It was bound to happen. The mighty SAB is wading into the broad category of “craft beer” and going to be making ales at their No3 Fransen Street Brewery (which was previously used as a test brewery for their very talented brewers to experiment with other styles), and embracing the opportunity to make a variety of beers. There is a market for it, even if it’s tiny compared to that of good old fashioned lager. In light of their lager sales, SAB didn’t really have to get involved in making ales; but they are, and the SA beer scene will be better for it. The more the merrier after all (especially if everyone’s drinking beer). Three types of Weiss are in the pipeline – Krystal, Dunkel and Honey, along with a Cream Ale, Irish Red Ale and an IPA. Add to that three dark beers including a Porter and you have a large, interesting variety of ales that will help grow the beer category in SA immensely.
By describing their beers as speciality, SAB cleverly circumnavigate the murky waters of “craft”. In their own words, “Each batch is brewed to create tastes that are unique, individual and completely lacking in ordinariness”. Not sure what this says about their core range of lagers, but a lack of ordinariness is always a good thing.
SAB is also eager to create a craft image for their brewery. “In a typical suburb, on a regular street, lies no ordinary brewery. A small batch brewery dating back to 1998, a brewery that was designed with speciality beer in mind, way ahead of its time.” Well not entirely true – Lex Mitchell and crew were brewing up English “speciality brews” since 1982. Yes that’s right – lagers come from supersonic brewery cities that churn out millions of hectolitres while ale is made in small batches in a leafy suburb. Well isn’t that romantic! Such notions have captivated South Africa, and thanks to the Beer Spring we have a lot more beer lovers today than we’ve ever had, with a massive variety of styles to choose from.
It’s worth noting that SAB’s No3 Fransen Street isn’t under-cutting other micro-breweries (as I’m sure they could) with their indomitable economies of scale. They politely suggest the beer be sold at R40. Taking into mind how much it costs to buy in, it is decently positioned. Remember you can get micro-brewed pints of beer at Beerhouse from R25 to R60 so they fit comfortably in the middle. This proves the naysayers wrong – brewers and outlets really don’t rip beer lovers off, ok most don’t there is always bad apples. Good beer isn’t cheap to make and like everything in life quality must come at some cost.
“Craft beer” is a highly subjective phrase, and has caused quite a stir in the last few years in South Africa. For one thing, the word craft is emotive; for another, where exactly does one stop when it comes to classifying it? Must a true craft brewery cultivate its own hops and barley, malt the barley, mill it all, and use cultivated yeast and naturally carbonate? Not many breweries can claim to do this in SA, if any. The words macro and micro are more suited to describing beers’ origins. Using “commercial” to describe macro breweries is nonsense. They’re all commercial. Only those home brewers who share a pint amongst friends with no exchange of money are non-commercial.
Moreover, the word “craft” is often confused with variety. The great variety available to us in SA at the moment is due to the revived interest in ale. Lagers and more specifically SAB lagers have dominated the SA beer landscape for over a century. SAB are a very successful business and for good reason. They make refreshing, cold, “hot country” lagers and they are consistent. Recently people have tried to manufacture a false dichotomy: if you drink “craft” then you don’t drink SAB. In fact, to prove that you are a “craft” beer lover, it’s required that you say nasty things about SAB and pull a face like you’ve just smelt a 30 day-old sandwich in your forgotten lunch box. Just because you drink “craft” beer does not mean you have been ordained with a higher purpose and set on a path of beer evangelism to rescue the non- believer Castle Lite drinkers. Each to their own – let them drink what they enjoy and don’t let it offend you! It’s for the individual to explore the wonderful variety in beer and settle on what suits them.
Welcome No3 Fransen Street to the beer revolution. We look forward to tasting your brews. Proof is in the pudding… and we love pudding!