Until recently, craft beer was considered the tipple of choice for hipsters and hopheads only. However, with the growing number of local craft breweries, it seems that even South Africa has caught up with the international craft beer boom. Beer is often considered a cheaper, mass-produced threat to wine, but there seems to be many who believe that craft beer can actually work with wine, not against it.

The craft beer boom can be seen all around the world, with reports suggesting an “explosion” of this trend from Sweden and the USA, to Canada and China. While the US experienced an overall drop in their beer market, an article by Decanter suggests that craft beer continues to rise, having grown by 9.6% in 2013. By June last year, around 2 530 craft breweries were operating in the US, with the overall volume and spending on craft beer continuously rising. Although still small by comparison, growth on the local front is undeniable. It is estimated that within the past four years, the country went from having one micro-brewery (Mitchell’s) to more than 40 and counting!

An article on CNN.com, Forget the wine, South Africans thirsty for craft beers, explains that while South Africa has always had a strong beer culture, consumers have traditionally opted for massproduced products by South African Breweries (SAB). As a subsidiary of SABMiller, SAB is the world’s second-largest brewer, accounting for approximately more than 90% of the local beer market.

According to Liquor consumption patterns in South Africa, an article by Elias Holtzkampf, beer made up 54.1% of the market share in South Africa in 2012/2013 in terms of value, a slight increase since 2006/2007. This increased value share, although small, was mostly ascribed to growth in the premium beer sector.

So, what is craft beer

With the growing economic importance and impact of craft beer, it is no wonder that the wine industry has also become involved, with an increasing number of wineries expanding their offering to include a micro-beer or three, some even completely trading grapes for grains!

When it comes to craft or micro-brewing, it seems that anything goes and there are no rules! However, this makes defining the concept of a ‘craft beer’ a rather complicated matter.

Wikipedia explains craft beer as “a beer not brewed by a mega brewery or alcoholic beverage corporation”. In an article by Martin Tucker, called What is craft beer, he explains that a craft beer should meet the following criteria: “Good ingredients, good brewing standards, good packaging and pricing, made in small
batches and not always freely available.”

According to Lynnae Endersby, founder of BeerLab in Ndabeni, Cape Town is a supplier of brewing equipment and ingredients for craft beers are brewed by passionate individuals, who often started out as home brewers. “These brewers make much smaller batches of beer and are usually very creative,” she says.

Winemaker, brewmaster or both

Considering the many similarities between wine and beer, as well as the interest shown by winemakers, does it follow that winemakers will be good brewmasters

A German winemaking intern at Steenberg Vineyards, Maximilian Grimm, studied Bachelor of Science in beverage technology at Geisenheim usually better known as a winemaking tertiary institute. He explains that a brewery is not comparable to a winery and a winery is not comparable to a brewery. “You need different machines and knowledge you need to be a professional in eacharea,” he says.

On the other hand, Lynnae believes that anyone can make beer, as long as you follow certain basic guidelines “you should work clean and be aware of temperature control”.

Mark Goldsworthy is a new kid on the local brewing block, a winemaker turned brewer, who was until last year, the assitant winemaker at Edgebaston. Mark and his wife, Kelly, launched their own beer brand, Red Sky Brew, at the end of 2013, ironically under the company name Winemaker’s Club. “It all comes down to the actual crafting and experimenting using quality ingredients, it’s an art form!” he says.

The craft beer boom can be seen all around the world, with reports suggesting an “explosion” of this trend from Sweden and the USA, to Canada and China.

