No 3 Fransen Street: SAB entering the craft beer market

No 3 Fransen Street: now available on tap at Beerhouse Fourways!

3-Fransen-Street-batch-brewed-beer-logoIt was bound to happen. The mighty SAB is wading into the broad category of “craft beer” and going to be making ales at their No3 Fransen Street Brewery (which was previously used as a test brewery for their very talented brewers to experiment with other styles), and embracing the opportunity to make a variety of beers. There is a market for it, even if it’s tiny compared to that of good old fashioned lager. In light of their lager sales, SAB didn’t really have to get involved in making ales; but they are, and the SA beer scene will be better for it. The more the merrier after all (especially if everyone’s drinking beer). Three types of Weiss are in the pipeline – Krystal, Dunkel and Honey, along with a Cream Ale, Irish Red Ale and an IPA. Add to that three dark beers including a Porter and you have a large, interesting variety of ales that will help grow the beer category in SA immensely.

By describing their beers as speciality, SAB cleverly circumnavigate the murky waters of “craft”. In their own words, “Each batch is brewed to create tastes that are unique, individual and completely lacking in ordinariness”. Not sure what this says about their core range of lagers, but a lack of ordinariness is always a good thing.

SAB is also eager to create a craft image for their brewery. “In a typical suburb, on a regular street, lies no ordinary brewery. A small batch brewery dating back to 1998, a brewery that was designed with speciality beer in mind, way ahead of its time.” Well not entirely true – Lex Mitchell and crew were brewing up English “speciality brews” since 1982. Yes that’s right – lagers come from supersonic brewery cities that churn out millions of hectolitres while ale is made in small batches in a leafy suburb. Well isn’t that romantic! Such notions have captivated South Africa, and thanks to the Beer Spring we have a lot more beer lovers today than we’ve ever had, with a massive variety of styles to choose from.

It’s worth noting that SAB’s No3 Fransen Street isn’t under-cutting other micro-breweries (as I’m sure they could) with their indomitable economies of scale. They politely suggest the beer be sold at R40. Taking into mind how much it costs to buy in, it is decently positioned. Remember you can get micro-brewed pints of beer at Beerhouse from R25 to R60 so they fit comfortably in the middle. This proves the naysayers wrong – brewers and outlets really don’t rip beer lovers off, ok most don’t there is always bad apples. Good beer isn’t cheap to make and like everything in life quality must come at some cost.

“Craft beer” is a highly subjective phrase, and has caused quite a stir in the last few years in South Africa. For one thing, the word craft is emotive; for another, where exactly does one stop when it comes to classifying it? Must a true craft brewery cultivate its own hops and barley, malt the barley, mill it all, and use cultivated yeast and naturally carbonate? Not many breweries can claim to do this in SA, if any. The words macro and micro are more suited to describing beers’ origins. Using “commercial” to describe macro breweries is nonsense. They’re all commercial. Only those home brewers who share a pint amongst friends with no exchange of money are non-commercial.

Moreover, the word “craft” is often confused with variety. The great variety available to us in SA at the moment is due to the revived interest in ale. Lagers and more specifically SAB lagers have dominated the SA beer landscape for over a century. SAB are a very successful business and for good reason. They make refreshing, cold, “hot country” lagers and they are consistent. Recently people have tried to manufacture a false dichotomy: if you drink “craft” then you don’t drink SAB. In fact, to prove that you are a “craft” beer lover, it’s required that you say nasty things about SAB and pull a face like you’ve just smelt a 30 day-old sandwich in your forgotten lunch box. Just because you drink “craft” beer does not mean you have been ordained with a higher purpose and set on a path of beer evangelism to rescue the non- believer Castle Lite drinkers. Each to their own – let them drink what they enjoy and don’t let it offend you! It’s for the individual to explore the wonderful variety in beer and settle on what suits them.

Welcome No3 Fransen Street to the beer revolution. We look forward to tasting your brews. Proof is in the pudding… and we love pudding!

Stay Thirsty, Stay Curious.

No3 Fransen Street

20 Comments On “No 3 Fransen Street: SAB entering the craft beer market”

  1. DAN | On August 28, 2014

    New castle lite lime is on it way.

    • Bridge House | On November 12, 2014

      The Castle Lite is not part of the craft stable. The Cream Ale, Irish Red are among the best beers that have ever been brewed in this country! Well done to the Brewer!

  2. Ian | On August 29, 2014

    great article thank u.

