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A plea to South African brewers

'What makes that craft beer better than this craft beer?'

by: Martin Tucker - The Beer Merchant | 16 Jul 2013

Many years ago, beer (mainly lager) was the drink of choice of pretty much all (drinking) South Africans.

We drank it at braais, after exercise, whilst watching sport and socially in pubs, shebeens or at home. This was all alongside our massive wine industry in South Africa.

Then wine became something more. Wine farms started popping up and the usual, simpler offerings of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc was being replaced by wooded Chardonnays, Bordeaux blends and vine ripened, cold-picked Semillons.

The same thing is happening in the beer category in South Africa.

From 1 to 40 in 4 years

From having 1 relatively well known microbrewery - Mitchells - to having at least forty popping up over the last four years, we are well on our way to establishing an alternative and large offering in our venues and bottle stores.

What this means though (as it is with the wine industry in my opinion),  is spreading itself a little thin.

"What makes that craft beer, better than this craft beer?" This  is a question often heard. And not easily answered.

The answer is that to some people, it’s the label and design, to some it’s the bottle and packaging, to others it’s the taste and to some its even as far gone as they once tried that style of beer on holiday overseas and ended up with a beautiful girl whose name they can’t remember.

As it stands in SA

But as it stands now in SA, none of these breweries can be too picky as they need the business, no matter how exclusive they want to be.

To make all these breweries worthwhile financially for their owners, they should actually do the complete opposite to the wine industry and that’s look after the man in their street, their neighbour.

Keep it local

They need local support, when saying local, I mean really local, as in the people in the direct area of the brewery, the restaurants around it and the bottle stores too.

For too long, some of our wine farms have tried to replicate wines from overseas so they can sell overseas, they’ve priced themselves out of the market with locals on others and because of this, many wine farms aren’t profitable in South Africa.

Do we want breweries to go the same way?

Why not make a spicy, dry, bitter beer that’s a variation on an India Pale Ale called an African Pale Ale, let the beer nerds from America categorise that for their BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Programme) manuals instead of a style that is not to everyone’s palate but a few real “hopheads”?

Why not make a Weiss Beer with local wheat and maybe change the flavour profile slightly, instead of saying SA wheat isn’t good enough or doesn’t compare to German varieties?

Most craft breweries in SA these days are importing all or most of their raw materials, machinery, tanks and even staff, leading to huge overheads.

Massive overheads = expensive beer which could cost you lots of local customers who don't have the extra money to try out the new, pricy beers.

In my opinion, your customers are more important than making sure your beer is in every bottle store and restaurant in the country, as you may have ended up losing a local, loyal beer lover, for life.

Come on guys, let's make it local.

What do you think of the craft beer industry in SA?

Read more on: breweries  |  beer  |  south africa  |  craft beer

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