The world has seen a craft beer revolution over the last few decades. Craft beer industry leaders like the US and the UK often dominate the headlines. However similar to Australia countries like Japan and South Africa are undergoing their own quiet revolution. The Australian Brewery has recently sent its first shipment of craft beer to South Africa and we took the chance to sit down with Rob Heyns. Founder of website League of Beers and industry leader in the Rainbow Nation. We did our best to steer the conversation away from the Wallabies.
Can you tell me a bit about league of beers?
The League of Beers exists to bring people together around craft beer. Our aim has always been to leverage the internet and education as a way to spearhead the South African Craft Beer Revolution. We focus on craft beer education, marketing and e-commerce. Our primary portals are our website League Of Beers, our partner website Yuppie Chef and our beer of the month club. We were founded in 2012 and have shipped hundreds of thousands of beers across South Africa since then.
How do you think craft beer in SA is tracking compared to America?
We had a far slower, later start. Craft Beer USA has had 3 big leaps: 1979; Early 2000’s and 2011-ish. Although SA had craft breweries in 1982 (notably Mitchell’s) and a few more in 2000 (Boston and Gilroy’s leading the charge), it was only in 2012 that Craft Beer arrived on the map in SA. Between 2006 and 2010, Jack Black, And Union and Darling Brew all launched as the forerunners of Craft Beer Revolution in SA. 2012 saw the launch of 3 large national festivals, as well as Devil’s Peak, League of Beers and Cape Brewing Company, completing the mix of the largest players who would have the biggest impact on craft beer SA. The rate of growth since then has been stellar. From very humble beginnings, craft beer SA has now surpassed R1 billion in annual retail sales and it is believed that this makes up 40% of total craft beer volume. We have also moved from 10-20 breweries in 2011 to 50 in 2013 and over 170 now.
Do you hear much about Australian craft beer in South Africa?
Every South African who visits Perth raves about Little Creatures. Aside from this, I hear a lot about a range of national and local pale ales and have tasted many of them. I visited Australia in 2008 and saw none of these aside from Cooper’s, but as early as 2013 was brought a range of great Australian Pale Ales that were in my opinion far better than most SA craft beers at that point in time. Both SA and Australia have large beer drinking cultures, but are warm climate countries, which is why Lagers have been strong and why big and dark beers don’t do huge volumes. In Australia, I have noticed that pale ales have taken prominence as the craft beer style and my assumption is the English influence as well as access to great hops are reasons for this. In SA, we have a strong German influence and my assumption is that this is the reason that Weiss and Wheat beers are our main craft beer style in terms of volume. This does follow world beer consumption which tends to be lead largely by Lager but followed by Weiss Beer and Pale Ale.
Which big international brands are in the market?
We bring in and seed a lot of the prominent international craft beers. A few have followed up with distribution such as Brewdog. We are currently helping Mikkeller to launch in SA and have worked with Innis & Gunn for a number of years on various initiatives. We have access to most well known Bavarian beers and Belgian beers (we have the full Moortgat range and various other national Belgian craft brands). Craft and small breweries that have grown in SA include: Fuller’s and Hitachino Nest. This part of our site gives a good idea of the craft beer on local offering across SA: YuppieChef International
What is your favourite style of beer?
IPA!!!!!! I also really enjoy Pale Ales and Wheat beer styles. For clarity, I prefer the standard 6% abv. 50-70 IBU West Coast IPA, although I am enjoying the New England style as well.
What are the exciting new South African craft brewery’s right now and why?
Too many to choose from. I would say that ones to watch are the very large Red Rock as they attempt a more mainstream market. I think Stimela has potential and then the local faction of Toast Ale has some good elements. Also, Mad Giant has a great set up, good beers and a very driven founder. These brands are all coming out of the North of SA (Gauteng, Highveld), but the above-mentioned Cape Brands (Devil’s Peak, Jack Black, CBC and Darling along with And Union) will continue to dominate SA Craft.
Stay tuned to our social media as we update you on Australian Brewery in South Africa.