Jacques Conradie, winemaker at Karusa in Oudtshoorn, also entered the craft beer scene two years ago. He initially started experimenting with brewing as a side-line, to keep busy during the quiet times of the year, but also due to the hot climate and the many European visitors that know and enjoy craft beer. Brothers Rob and Chris Boustred of Remhoogte started brewing on a very small scale with friends, but recently launched the Wild Beast label. They explain that while Remhoogte is more traditional, Wild Beast affords them an opportunity to get wacky and really let off some creative steam. “We wanted to diversify by offering beer and wine, hoping to bring more feet into the tasting room,” says Rob

While anyone can surely try their hand at brewing, consistently making great beer is a whole different story; this is where the craft comes into play. And although it certainly helps to have the technical winemaking background, there are also some workshop-like courses available locally. BeerLab, Beerguevara and the Winemaker’s Club offer brewing classes, while they also stock home-brewing kits and various ingredients. There are, however, no ‘scientific’ degrees or diplomas
in South Africa yet. A newly launched two-year Science of Brewing programme at a university in British Columbia in Canada is believed to be one of only a handful of beer brewing courses in the world.

Beer versus wine

When it comes to offering more than wine, most will agree that Charles Back is the pioneer, especially with the new Spice Route destination, which offers everything from glass and chocolates, to biltong and beer. Charles initially got involved with brewing by supplying beer for the Jack Black brand. This eventually
led to the establishment of the Cape Brewing Company (CBC).

With CBC, their intention was to be a small micro-brewery, but Charles explains that they reached their three-year target within the first six months. “There are a lot of new craft beer brands in South Africa, but not enough brewing capacity to supply the market,” he says. “We combine the quality of craft beer, with more technology on a larger scale, creating a product that is more consistent than those of the small-scale brewsters.”

Although there is the perception that beer holds a threat to wine, Charles believes that craft beer leads the way to wine. Beer was always considered their “enemy” and no beer was sold at the Goatshed restaurant until 2010. Charles explains that with the soccer world cup hosted in South Africa, they went with the flow and started stocking beer for the first time.

“You can’t force wine down people’s throats and you also can’t always substitute other products with wine,” he says “We gave the visitors what they wanted and surprisingly, the wine sales also increased!”

“Beer is always going to be around and we decided that we might as well have a slice of the action. Although there is a relatively limited selection of craft beers at the moment, this will continue to grow. I think these products will rather take from SAB’s market share and not threaten wine.”

Group sommelier of Belthazar restaurant in the V&A Waterfront, James Pietersen, also believes that while there is competition, craft beer does not pose a real threat to wine, especially when compared to medium and higher quality wines. “The more people start to think about what they drink, the easier it is for them to understand wine, especially as they trade up,” he says. “The craft movement is changing the perception of beer to an artisanal angle, these are ultimately the beers for winemakers, wine drinkers and wine tasters.”

Abundance of beer styles

Although the mass-produced local lagers have been synonymous with the South African lifestyle for many years, there is more to beer than that! With origins from all around the world, other styles include pilsners, porters, stouts, bitters, lambics and amber ales. Most local craft brewers, however, take their influence from Belgium and the USA, with pale ales and IPAs (India pale ale) notable favourites.

In general, any beer can be classified into one of two categories, namely lagers and ales. Lagers are normally fermented with bottom-fermenting yeast at lower temperatures for longer, making it a difficult beer to brew on small-scale. Ales are generally brewed using top-fermenting yeast at a higher temperature, for shorter periods of time, these are more popular for micro-brewing.

Mark produces amber and red ale, the amber is a lighter, American-style beer, while the red is a darker, Irish-style beer. These are both produced within four weeks from grain to glass. Aside from these ‘normal’, popular styles, Mark also produces a gluten-free beer, the first and only in South Africa. It is made from
sorghum and maize and while it has less body and mouthfeel, it is very aromatic.

Red Sky Brew is furthermore also involved in the production of a Pinotage-beer, made for Mr Pinotage himself, Beyers Truter. Beyers explains that this was the combined result of his interest in craft beer and the desire to further expand their Pinotage portfolio. A small portion of Pinotage wine is added during the production process. This Pinot-ale is sold at the tasting room and restaurant and according to Beyers, it should be enjoyed ice cold and with food.

Adding wine to beer isn’t that far-fetched, though according to The Drinks Business, a trend is developing in the US for craft beers to be made using grapes and spent lees. Locally, Triggerfish brewery in Somerset-West also offers a beer-wine hybrid.

