Nxusani-Mawela overseeing the process.

“We want our category to embrace women in South Africa,” said Lisa. “Bold Brew was just saying, let’s celebrate women’s month and toast it with the beer.”