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Beer, quipped American actor Jack Nicholson some years back, “is the best damn drink in the world”.
Few South Africans would disagree, including Peter Dean, proprietor of Rawdons Hotel and the Nottingham Road Brewing Company, in the Midlands.
One of the oldest craft breweries in South Africa, it was started in 1997 as a partnership between Dean and his wife, Susan,with her father, Don Attwood, the hotel’s owner.
Until now, the “Notties” Brewery has distributed and marketed its beers to local outlets and a few in Joburg, in one-litre PET (plastic) bottles. But like “craft” or micro breweries worldwide, they are now offering their beers in 440ml cans, Africa’s first craft brewery to do so.
“It’s taken six months of trials and tests,” Dean said.
“We’ve always been frustrated we couldn’t get our beer ‘to travel’. We brew ale and lager, and their delicate balance can be spoilt by ultra-violet light and temperature.
“Our beer is not pasteurised – a pasteurising tunnel would cost more than our brewery – and must be refrigerated.
“Light and heat can make the beer ‘sun struck’. We’ve been reluctant to use glass bottles, as the assumption would be that it was pasteurised, and safe to store on a shelf or on a bar.”
Although they’ve been canning their own beer for a while, at the weekend the brewery’s first “outside” consignment of canned beer, Soweto Gold, was delivered for launch at the Soweto Beer Festival.
“This is not our brand but a contract brew for another brewery being built in Soweto,” added Dean.
The contract requires them to supply 4 000 litres of Soweto Gold a month until April.
Currently Notties Brewery produces 10 000 to 15 000 litres monthly. Between 35 percent and 40 percent is the pale ale, Whistling Weasel, while the second most popular brew is the dark and bitter Pickled Pig Porter.
“The rest is made up of our |pilsner, Pye-Eyed Possum, and our Tiddly Toad Light Lager.”
The brewery can produce 25 000 litres a month with the existing tanks and its seven staff, including brewmaster Thokozani Sithole.
It was tempting, said Dean, to envisage the business expanding over the next five years. “We would like to double our turnover. Craft breweries’ levels, however, are limited by their brew lengths.”
The current brew length is 1 000 litres a brew, which takes eight hours. “We could brew twice daily, but that’s not always cost effective. Now SAB, for instance, would do half a million litres in eight hours.
“We are also governed by costs. The customs and excise tax on producing beer is outrageous. We pay the same as the big brewers – about |R27 000 a month on just 10 000 litres.”
Meanwhile, orders are streaming in to produce and can beer for other breweries.
“This alone will be doubling our production levels. With time and the ability now to sell our beer, not only here but worldwide, it means we will have achieved a long-awaited milestone.”