The Original Brewers
As in many places across the world, beer in South Africa evolved from the original brew of mead. The Khoi People used to make a concoction of water and honey, fermented with naturally occurring yeast. It was referred to as “honey wine” or “!karri”. The Xhosa had their own variation called “iQhilika” and the Tswana called it “khadi”. Another traditional brew that has made its way into present day is sorghum beer, which followed tribes from Eastern and Central Africa to Southern Africa.
This sorghum beer is still commonplace in traditional communities today, however, shortly after settling in the Cape, Jan Van Riebeeck and other European settlers attempted to produce a local beer that had higher alcohol content and clearer consistency. It is believed he sent a shopping list of brewing ingredients home to the Netherlands.
In 1658 the first pint of “clear beer” was brewed, and a year later saw the first brewhouse being built. This was the starting point for South Africa’s intense and lasting relationship with beer.
Charles Glass and The Start of SAB
One of the most influential names in beer making, Charles Glass, started his foray into the industry making beer for British troops in India. The Castle Brewery, born on the Witwatersrand, was started with his wife after securing financial backing. It wasn’t long before his partners bought him out and continued the legacy of his famous beer that can still be enjoyed today.
In 1888, Frederick Mead entered the field as a key player, establishing the Natal Brewing Syndicate in Pietermaritzburg. He bought the Castle Brewery soon afterwards and the two breweries merged to form the South African United Breweries. After gaining financial backing from Barney Barnato, the diamond magnate, the brewing company officially changed its name to The South African Breweries.
A Little Known Fact: Influential Female Brewers
Beer has historically been made by women, not only in Africa, but in Europe and the rest of the world too. When we look at our African history, there are a number of significant women who paved the path towards brewing as we know it today.
Here are three ladies you should know about:
Mbaba Mwana Waresa
Mbaba Mwana Waresa, a fertility goddess and goddess of rainbows, agriculture and rain, is also one of the most prominent ladies in Zulu beer tradition. Not only was she credited with the invention of beer, but she passed her knowledge of brewing onto the Zulu people.
Though not a brewer, Cockney Liz gained notoriety, during the gold rush, for running a number of successful bars in Barberton and Mpumalanga. Her most famed property was the Royal Albert Hall, but she was also a key player in the success of the Red Light Canteen.
Aunt Peggy or the “Shebeen Queen” is a character created by Casey Motsisi. She was a prominent fictional figure in Sophiatown's shebeen culture. Influential, with a no-nonsense attitude she was dedicated to the happiness of her patrons.
Source: African Brew
Lucy Corne and Ryno Reyneke