Image supplied by Afro Caribbean Brewing Company.
Image supplied by Afro Caribbean Brewing Company.
  • Cape Town based Afro Caribbean Brewing Company, which makes only 7,000 litres of beer a month, took the top spot at the Africa Beer Cup with their outrageously titled and limited edition The Space Llama double IPA.
  • The beer is elegantly balanced with a strong bold hoppy taste and hints of peach, stone fruit, and apricots.
  • Its 27-year-old brewmaster Rochelle Dunlop took two-and-a-half years to perfect it.  
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It's got a bold, hoppy taste and hints of peach, stone fruit and apricots that does justice to the name of a double India Pale Ale (IPA) beer. And it only took its 27-year-old brewmaster Rochelle Dunlop, from the Afro Caribbean Brewing Company (ACBC), two-and-a-half years and to perfect.

That paid off when the outrageously titled "The Space Llama double IPA" took home one of the highest accolades as the Best Beer in Africa, at the African Beer Cup 2021, the continent's largest such competition. 

Image supplied by Afro Caribbean Brewing Company.
Competition director Lucy Corne presents the Best Beer in Africa award to Afro Caribbean Brewing Company's head brewer, Rochelle Dunlop. Image supplied by Afro Caribbean Brewing Company.

"It still feels surreal… It's taken two-and-a-half years of small tweaks and changes to get it to where it is now, which is why we decided to enter it," said Dunlop.

In a hotly contested blind taste test between 16 gold medallists, Space Llama came out as the overall best from two panels of beer experts, brewers and qualified judges from Cape Town and Johannesburg. 

"Double IPA's are quite high in alcohol, it needs to have the body, aroma and drinkability and I think we've managed to achieve that on Space Llama. Usually, this style of beer tends to lean to the fruitier side and the stone fruit, apricot, peach aroma and flavour come from the hops and the yeast we used," said Dunlop. 

"You get other beers that are maybe too bitter, or the alcohol is too high. It is quite difficult to get it balanced when the alcohol is that high."

ACBC claimed the title from 210 entries submitted from 12 different African countries. 

Image supplied by Afro Caribbean Brewing Company.
Image supplied by Afro Caribbean Brewing Company.

The best beer in Africa is as unique as it gets with an eye-catching label just as bold as the beer itself. Yet despite its starstruck branding, you'll only get it at certain times of the year.

"We actually call The Space Llama our unicorn beer. We only normally brew it once or twice a year," said Greg Casey, co-founder of ACBC. 

"The Space Llama is our most expensive beer to make with quality and good ingredients… It's big in flavour. It's big in alcohol. It's got a lot of hops behind it. The way the ingredients have been put together, it's a 9.5% beer that drinks like a 6% beer. The reason they call it a double IPA is because its twice as good as a normal IPA. It's big on everything that's what makes it what it is. It's quite a standout beer."

Even more bizarrely, Casey got the inspiration for the name from a kids colouring-in book.

"My friend's kid had a colouring book with a Space Llama in it. We'd been making the beer, and I saw this picture and I thought Space Llama was a damn good name for a beer. We knew it was going to a seasonal beer and we knew we weren't going to be brewing it all the time. It needed to be something special."

ACBC can be found on the second floor above his popular craft beer friendly Banana Jam Café that has been around for 22 years in the leafy suburb of Kenilworth – a space Casey made available after he ran out of room in his bathroom after two years of home brewing.

"It was only supposed to be a hundred litre system that I brewed for fun with a mate. Which then grew into the brewery. We've now got 30 beers on tap with 15 of them being ACBC, and then downstairs we have 15 other beers in the café."

Image supplied by Afro Caribbean Brewing Company.
Image supplied by Afro Caribbean Brewing Company.

Dunlop joined the team without any experience in brewing at all, just three years ago.

Dunlop left a "boring" job in recruitment, and a "friend mentioned that Casey is passionate about beer and the industry, so I took a chance and applied for the restaurant. I then asked if I could spend my off days and extra time apprenticing in the brewery with him and it developed from there," said Dunlop.

The South African craft beer industry is still small and relatively niche. In international craft beer standards, the company would be considered a nano-brewery. Its production line is a mere 7,000 litres a month. This ACBC says is minor compared to larger SA craft beer companies like Jack Black which has 40 25,000 litre tanks.

"[Here in South Africa] craft beer isn't even remotely close to what it is in the United States. With volumes you can do lager because everybody in South Africa drinks larger. But most people in South Africa don't know what a double IPA is. There is just no market for it yet. But it's changing. We don't brew for profit we brew for our love of beer," said Casey.

It will be a while yet before you can find any of ACBC's stock in your local Spar Tops or Pick n Pay Liquor. Space Llama double IPA currently sells for R55 a can or (R288 for a six pack) and is available from Banana Jam Cafe or online from the ACBC website. New orders are expected to go on sale from mid-July.

ACBC's top two sellers are Jungle paradise IPA and Lagerfarian, an entry level larger for beer fans they are 'trying to hook onto craft beer’'

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