Craft beer during the COVID-19 pandemic

Craft Breweries in South Africa were hit particularly hard due to the three strict alcohol bans enforced through the country. With tasting rooms and bars shut for months and retail sales restricted, many local breweries have shed jobs, and some have been forced to shut down entirely.

A craft brewery, also known as a microbrewery, produces beer on a smaller scale and is often independently owned. There are only a few more than 200 craft breweries in South Africa with a 1% share of the local beer market. The Beer Association of SA (BASA) said that as of Jan 2021 30% of local breweries have been forced to permanently shut their doors with the loss of 165,000 jobs.

To survive many microbreweries have to be creative and pivot their operations. For example, many start marketing and selling merchandise or leveraging their current operations to start brewing non-alcoholic drinks. Some breweries changed their recipes to brew more economically, moved to premises with cheaper rent, or combined with other breweries to save on overhead costs. Others moved their operations to eCommerce sites so that beer lovers could order and pay for beer to be delivered when the alcohol bans were lifted. For example, the Cape Town-based brewery Jack Black turned their parking location into a roadhouse-style beer delivery centre, where beer lovers could have cases dropped off at their car.

One group of breweries also decided to give back by converting their unused brewing equipment into soup cooking kitchens. Started originally by Woodstock Brewery, a group of five breweries, calling themselves the Soupa Brewers, have already fed thousands of people during the harsh lockdown period.

The faces of craft beer are also changing during this time. Often considered a white, male-dominated industry, the current craft beer landscape is rapidly becoming more diverse. According to local beer blogger and travel writer Lucy Corne, a.k.a The Brew Mistress, in recent years more and more craft brewers have been experimenting with indigenous flavours, much like the SA gin industry over the years.
One of South Africa’s first black female brewmaster is Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela, who uses locally sourced hops and other African ingredients like rooibos sorghum to make her Tolokazi craft beers and ciders.

TallOrder clients Ukhamba Beerworx recently opened up a new craft beer bar at Maker’s Landing at the V&A Waterfront. Ukhamba was inspired by the African customs of tribesmen to gather in a circle sharing umqombothi (a traditional African beer) from a clay pot called ukhamba. Give them a visit to experience an authentic African beer and support a local craft brewery.

With a long road to recovery ahead, consumers, retailers, and the hospitality industry can support SA’s craft beer industry by buying local, obeying Covid protocols, and encouraging responsible drinking.

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