Craft Beer South Africa

Something to sip on, the South African craft beer scene

By Hugh Upsher

As a country obsessed with barley, malted hops and yeast, the craft beer explosion was inevitable for South Africa. The stuff literally pumps though our veins. When Brewers & Union introduced their R40 beers to the market over ten years ago, people scoffed, but scoffing was soon followed by sipping, and the rest is fermented history. 

Is craft beer just a fad or a trend?

The first thing to note is how craft beer has always been available in South Africa. There has been a definite boom in popularity, but these new breweries are only a result of South Africa finally catching up to fellow beer-obsessed nations overseas. The revolution has only begun, and there is no going back. Expect more products to continue trickling into liquor stores and bars near you.

Different doesn’t necessarily mean better

As with the wine and whiskey industry, variety is a key element to the appeal. Now that South Africans have finally hung up their lager-centric beer hats, they are free to explore the colourful zoo that is the beer kingdom. Imagine living your entire life eating Coco Pops for breakfast and then one day you’re exposed to the entire cereal aisle at the supermarket for the first time. You may spend a few months trying out the Frosties and Froot Loops, and sure it will be fun, but nothing you try will be able to take away from how great Coco Pops are. The stout, weiss, IPA, amber ale, pale ale and pilsner will all need testing – but remember that no beer is better than another. They all have their time and place.

Higher price doesn’t necessarily mean better

The price tagged onto a beer rarely says much about the quality of the beer itself. The price has way more to do with the logistics and the economics of getting that beer to where you live. A microbrewery's product has to be expensive because they produce such small quantities. An imported beer is expensive because it had to be shipped 9000km before the price tag could even be placed on it. Some beers need to pay royalties to rock bands who pimp themselves onto the labels. None of these elements have anything to do with the taste. Long story short, do not associate the price of a bottle with the quality of the liquid inside it.

Will craft beer kill the SAB?

No need to stress this one. I can assure you that the South African Breweries is doing just fine. Anything that gets people interested and excited about beer is a positive for them. They have even gone so far as to organize certain beer festivals where their products aren’t the headline acts. It’ll take more than a handful of snobby inner-city bars and fancy craft beer glasses to shake up the Goliath that is SAB.

So next time you’re at the bar or bottle store and thinking about which beer will impress your friends the most, or which has the prettiest label – simply try not to think too much about it. Whether you’re a connoisseur or a novice, the bottom line comes down to personal taste. No amount of flashy design or kooky backstory can make up for a great tasting beer.