Start now and you could have a decent backyard ale by mid-Feb, for around R12 a litre

Business Insider SA
    A close-up of the yellow nectar.
    • Although not quite back to April 2020 levels, interest in pineapples, yeast, and home-brewed beers is starting to pick up again.
    • It's not yet clear when South Africa’s latest alcohol ban may be lifted.
    • If you start now, you might be able to throw together something a little more refined than the last hard lockdown’s pineapple beer – for half the price of a store-bought beer.
    • It's legal too.
    • For more stories go to

    In April last year, South Africa’s first Covid-19-related alcohol ban saw Google searches for beer recipes, pineapple, and brewer’s yeast skyrocket - and stores reported products used to make quick home-brewed beer flying off their shelves. 

    Pineapple prices, like some bottles of homemade pineapple beer, also exploded a few weeks after the first alcohol ban was instated.

    This time around, the response to the alcohol ban has been more muted, though current Google search trends, and some movements in the industry, suggest the needle on this might be shifting again.

    “When the first alcohol ban hit us in March there was definitely a huge increase in the interest of home brewing,” says SouthYeasters Brewing club president Samantha Nolan. “This time, however, it seems to have slowed down a bit.”

    Supermarket group Shoprite told Business Insider South Africa that demand for pineapples has now “stabilised” after it doubled in May 2020 - and that “non-alcoholic beers and beverages in our supermarkets and sales of these products do increase over a prohibition period”.

    Although not yet a match for the highs of April and May, the alcohol ban and restrictions on public gatherings have once again increased interest in securing a more reliable source of alcoholic beverages - so much so that South African National Beer Day - usually celebrated at breweries and bars - is changing tack this year.

    “Our focus has always been on events held in breweries, restaurants and bars, so this year we’ve had to change things up a bit,” says founder, brewer and beer author Lucy Corne. 

    In 2021 the event will instead focus on backyard beer festivals – essentially drinking your own beer in your own backyard – as well as celebrating home-brewed beer.

    “And with National Beer Day about four weeks away, it gives people the right amount of time to brew,” says Corne.

    You can put a decent beer together at home, in a month

    Although you could conceivably throw together a few ingredient to produce a drinkable and alcoholic, if not particularly palatable, pineapple or ginger beer, less speed can offer better quality.

    Brewing club SouthYeasters say you should set aside at least four weeks to make your first batch of beer: two weeks for fermentation, and two weeks to carbonate. 

    If you’re serious about getting beer into your fridge faster, you can take shortcuts, with high-end equipment and by picking the right ingredients, but both Nolan and Corne warn first timers who haven’t invested in these that there’s no quick fix for brewing a decent beer.

    There are, however, a few tricks you can use to getting something reliable out within four weeks.

    “The best, easiest and quickest way to brew a beer at home, that’s a real beer - rather than pineapple or ginger - is to use wort, which some breweries and home brew stores are offering,” says Corne. “The wort is pre-fermented beer, so basically the whole brew has been done for you, and all you have to do is ferment it.”

    This product is legal to sell and buy, because it has no alcohol in it, and some small breweries or home-brew clubs will now sell you this, a solid recipe, and any additional ingredients and equipment you’ll need to get your micro brewery operational. 

    SouthYeaster’s Nolan also says your yeast choice can help speed things up. Picking up Norwegian yeast Kveik, which is perfect for our local hot summer conditions, for example, can cut your fermenting time dramatically.

    “Fermentation with Kveik is incredibly fast and usually complete in 72 hours, whereas normal yeast takes around 2 weeks,” she says.

    A little help and R2,000 can get you started

    Brewing a batch of beer isn’t as intimidating as it sounds, especially if you reach out to your local clubs and craft breweries. Brewing clubs and beer businesses should be able to set you on the right path with ready-made packages or brew-in-a-bag (BIAB) kits. Many of these also come with instructional videos that show you how to use equipment common in most household kitchens.

    And it need not be too costly; the team at SouthYeasters say that with a capital outlay of around R2,000 you’re well placed to “brew a solid beer”.

    If you have your heart set on a refined lager, though, you might want to temper your expectations, at least when getting started. 

