The maturing craft brewing market in South Africa

Craft brewers interpret traditional beer styles using innovative ingredients and techniques to develop new styles.

Craft brewers interpret traditional beer styles using innovative ingredients and techniques to develop new styles.

Published Apr 21, 2024


By Charlene Louw

Over the past decade, South Africa has witnessed a remarkable transformation in its craft brewing scene.

Craft brewing is differentiated from high-volume beer manufacture through the products it offers, predominantly boutique in nature, offering a variety of flavours and using high quality ingredients to produce a premium product.

Craft brewers interpret traditional beer styles using innovative ingredients and techniques to develop new styles.

Importantly, craft brewers, are majority South African-owned and operated.

What started as a niche market has now blossomed into a mature and vibrant industry, reflecting not just a change in consumer preferences but also a deep-rooted cultural shift towards appreciation for quality, variety, and innovation in beer.

This maturation of the craft brewing market is a milestone in South Africa's beer industry, as it shows an increased appetite for local flavours, craftsmanship, and community engagement.

It also shows how embedded craft brewers have become in their local economies and have become vital employers and job creators.

With just over 200 craft breweries there is hardly a region in South Africa without its very own local brewer. Whether you find yourself at Zwakala Brewery in the forests of Magoebaskloof, or at the Kimberley Diamond Brewing Company, or in the Garden Route at Sedgefield Craft Brewery, you will be able to enjoy a good beer.

Beyond the contribution to employment, craft brewers make significant investment in capital equipment and purchase large volumes of agricultural inputs such as hops and barley, in addition to other specific and seasonal produce used to flavour their beers.

The evolution of craft brewing has been heartening, with some of the smaller operations growing over this time to become available to larger audiences, even nationally.

This growing diversity in choice of beer not only enriches the consumer experience but also fosters healthy competition, pushing brewers to constantly innovate and improve their offerings.

As a result, beer enthusiasts are treated to a variety of styles, from traditional ales and lagers to beers offering bold flavours.

Think of the heady flavours of India Pale Ales (IPA) such as Triggerfish’s Titan, brewed with a local hops with the distinct flavour of passion fruit, or of the very local taste of something like Folk & Goode’s Honey and Rooibos Weiss.

The approach to responsible alcohol consumption is widely recognised and supported by the craft brewing industry and craft brewers are also moving with the growing consumer demand for non-alcoholic beers.

Especially younger consumers want the great taste of beer, but without alcohol.

Craft brewers have joined in servicing this growing market segment, and one example is the Devil’s Peak Hero range. As consumers shift toward more responsible drinking, craft brewers are helping to lead the way.

Central to the maturation of the craft brewing market is a growing emphasis on quality and consistency.

Craftsmanship, high-quality ingredients and meticulous brewing techniques are prioritised to create distinctive brews with character and depth.

This focus on quality has elevated South African beer to international standards, earning recognition and accolades on the global stage and attracting a discerning clientele both locally and abroad.

Last year, the winner of the best beer in Africa at the African Beer Cup was Richmond Hill Brewing Co’s RHBC Barrel Aged Sour, hailing from Port Elizabeth.

Moreover, the maturing craft brewing market in South Africa is not just about producing exceptional beer but also about fostering a sense of community.

Many breweries actively engage with local economy and support local livelihoods.

Craft breweries not only become a gathering point for locals at their taprooms, but often give people an added reason to visit local restaurants or pubs.

Collaborations with artists, musicians, and chefs, hosting events that celebrate the intersection of beer with art, culture, and cuisine.

This community-centric approach not only strengthens ties within the industry but also resonates with consumers who value authenticity, transparency, and social responsibility.

In turn, the craft brewing market has led to beer tourism, with enthusiasts embarking on pilgrimages to breweries, beer festivals, pairing and tasting rooms across the country.

This surge in beer tourism not only boosts local economies but also fosters a deeper appreciation for South Africa’s rich brewing heritage and diverse culinary traditions.

It also creates opportunities for cultural exchange and collaboration, as breweries welcome visitors from diverse backgrounds to share their passion for beer and hospitality.

Beer festivals are also establishing themselves all over the country, with the likes of the Clarence Beer Festival (Free State) and the Capital Craft Beer Festival (Gauteng).

The small town of Greyton in the Western Cape hosts the annual Fools and Fans Festival, a festival focussed on the world of craft brewing, from home-brewing to more established commercial craft brewing.

Similarly, another town that is become well-known for not only its craft brewer, but also the annual sporting events it puts on, is Darling. Darling Brew hosts two events annually – both a trail run and a mountain bike race, bring outdoor beer enthusiasts to the West Coast.

These festivals and events help support local businesses.

However, amid the remarkable growth and contributions to local communities, challenges persist.

Craft brewers face regulatory hurdles.

Smaller brewing companies are especially susceptible to an unstable tax regime, and increases in excise above inflation eat into the ability of craft breweries to further invest and expand into their local economies.

It is important that BASA continues to make representations to our government in support of craft brewers receiving excise relief.

Addressing these challenges requires collaboration between industry stakeholders, policymakers, and support agencies to create an enabling environment for continued growth and innovation.

With the novelty of the “craft beer boom” of the 2010s now having completely dissipated, a maturing craft beer market in South Africa reflects a journey of passion, creativity, and resilience.

Brewers now offer their customers a refined, diverse and often bold range flavours.

They use beer’s unique association with togetherness and tradition to both their own and their community’s advantage. They embrace festivals, events and beer tourism.

It signifies a shift towards a more discerning and engaged consumer base, a flourishing ecosystem of breweries and allied businesses, and a commitment to excellence and authenticity.

Craft beer is no fad. It is here to stay as a part of the South African beverage and retail economy.

BASA will continue to help ensure that it effectively influences a more favourable regulatory landscape for craft brewers so that the craft brewing industry can keep delivering jobs for South Africa, while contributing to regional economic growth.

Because when our local manufacturers thrive, South Africa thrives.

Louw is the CEO of the Beer Association of South Africa (BASA).

Charlene Louw. Image: Supplied.