Let’s Make Beer Great Again

In July, Beerhouse branches in Johannesburg and Cape Town hosted The State of Beer: An Industry Review. It was an inclusive discussion with a panel of some of the best beer minds in the country and representatives from the industry all along the value chain.

Our industry is in a state of flux at the moment, with many challenges to its future growth. Questions of independence and divisions following macro acquisitions of micro; pending prohibitionist-style government legislation; lack of internal self-regulation and an uneducated market are all immediate threats to the beer industry that are not often discussed in open dialogue in a public forum. These events, held in conjunction with Beerhouse’s birthday celebrations, were aimed at creating a platform for constructive discussion and subsequent positive outcomes.  

Beerhouse has always championed the beer revolution and believes in inclusivity and transparency. We curate a beer menu that includes macro and micro beers and is committed to the education of the market. We are in a great position where we observe both macro and micro challenges to the market. The debates centred on whether macro and micro can actually work together for the betterment of the industry or if interests are divided. Discussion then moved on to challenges facing ‘craft beer’ in SA, including quality issues, market education, route to market, being too exclusive, current economic conditions and legislation.

The Johannesburg panel featured Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela, founder and owner of Brewster’s Craft, Alan Melville, partner and director of Red Rock Brewing, Eben Uys, owner and head brewer at Mad Giant and Danie Odendaal of Bearded Brew Consultancy and a former SAB brewer. In Cape Town the panel included Steve Miller, owner of Garagista Beer and former SAB Global Innovation Director, Wolfgang Ködel, brewmaster at CBC, Nick Smith, owner-brewer at Soul Barrel and On Tap editor Lucy Corne.

The audience included everyone from brewers to distributors to beer lovers, although the Cape Town turnout was poor and considering it’s home to the bulk of the country’s breweries it was something of an indictment on an industry desperately needing cohesion.

Some topics raised their heads repeatedly, particularly poor beer quality and a lack of curation from bars, restaurants and bottle stores. This was ultimately seen as the micro industry’s biggest threat along with the industry’s inability to cohesively lobby the government.  The theme of education was a common thread that spoke to brewers taking more time to upskill through various courses and sensory training, while a spotlight was also shone on the retail side’s lack of curation and understanding of the importance of the cold chain. It was suggested for future discussion that some of the nation’s biggest retailers would be included so a working relationship of mutual benefit could be initiated.

An open environment of skill and knowledge-sharing that also allowed for honest feedback amongst brewers was deemed essential. Both panels fielded questions from the audience on what the industry was doing to face these challenges and responded with a unanimous plea to support and actively engage with the newly formed Craft Brewers Association of South Africa (CBASA).

Questions were raised about a divided industry and that bigger microbreweries building portfolios by purchasing other brands and breweries is a concern. The panel unanimously responded that if quality is the yard stick then these ventures can only be good for industry.  

It’s a tough economy and the feeling is that it’s only going to get worse before it gets better. The industry will continue to go through challenges but open discussions like these will serve as being cathartic and ultimately lead to better cooperation and cohesion. We are current guardians of the world’s oldest and greatest beverage and it’s up to us to make beer great again.

This article was first published in On Tap Magazine. South Africa’s first dedicated beer publication is a quarterly magazine aimed at craft brewers, home brewers, beer fanatics and those just beginning to dip their proverbial toe into the mash tun

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