  3. morne | On August 29, 2014

    Well this is great new’s.
    I thought in a free market economy Companies shrived to reduce costs in order to pass these savings on to the consumer? – with large volumes and owning your supply chain (and that of all the breweries in south africa) SAB pays a fraction of the cost / litre smaller breweries do.
    Perhaps not. In this case it would be to take advantage of smaller micro brewers inability to have these large economies of scale, resulting in the current price point.

    – Support local business owners,its the right thing to do.

  4. Ryan | On August 29, 2014

    This is brilliant news.
    The word “craft”, in my opinion, is a fabricated and abused marketing buzzword.
    So many craft fundis will be battling the internal conflict of enjoying a nice brew of their favourite style, but drinking a product of the brewery that so many of them have loudly demonized.
    Let’s see how long it takes for the rumours to spread about the “evil” SAB putting all kinds of mysterious chemicals into their weissbier.

    • Bridge House | On November 12, 2014

      This is a myth like the 2nd shooter on the Grassy Knoll! SAB do not go on about the reinheitsgebot but still they adhere to strict brewing practices. A great SA company! Lead South Africa!

  5. Jacques | On August 30, 2014

    Superficially argued, but food for thought all the same. The statement about “dichotomy” is an oversimplification and a straw man argument. Not all craft beer drinkers confuse freedom of choice with quality, or quality with being artisanal or not. Craft beer does not automatically mean quality beer; nor does making quality beer mean you are making craft beer. If the notion of “craft” is to at all allude to what’s generally considered to be craft-like (handmade or home-made things without large financial backing, multinational/corporate agendas or marketing departments), this is not craft beer. The fact that the term “craft” isn’t precisely defined or is emotively defended is a blessing as much as a liability, but makes a weak argument for either some kind of relativistic blanket inclusiveness or simply applying a new set of distinctions like “macro” or “micro”. I think many craft beer drinkers have a quite solid intuitive grasp of what they mean when they use the word “craft beer”. The fact that definitions for a term are vague or lags its usage, and the inevitability of the fact that the term will be vigorously appropriated by both sides of what it aims to differentiate, makes little difference to this intuitive grasp. There’s nothing revolutionary about SABMiller’s 3 Fransen Street, not even as seen from within its ranks. It’s all been done before and is little more than the first steps of a decline of what is truly revolutionary – to not be confined by what’s commonplace, combined with some kind of immunity against the soap-opera of conventional and spoon-fed thinking. Simply put – either 3 Fransen Street isn’t craft, or craft isn’t craft any more. The good thing is that their beers will probably be nicer than their politics.

  6. Brewer | On August 30, 2014

    There’s a massive difference between full batch boils with no corn syrup and mass produced diluted light lagers. So the face pulling may not be entirely unwarranted.

    A multi billion Rand mass producer competing in the craft market is just not on the same playing field as local small businesses.

    Suppliers would be clambering over one another to supply “samples” with the hope of being drawn into the behemoth’s supply chain.

    If a craft brewery fails the owner typically loses everything. If Fransen St fails the SABMiller machine won’t even miss a beat.

    I welcome new exiting beers more than most and have great respect for SAB’s brewers, some of whom have become friends, but please understand that this is a totally different organisation with unlimited funding – compared to small breweries – and access to expertise and resources that we could never dream to have. It’s still a tiny component in a nameless faceless corporate owned by fund managers and focused on maximising shareholder returns.

    Welcome SAB. Now brew some beer.

  7. Kirstin | On August 30, 2014

    circumnavigate != circumvent

  8. dagelf | On September 9, 2014

    The logo is interesting: The ‘high’-“STREET” looks like it’s bulging fists at “Fransen”… or perhaps just beating its own chest.

    While the egos in charge of SAB could certainly feel a tinge of threat from the seeds of competition sowed so wildly around them, I can only imagine where the innovation that such a behemoth can bring, will come from, and how and if there is a way that they can contribute to an increase in the size and the economy in the overall beer market…

    Indeed, poring over the SAB Miller Annual Report for 2014 shows a 1% bite being taken from their net revenue, amounting to R2bn, globally, and around R10bn gross, globally; this while they’ve managed to increase their profits and production, all while using 5% less water, but not without eating substantially into their cash reserves.

