You don’t think women love beer? Of course they do! Why wouldn’t they? What’s stopping them from loving beer? Oh, wait…. The fact that hundreds of years of masculine imbeerialism by the likes of Charles Glass and his macho-icon cronies has claimed beer as the birth right of the male species, that’s what. It’s a sad indictment on the human race that beer is routinely claimed to be the beverage of overweight, wannabe alpha males, and precious little else. It’s even sadder because the fairer sex has a little-known yet glorious history of brewing and consuming beer.
Prior to the industrial revolution, women were in charge of beer. In many cultures, women were the brewers, and often the biggest consumers of the amber liquid. Norse shield maidens, Egyptians, Greek, Medieval and African brewsters (the official term for a female brewer) were the reason the world’s oldest beverage could be enjoyed.
So what happened?
Well, money and masculinity happened. The industrial age meant the development of copper smelting, which led to large-scale breweries being built. Hildegarde von Bingen, a natural scientist and herbalist discovered hops could be used as a preservative to prolong the life of beer, which in turn led to even bigger production capacities and the first commercially-orientated breweries.
Thus did clever men in professions not yet open to women wrest the reigns of the beer wagon away from the brewsters. Of course, you also need massive capital to build big, beer-making factories. And who had the capital? The mega-rich Industrialists’ Old Boys Clubs (also not open to women).
Ask yourself, what do Jack Daniels, Johnny Walker, Charles Glass, Jim Beam and Captain Morgan have in common? When you’ve figured that out, the next question naturally becomes why the consumption of alcohol is inextricably linked to male icon worship. It’s simple: that was the market. Women were subverted in the name of patriarchy and the ‘family values’ of the Industrial Revolution. Men work and make money, women stay at home and look after family affairs. Naturally, after a hard days’ work men would be entitled to a drink or two, and their women would have to wait patiently for their drunk husbands to realise they were hungry.
Enter the villain of the piece (in a South African context, at least): Charles Glass. The man whose name is synonymous with one of the largest brewing operations on the planet, and the Sacred Cow of South African beer consumption. Yes, yes, Glass was a good businessman (and an even better opportunist). However, it was his wife, Lisa that was the hand and mind behind the beer that was eventually acquired by South African Breweries. Lisa has been marginalised (if not completely erased) in a beer history written by men and immortalised by the statue of her husband at Newlands Brewery and his signature all over her product.
It’s time for this rather disturbing masculine beer stereotype to be gone. It’s time for Lisa to step out of Charles’ shadow. Sadly, existing stereotypes forged on the anvil of Charles Glass and his macho henchman will not go quietly into the night. Even at Beerhouse, where we pride ourselves on an inclusive menu and a stereotype-free atmosphere, we’ve not always got it right. Sometimes our Navigators find it easier and more efficient to stick to profiles and stereotypes when recommending beers, and have rightly offended some hop-loving ladies by suggesting they try something fruity. Following a similar line to that espoused by popular Beerlover Melissa Cole, we have to remind ourselves to avoid such outdated profiling and selling techniques.
At Beerhouse we want to challenge Beerlovers to explore Beerland, and explore a little further every time. We want to cater for all manner of tastes, not stereotypes, and for the most part we seem to have struck a chord with men and women alike, young and old. Some love beer because it can be bitter, heavy or textured; some love beer because it can be light, fruity and refreshing. But all of them love beer, and that’s the way it should be.
So let’s raise our glasses and say a long overdue “Cheers to Lisa!”
Stay Thirsty Stay Curious
Why is it that the Western Cape is such a hotbed of beer variety? The answer is largely down to a entrenched and extremely strong home brewing culture, nurtured primarily by the South Yeasters home brewing club. Without any doubt, the true strength of the Beer Revolution is the commitment of these foot soldiers.
An ever-growing group of beer enthusiasts meets once a month to share their latest brews, knowledge and solid beer banter. The highlight of the year is their Summer Fest, hosted by SAB in the grounds of their historical and picturesque brewery. The venue is stunning, and the rich brewing history is palpable as one walk through the malt house, now a heritage museum. A lot of micro- brewers look upon SAB with distrust. Big beer, they reason, is an evil empire imposing its will and destroying independent beer planets with impunity. But there were no aggressive Storm Trooper-types or conniving spies at this event, just bright red tents with Castle on them. Some student home brewers couldn’t afford taps – so SAB lent them some. Not really the behavior of a beer-swilling Darth Vader; more like a big brother helping their much younger siblings navigate the wonderful universe of brewing. “The force is strong with you!” sayeth the Emperor with an approving nod.
The atmosphere at the Summer Fest is jovial, and the brewers are exposed to many thirsty beer lovers eager to taste what amateur brewing has got up its sleeve. The standard was the highest I have encountered in the last three years, perhaps testament to the overall lifting of standards in amateur and micro-brewing. Many of the entrants were commercial ventures in the making – simply (or not so simply) waiting on their licenses. I recognized a few; Three Anchor Brewing and their Peg Leg IPA was a favourite of mine last year. When questioned as to why they had not yet gone commercial, the brewer replied, ” I don’t want to have to make standard beers, I like the freedom to experiment”. Is this an indication that even “Micro- brewing” is starting to be viewed as mainstream? Another favourite, which got my vote for “People’s choice” was a very well-made Black IPA from Northern suburb home brewery Fishbone Beerworks. They too are hesitant to become a commercial brewing operation, with their brewer happy to remain a hobbyist, content to make beer for himself and his family. Good for him.
Does making beer commercially take away the experimentation and fun associated with creating a quality handmade product? Perhaps. But, I know many a commercial brewer that experiments and has loads of fun doing it. One of the biggest and most influential ‘craft’ brewers – BrewDog – seems to have a never-ending list of experiments. Regardless, the future of beer in the Western Cape and South Africa looks good. The foot soldiers’ numbers are swelling, and their skills are increasing rapidly. The revolution is in their hearts and minds, and the quality in their hands. Keep an eye out for these breweries, who will soon have a beer in your hand: Beerfly, Stickman Brewery and Riebeek Brew.
Stay Thirsty Stay Curious!
No 3 Fransen Street: now available on tap at Beerhouse Fourways!
It 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.