COVID Liquor Ban Forced First Black-Owned Brewery In South Africa To Close and Move Business To Europe

When liquor bans forced Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela’s brewery to close, she knew it was not the end for her. Now her beer is being brewed in Europe and distributed in the UK.

Coronavirus-related liquor bans cumulatively lasted over five months. That crippled many microbreweries, including Nxusani-Mawela’s, which made Tolokazi, a sorghum pilsner. In July last year she couldn’t repay the loan she had taken to build her brewing facility, and shut down operations.

Not long after Nxusani-Mawela, South Africa’s first black female microbrewer, received a LinkedIn invitation from the chief marketing officer of subscription service Beer52, headquartered in Edinburgh.

Beer52 is a club that introduces beer drinkers across the UK to new beers from around the globe. This month, part of its subscription includes 200,000 cans of Tolokazi, which will reach 100,000 subscribers in the UK.

For the Beer52 cans, Tolokazi was brewed in Croatia – which was not without its challenges, primarily because the brand uses ingredients sourced in Africa. Producing the beer in South Africa for shipping would have been a costly exercise given she’d lost her brewing facility, Nxusani-Mawela told Business Insider South Africa.

“Initially, when we first started talking, we looked at the costings; it was going to be very expensive to produce this side. So then, they [Beer52] approached a brewery in Croatia, and I got in contact with their brewmaster,” she said.                                  

Sourcing the raw materials was also challenging, which meant that they had to look for substitutes similar to the ingredients used in South Africa for the beer.

“For instance, I use only South African hops, but when we worked out the cost of shipping and the fact the hops have to be kept cold, it would have had to be cold transportation, and with Covid, it was quite impossible.”

Nxusani-Mawela also uses South African malt to make Tolokazi, but looked for a malt type similar to it in Croatia and another type of sorghum as a substitute.

Since losing her brewery, Nxasana-Maweni has been producing Tolokazi under a contract manufacturing arrangement with OC Brewery in Kya Sand, just on the outskirts of Johannesburg.

She is also focusing on growing the Tolokazi brand, she said.

“The last half of last year has just been about focusing on Tolokazi, the brand, and for me, that came from just taking a step back and realising that when the alcohol ban happened, had we had a very good and strong brand, and we had market presence, maybe things wouldn’t have gone as badly,” she said.

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