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The South African Craft Beer Scene | A Tasting Journey for Beer Enthusiasts

Havana Dauncey
· November 6, 2023
The South African Craft Beer Scene | A Tasting Journey for Beer Enthusiasts

If there’s one thing every South African can agree on it’s that beer is an intrinsic part of South African culture. Whether it’s on the weekend while braaing and watching the rugby, after work at the local shebeen or at a delectable tasting at one of the many beer festivals — a nice cold beer has always had a way of bringing South Africans together.

So whether you’re travelling South Africa or even thinking of making the move to the Rainbow Nation, if you’re a fellow beer enthusiast, you’re guaranteed to find a wide selection of local craft beers to savour.

In search of the best craft beer in South Africa, let’s take a journey through the South African craft beer scene — from its humble beginnings to the thriving craft industry of today that continues to grow each year.

The History of Craft Beer in South Africa

South Africa may be known for its stunning winelands, but not many know the importance of beer in South African history. While some believe that the story of beer brewing in South Africa began only when the settlers brought it over from across the seas, South Africa’s love of beer began centuries before that:

  • Zulu and Xhosa people have been brewing traditional beer from sorghum for centuries in southern Africa — in fact, women were the traditional brewers of beer.

  • In the 1600s and 1800s, the Dutch and British colonisers respectively, brought new grains and methods of brewing beers to South Africa.

  • In 1895, the first commercial brewery, Castle Brewery, opened in Johannesburg.

  • During the early 1900s, due to The Natives Land Act of 1913 which forced African men to move away from their families to find work, African women began brewing beer and selling it in shebeens to make a living and support their families, despite being illegal. This resulted in massive protests in 1959 when the apartheid government tried to root out these illegal breweries in an attempt to stifle the rising economic power of African women.

  • In 1983, Lex Mitchell, known as the godfather of South African craft beer, opened the first craft brewery in Knysna named Mitchell’s Brewery.

  • By 2008, there were 20 craft breweries sprinkled across South Africa.

  • The market exploded in 2015 when the number of craft breweries doubled from 80 to 160. It’s claimed that the surge of interest in craft brewing came from the ‘Green Revolution’ — young people started wanting to buy high-quality products that have been made with minimal stress to the environment, without chemicals, using organic ingredients. This matched craft beer perfectly.

  • Now South Africa has over 200 craft breweries with many craft beer festivals held every year throughout South Africa that only generate more buzz and popularity for the flourishing craft beer industry, both locally and internationally.

Beer Festivals in South Africa

South Africans will take any excuse to get together and drink beer — and what better occasion than a craft beer festival where you can celebrate beer while sipping and tasting a wide variety of up-and-coming breweries? While not all beer festivals are craft beer specific, they’ll also host a bunch of microbreweries so that there’s something for everyone.

Here’s a list of some of the best beer festivals in South Africa that a beer enthusiast simply can’t miss.

Clarens Craft Beer Festival

Set in the small town of Clarens, tucked underneath the iconic Maluti Mountains, this festival brings together a selection of over 150 beers and ciders from the top local craft breweries for a weekend filled with live music, delicious food, and of course, plenty of craft beer.

Dates: Early March

Location: Clarens, Free State

Cape Town Festival of Beer

Starting in 2009, the Cape Town Festival of Beer has reigned as the southern hemisphere’s biggest beer festival. And now, with over 200 beers from all over the world to showcase, you’re in for the ultimate beer-filled weekend. Plus, you can enjoy a delicious range of goods from local entrepreneurs, performances from some of South Africa’s biggest artists and maybe even some horse racing.

Dates: October

Location: Cape Town

Woodstock Winter Beer Festival

There’s no better time for beer lovers to fight that winter cold by sampling the amazing flavours of Cape Town’s once-off brews and craft beers. The Castle of Good Hope hosts over 25 micro-breweries from all over Cape Town and the Western Cape who know how to turn beer brewing into an art form.

Dates: July

Location: Castle of Good Hope, Cape Town

BeerEx Africa

Since 2016, BeerEx Africa has served as an annual expo that hosts a number of high-profile speakers from around the world, as well as local experts giving an African perspective on beer innovations and trends. It’s also held in conjunction with the African Beer Cup, the biggest beer competition in Africa, attracting more than 250 entries from across the continent.