    Corne, who’s brewed plenty of her own celebrated concoctions, suggests first timers start with something that requires slightly less technical equipment.

    “The process for all beers is much the same, it’s just the ingredients that vary. But a standard blonde ale or pale ale would be the first step for someone who’s just starting out. Lagers are more difficult because you need more specialised equipment, your beer needs to ferment at a cooler temperature, so that’s something that home brewers usually don’t dabble in, at least at the start. A blonde ale or pale ale is the best place to start, and some breweries even post their recipes to these,” she says.

    There are several online resources in South Africa for home brewers looking for equipment, recipes, and general feedback, and Corne keeps an updated list that are selling wort, yeast, equipment, and other essentials.

    There are a couple of common pitfalls you should know about

    Brewing beer at home is objectively a fairly safe way to pass your time – provided you stick to a few tried and trusted rules, don't make or consume too much, and ensure you sanitise everything carefully.

    “The stories that we read last year that people were dying from home brewed beer were nonsense,” says Corne. “They weren’t dying from home brewed beer, they were dying from harmful, noxious substances added to beer or another homemade alcoholic concoction.”

    The Beer Association of South Africa’s Troye May says that home brewing is “completely safe” when done correctly and following step by step instructions, preferably guided by someone with experience.

    “One can avoid serious issues or illness from just sticking to the recipe and not tampering with the fermentation process,” May told Business Insider SA. “It is highly unlikely that a person can perish from drinking home brewed beer, but this is based on the assumption that one is vigilant in the process and drinks in moderation. Like most food products, the equipment used should be cleaned and sterilised to avoid contamination.”

    Brewing clubs also recommend that rookies skip glass bottles until they’re comfortable with the fermentation process - PET bottles allow for easier checking of fermentation, and have slightly less dire consequences should your calculations be out.

    “If you get the ratios of yeast to sugar wrong, if there’s too much sugar in there, then you do have the potential of a bottle bomb,” Corne says.

    Nolan says you should allow the process of fermentation to occur naturally without trying to speed it up, and only use approximately six grams of sugar per litre of beer in order to carbonate it. It’s also important to leave enough headroom in the bottle, about 25%. 

    “Seal the bottle well and allow it to ferment for at least another three days,” she says. “When the PET bottles get hard you’ll then know that some carbonation has taken place.”

    Just don't sell it, and don't make too much

    There are currently no specific laws governing the home brewing of beer in South Africa, but there are a couple of things to be aware of.

    You obviously can’t sell on or distribute beer you make, it must only be for your own, private consumption.

    And there are limits to how much alcohol you can store on your premises at any one time - home brewed or not, and outside of alcohol bans, without holding a license.

    But unless you’re planning to brew more than 100 litres, this shouldn’t be an issue for your average home brewer. Instead, most home brewers suggest a process of consuming shorty after brewing.

    You can save some money if the alcohol ban is lifted

    Although the recent restrictions on the sale of alcohol has sparked a renewed interest in home brewing beers, many in the industry believe it’s a sustainable and enjoyable hobby for people to pursue outside of prohibition times.

    “There are two types of home brewer,” says Corne. “Those who brew because it’s cheaper, and those who brew because they love the act of doing it.”

    Just how much a bottle of home brewed beer costs is heavily dependent on the capital outlay for equipment, and the ingredients used. The nature of many home-brewed beers is that the brewers want to make something unique, or using only the finest ingredients, regardless of the cost, but Nolan says that you could make a decent home brewed weiss beer for as little as R12.50 a litre. 

    “A heavily hopped beer could cost double this. But yes, in the long run, its about just over half the price of your big brand beers, excluding the costs of equipment,” she says.

    For the purists and hobbyists, though, Corne says price is seldom a factor.

    “They’re doing it because they’re making something you can’t buy in a store. Home brewers tend to make what we call extreme beers - high alcohol, or maybe they’re aged in brandy barrels for several months - and they use a lot of hops or very expensive products. Yes, you can brew a beer quite cheaply - but people who are brewing right now aren’t necessarily interested in brewing 12% stouts aged with vanilla pods and Jack Daniels, for example,” she says.

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