There’s little doubt that South Africa is beer country. Even before Anders Ohlsson and Jacob Letterstedt were plying their trade, local brewers were fermenting up a storm.

Indeed beer has been known in Africa since time immemorial, a bread like concoction sustained the builders of the pyramids and working men and women still know the ‘refreshment and reward at the end of the day’. Beer is quite simply part of the fabric of South African life, but how often is that fabric just a little bit too beige?

The one downside of Ohlsson and Letterstedt’ success in sowing the seeds for the behemoth that would later become SAB might have been said to be that it robbed us of variety. Sure SAB sells all sorts of beers but tastes are changing and the industrially produced, ‘one size fits all’ beers of the past are having to make space at the table for beers that have something a little different to offer.

The old SAB staples are all very well but more and more beer drinkers are crying out for variety, beers where people took risks, tried a new recipe and lavished more care and attention on their creation. Sure you’ll never be able to get around the fact that SAB can produce thousands of litres for every one you can but there’s also no getting round the fact that the turn around time for the average industrial brew can be measured in hours, these days quality is getting a chance to face off with quantity.

If you have an adventurous palate you’ll inevitably want to try something outside your comfort zone. If you have an adventurous spirit you might even be moved to brew something different for yourself.

Any beer drinker will be able to tell you what their favourite beer is and why, so it seems fair to say that inside every beer drinker there is a potential brew master just waiting to crack open the first keg of their own beer. The art of micro brewing is an enjoyable hobby that, like any pursuit that evokes passion, has the potential to become a real business opportunity for anyone prepared to put in the time and effort.

It represents a synergy for anyone already in the restaurant or pub business since it is a sure fire way to differentiate yourself from the competition and draw in customers. In an age of green business and organic, home style goodness, being able to offer your customer a home made beer, perhaps even to be able to show them where and how it was made might well be the factor that pushes your pub and restaurant over the top.

Who wants to buy bottles of beer that have been industrially brewed and brought to you at great cost on noisy, polluting trucks when you can choose to sup on locally produced, fresh brewed beer made from the best natural ingredients? The future promises an ever increasing shift to focus on the individual and their needs and tastes; Micro brewing represents an opportunity because it allows you to tap into this changing demand.

So let’s take a very quick look at the market you will be entering if you want to sell your beer commercially. As you would expect, big brands like SAB and Brandhouse still dominate over 95% of the South African Market place. To be fair SAB, it might be Goliath to your David but it has been very supportive of up and coming microbreweries, if for no other reason than that a growing beer culture is good for everyone involved in the industry.

Thanks to the increasingly favourable market, microbreweries are growing by leaps and bounds, there are now names like, Mitchell’s, Jack Black and Zululand Brewery gracing our drinks menu’s along side Black Label and Amstel. In the last twelve years the number of commercial microbreweries has risen from six to more than thirty five, all of them taking their respective share of the pie and while a 4-5% slice might not sound that big at the moment lets not forget that South Africans consume upwards of 2.6 billion litres of beer a year (or as some estimates would have it 60 litres per capita putting us at 24th in the list of world’s beer drinking countries).

Demand has certainly been strong enough to support two Michell’s breweries (producing the best part of 600 000 litres a year). If one were to make a projection into the future one might look to the American market where 10% of the market share is held by microbreweries.

So we’ve established that beer is popular but that’s hardly news to anyone. The real question you are no doubt asking is, “how do I get involved?” It’s a long road from a home brew to setting up your own commercial brewery and you have to be aware that there may be numerous pitfalls along the way. The good news is that like any journey this one begins with small steps. The web is literally awash with advice on home brewing, recipes and lists of equipment. I’m not going to attempt to be comprehensive but hopefully I can impart a few good tips.

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