Dates: April

Location: Cape Town

Capital Craft Beer Festival

Set in the stunning Pretoria Botanical Gardens, the Capital Craft Beer Festival is the highlight of the year for beer enthusiasts for over 10 years. Beer, friends and fun come together with the showcasing of 40 of the best brewers in South Africa and over 220 craft beers to explore.

Dates: June

Location: Pretoria

8 Best Craft Breweries in South Africa

While the craft beer scene is found mostly in the bustling streets of Cape Town, you’ll find some winning craft breweries in almost every corner of the country. Here’s a list of the top 8 craft breweries in South Africa.

1. Devil’s Peak Brewing Company

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Named after the mighty peak that overlooks Cape Town's city centre, Devil’s Peak is rated one of the best beers in the country, even boasting some international awards for their King's Blockhouse IPA. Changing the craft beer game with its innovative techniques, Devil’s Peak’s Afrofunk sour facility houses the largest barrel-ageing beer program in the country.

Fan Favourite Craft Beer: First Light Golden Ale and King's Blockhouse IPA

Location: Cape Town City Centre

2. Darling Brew

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Darling Brew is one of the most highly acclaimed craft beer brands in South Africa, having recently earned the title of Best Local Craft Beer in 2021. Founded in 2010, Darling Brew is officially recognised as Africa's first carbon-neutral brewery. Each of their beers is inspired by an endangered species and positioned to create awareness for their animal kingdom likeness.

Fan Favourite Craft Beer: Bone Crusher and Slow Beer Lager

Location: Darling, West Coast

3. Stumpnose Brewery

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Not only does Stumpnose Brewery offer some of the most beloved craft beers in Cape Town made from the finest ingredients from South Africa, Europe and the USA, but this budding brewery hosts a buzzing taproom where beer lovers can get together and enjoy tasty beers, delicious food and live entertainment.

Fan Favourite Craft Beer: The Fisherman IPA, Endless Summer APA, and Squid Ink Stout

Location: Cape Town City Centre

4. Banana Jam Café

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This Caribbean-themed café is home to the Afro Caribbean Brewing Company which began in 2014 when a small café in Kenilworth, Cape Town expanded into a 200-seater restaurant and pub. Over the years, they have grown and now have a firm foothold in the South African craft beer community boasting awards like Best Beer in South Africa and Best Beer in Africa.

Fan Favourite Craft Beer: Jungle Paradise IPA and DDH IPA Space Llama

Location: Kenilworth Cape Town

5. Woodstock Brewery

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Located in one of the trendiest neighbourhoods in Cape Town, Woodstock Brewery is the hipster hotspot out of the craft breweries in Cape Town. It's the place to be for any cool beer lovers wanting to get their taste at a diverse selection of handcrafted beers and artisanal foods.

Fan Favourite Craft Beer: Mr. Brownstone

Location: Woodstock, Cape Town

6. Jack Black Brewing Company

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Starting in 2007, just before the sudden rush of the craft beer market, Jack Black is certainly one of the largest and most famous craft breweries in South Africa. Jack Black Brewery is known for its award-winning beers and vibey taproom which offers a range of tastings and tours as well as delicious food and a range of entertainment — from open mic nights to quiz nights.

Fan Favourite Craft Beer: Butcher Block Pale Ale and Lumberjack Amber Ale

Location: Cape Town

7. Zwakala Brewery

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Meaning, “come closer,” Zwakala Brewery mixes beer with the African spirit in the heart of Limpopo’s serene nature. This homegrown brewery handcrafts each batch of beer with expertise and passion that takes the taster back to the simple ways of life. In 2019 Zwakala's Lager was awarded the Best Light Beer in the Country and in 2022 our Weekend Special was awarded Best Beer in the Country.

Fan Favourite Craft Beer: Naked Ale and Mountain Weiss

Location: Magoebaskloof, Limpopo

8. Mad Giant Brewery

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The Mad Giant Brewery in downtown Johannesburg was designed with creative architecture to embody the Mad Giant ideology and provide a space where beer drinkers can experience the free-spirited, adventurous celebration of flavour with their award-winning craft beer. Mad Giant has won numerous awards over the years from best beer in Africa (IBD African Beer Awards 2018) to the most loved and most innovative brewery by locals.

Fan Favourite Craft Beer: Killer Hop Lager and Urban Legend Vienna Lager

Location: Johannesburg

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