The story of Black Label in South Africa

29 Jan 14

Carling Black LabelCarling Black Label has been quenching South Africans’ thirst for over 40 years. As one of the most awarded beers in the world, it has built a reputation which is hard to ignore.

But what makes Black Label, or Zamalek as it’s known to many, so much a part of our South African heritage and culture? It’s difficult to say why this beer has been embraced by so many for so long. Perhaps the answer lies in the quality of the brew and its pleasing flavour profile, or perhaps it lies in the close association of the brand with the hard working men of South Africa.

A quality brew

The beer itself is one of the stronger lagers in South Africa with a clean, refreshing taste. It has a spicy hoppiness complemented by lightly kilned malted barley. There are also subtle fruity notes in the aroma and taste, adding to the depth of the beer. A dense white head and straw-coloured body characterise it.


The origins of this famous beer lie in Canada, where it was first brewed in the 1920’s by the Carling brewery. It was originally known as Black & White Lager until a 1927 rebrand where the name was changed to Black Label. The brewery was later merged into Canadian Breweries Limited, which soon became the world's largest brewing company. This allowed the brand to be promoted worldwide and its popularity soared.

Cultural spirit

Carling Black Label first hit the shores of South Africa in 1966. It has always had a strong link in its advertising to hard work and masculinity. Its first ad campaign kicked off with a cowboy theme, where the cowboy represented a hero who deserved a cold Carling Black Label as a reward for a long day's work. Cowboys and Western films were popular at the time.

Over the years the various ad campaigns have always reflected the spirit of the times. Hard work and reward are a constant theme. The Carling Man has been epitomised by blue-collar workers, sportsmen and entrepreneurs. Today Black Label reflects more and more the nuances of modern South African men. They are entrepreneurs; fathers, community builders, sportsmen and leaders.


The beer has also played a role in communities around South Africa and has actively supported football, rugby, snooker and music events over the years. The numerous awards won are testament to the quality of the product, which has been winning awards since the 90’s. Some of these awards include twice winning the World’s Best Bottled Lager competition. Carling Black Label has won a total of 29 awards, the latest being Monde International Awards (Grand Gold), IBD Africa (2nd Place) and International Taste and Quality Institute (3 Star Gold)

Whatever the reason for its popularity, this beer is an undeniable part of the South African beer story. Are you a fan of the brew? Share your thoughts with us on twitter at @MyBeerSA.

View some of the Carling Black Label ads:

Click on the titles:

1980s Cowboy Advert

2010 Man Hands