South African craft beer a winner in Germany

5 August 2014

As craft beers become increasingly popular in South Africa, local brewers are raising their game. Stellenbosch brewery Stellenbrau’s Craven Craft Lager beat some 38 finalists from around the world to win the prize for best lager at the 2014 Global Craft Beer Award contest in Germany two weeks ago.

Speaking to SAinfo this week, Stellenbrau’s marketing manager, Jaco van der Linde, attributed their success to the fact that “we use the best ingredients we can put our hands on; we import our barley in from Germany to get the right taste in our beer.

“We also follow the traditional brewing styles and still do a lot of our brewing by hand,” Van der Linde added. “We analyse our brewing process in the finest detail to ensure our beer is consistent when the beer leaves for the market.”

Stellenbrau is a newcomer on the local craft beer scene. Owner and entrepreneur Deon Engelbrecht established the brewery in 2011, and only started production on the lager in June 2012.

Engelbrecht was introduced to craft beer while on a business trip to KwaZulu-Natal in 2010, after having stopped drinking beer for quite some time. “This ignited a new-found love for beer, especially craft beer”, he told SAinfo.

Engelbrecht decided to start the brewery in Stellenbosch because of its “rich culinary culture, the convenient location, its thriving businesses and of course, its student population, who provide a platform to seed the brand and with whom we can build a loyal base.”

He began the brewery “with a solid vision for the business, and to brew the finest, consistent craft beer on the market. I decided to only start selling our beers via draught taps in the market as a way to seed the brand in the market place.”

Teaming up with Stephan de Jager, an experienced brewer with a solid technical background, Engelbrecht learnt about beer as he went along. With patience, hard work and late nights, the brewery developed to what it is today. While there are a few institutions and businesses that offer training, many craft brewers learn by trial and error.

Today, Stellenbrau’s has a dedicated team of 10 running the brewery, producing the Craven Craft lager and Alumni Ale brands. The are also tours for visitors interested in seeing the process from start, which includes why they use hops and what difference the choice of grains make, to how their beer is packaged.

De Jager oversees the brewing, as malted barley is crushed and moved to the mash tun to start the process. Aside from the actual process, staff have to keep the brewery clean and make sure the fermentation tanks are kept at the right pressure and temperature. Kegs need to be filled up and delivered to customers and bottling lines sorted once that is in action.

Van der Linde says they are one of a few craft breweries who produce lager, and aim for top quality. “We recently launched a Rooibos and Honeybush infused lager. This was done after years of research at Stellenbosch University, and to ensure it stays South African, we’ve patented the recipe of the beer. Part of our mission is to only brew a few varieties of beer to ensure consistency.”

He says that while it’s very difficult to compare the standard of craft beer in South Africa, where 95% of independent breweries have been going for less than five years, to brewing giants such as the US and Germany, which have decades of brewing experience, he believes the country is capable of competing strongly in international events.

The brewery aims to launch their bottles to the market soon, in order to expand their reach throughout the Western Cape and the rest of South Africa.

“We are looking into expanding our brewery to keep up with the growing demand in craft beer, and will then bring in a taproom where the public will have hands-on experience with our beer and enjoy our brewing setup,” Van der Linde says.

“We will introduce some more beer varieties over the course of time with some seasonal beers, but still in keeping with our mission and vision to make selected, high-quality beers.”