Compared to Germany’s brewers, who have to adhere to the strict Reinheitsgebot von 1516, or purity law, which only allows the use of malt, water and hops, the rest of the world seems to know no end to creating new styles and using interesting ingredients.

A tough sell

With this expansion of styles and brands worldwide, competition is getting tougher and in an attempt to stand out, brewers are increasingly using imaginative, striking and even humorous names and labels. This can also be seen in South Africa, with brands such as Wild Beast, Red Sky Brew, Triggerfish, Jack Black and the Inconsistent Brewery.

While certain restaurants, liquor stores and festivals; such as Beerhouse on Long, Roeland Liquors and the Constantia Craft Beer Project festival focus specifically on craft beer, the overall involvement by restaurants is believed to be rather slow.

Chris explains that craft beer is a hand-sell and while the demand is there, a lot of restaurants are not familiar with these ‘new’ products. Mark emphasises that particularly wine farm restaurants need to buy in: “they need to be more openminded; like wine, these craft beers can also be paired with food.”

One problem is consumer ignorance and with craft beer, it is important to educate the end-users. A bottle-conditioned beer is generally unfiltered and according to Mark, it should be stored upright in the fridge before drinking, not lying down, and should be poured slowly, without stirring up the yeast.

Craft beer should never be drunk out of the bottle, but rather poured into a beer glass. Austrian stemware specialist Spiegelau recently launched a range of glasses tailored specifically for beer to their conventional range of predominantly wine glasses, aiming to get the most out of a particular beer’s characteristics. Craft beer can be bottle-aged, but it should be kept in mind that although these beers have a longer shelf-life, the character will change in time.

Trendspotting

There are many opinions on the future of craft beer. Jacques explains that it is the trend at the moment, “but, the question is, when will micro-beer become just another drinks commodity, sold at discounted prices” he says.

James agrees, saying that he gets the feeling that the trend will quickly reach a saturation point, with breweries competing in a tough market, creating an even more cut-throat environment than is experienced now.

However, others are more confident and Lynnae believes that this trend is going to keep growing. “Consumers’ palates are developing; they want a product that is unique and different, made locally, on small-scale and with lots of personality.”

Charles also considers craft beer to be the next big thing. “Whatever happened with wine in South Africa since the seventies, beer is going to surpass that. Wine is ‘reserved’ for a small part of the population, while beer has a broader appeal,” he says. While some may still have their doubts about the effect that craft beer will have and is having on the wine industry, others have hopped on the bus to enjoy the ride. It seems that the last decade saw wine slip into the commodity market, while beer did the opposite by becoming more premium. Similarly, the brewers have applied conventional wine industry “tactics” like tastings, routes, pairings and festivals, while the winos are seemingly lagging behind in the marketing and branding game.

The saying goes, ‘it takes a lot of beer to make good wine’. Perhaps these two unique and exciting products can work together to cultivate a culture of craft. But the wine industry better keep up, learn from the brewers and stay aloof, otherwise the creative beer-brains might just steal from their portion of the pie.

Interesting beer facts

* Water is considered a beer’s sense of place and water quality is extremely important.
* The traditional bottle-conditioning process, or secondary fermentation, of craft beer creates the CO2 for carbonation.
* Hops are part of the same family as dagga (marijuana) and are used for bittering, flavouring and aroma in beer brewing. Some beers can be ‘over-hopped’ and fans of these styles are called ‘hopheads’.
* Westvleteren Trappist is considered the world’s best beer, this Belgium beer is extremely rare and sold exclusively through telephonic reservations.
* The world’s strongest beer was created by Brewmeister in Scotland; Snake Venom has 67% alcohol and costs 50 per bottle.
* RateBeer.com is an international site where beers from around the world are discussed and rated. On the local front and in support of the craft beer movement. SAB have launched a MyBeer application, aimed at assisting the beer-loving community to rate, review, discover and share the best local brews.

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