    But I wonder by how much the overall beer market might have grown during this period… and whether they will ultimately see the craft world as the part of the extended family they are, and empower them and treat them as such. It may be counter intuitive, but in the long term, it may pay off to them in a big way; technically they don’t need to compete with them at the product level, but simply position themselves as the choice supplier of quality machinery, raw materials and QA techniques to the whole industry, in order to sustain their own growth…

  9. Daniel | On September 16, 2014

    “It’s worth noting that SAB’s No3 Fransen Street isn’t under-cutting other micro-breweries”

    How can you say this – of course they are undercutting the little guys. SAB has INFINITELY more resources and they can supply on-con outlets with free taps, old stock management, servicing of taps, merchandise etc at at cost and rate far beyond what even the most successful small brewers (Jack Black, Darling etc) can ever achieve. Also I am not sure if you have seen the marketing material they are putting out there – they are claiming an outlet can make up to R28 profit on a 500ml pint, a micro brewer can never offer this.

    If all of the above does not count as under-cutting the little guy then I have no idea what is…

    • Murray Slater | On September 17, 2014

      Hi Daniel

      Thanks for the comment. We have indeed seen the marketing material. Their price for a 500ml pour of R13 is in line with micro-breweries prices. These small breweries cost in between R13 and R19 for a 500ml pour. The R28 claim is not net profit but gross profit which is the industry standard for a successful hospitality business as we have considerations such as rent and wages. SAB can afford to support their outlets with line cleaning and installation. We cant really call this undercutting. They are successful for a reason and looking after their core product ( beer). There is never a problem with more beer and SAB are not some Death Star looking to destroy micro-brewery planets with its death ray. They are expanding the market and this is good for everyone. Micro-brewers are coming into a lot of competition with other new small breweries and now large breweries. This is good for beer as the quality and value for money will increase through competition.

      See this article for more debate on this topic

      We should chat over a beer. Cheers

  10. Llew | On September 24, 2014

    With SAB’s No 3 Fransen Street entry into the “speciality beer” category, they have inadvertently defined their “ordinary beer” for us.

    They define their “speciality beers” (note the words they use to distinguish this new category) as:

    “… using only the finest premium ingredients, to create a new series of speciality beer styles like no other. Each is batch brewed to create tastes that are unique, and completely lacking in ordinariness. Infused with quality, passion and creativity, to create a real difference in taste.”

    By replacing the distinguishing words with their opposites, one gets this definition for their “ordinary beers”:

    “… using average ingredients, to create ordinary beers like all other ordinary beers. They are mass produced to create tastes that are common and ordinary. They are not brewed with passion and creativity, to ensure there is no real difference in taste.”

    Craft beer found their niche because some people (myself included) wanted to drink beer that is not “ordinary”. Mega brewers brew quality beers, but usually very “ordinary” beers. It is the main reason I started home-brewing 20 years ago. Craft beer in South-Africa was almost non-existent then.

    I’d welcome SAB’’s “speciality beers”, as long as they don’t use strong arm tactics to push out the competition. But, with their business history, their marketing budget, their control of the distribution channels, etc., I won’t bet on that not happening.

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  12. Norman | On December 26, 2014

    As a relatively frequent & regular visitor to SA from the UK, I’m delighted by the explosion of micro-breweries/craft beers that I’ve seen here in the last couple of years and also intrigued by the debates above. I’m not a fan of the main SAB offerings, at leasr because of the taste I’m used to in the UK with the real alses there. However, I realise there is a market for these styles of lagers served cold in hotter climates. Everybody to their own tastes as somebody already said above.
    I discovered Mitchells on a visit to the Garden Route a number of years ago and took to it straight away as an alternative to the mainstream. However, it was difficult to find around Joburg at the time. I guess some people might think Mitchells is now too big to be a true micro-brewery or craft beer now.
    Last year, when visiting Clarens obviously found the micro-brewery there in the main square, which was great. Also discussed the Claren’s beer festival with the owner of the B&B we stayed at (& are returning too soon).
    Then having returned a few weeks ago have found an expolosion of craft beers available in local bottle stores and a new bar/restaurant locally that only serves craft beers, no SAB, which seemed brave, but good luck to him. We are certainly going back regularly.
    Have already tried Fransen without realising it was an SAB off-shoot.
    I certainly hope that SAB does not kill off the micro-breweries and that they continue to flourish & multiply. You may not like them all, but the choice is great and now there is a choice of beer styles to start matching the choice of great SA wines.
    Also looking forward to visiting the Beerhouse which I’ve realised is close to where wev are staying.
    Keep the intereting debates going also.

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  15. Mitch Launspach | On September 18, 2015

    Wow! I never realised that there could be a conspiracy theory linking Kennedy’s assassination with a new craft beer, and concepts like ‘straw-man arguments’ and ‘dichotomy’ make me nervous.

    All I can say is that I had my first pint of the Cream Ale today, and it was superb!

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