“We came into the game to tell an African story to claim an African space in the craft beer industry,” says Lethu Tshabangu, the driving force behind Ukhamba Beerworx, Cape Town’s first black-owned craft brewery,
Tshabangu’s passion for craft beer comes from humble beginnings: pulling pints at a bar in Cape Town. But Tshabangu was inspired, and he soon began home brewing on the kitchen stove. In 2017 he launched Ukhamba Beerworx with his own microbrewery and taproom in the suburb of Woodstock.
But he soon realised that running a brewery is no easy task.
“It was my first business and there was a lot to learn. Mistakes were made,” admits Tshabangu. In late 2018 he changed tack to partner with Signal Hill Products, owner of leading craft beer brand Devil’s Peak.
“We are still independent, but now we make our beer with their state-of-the-art systems. That’s helped us a lot, both in brewing and distribution,” says Tshabangu, who is passionate about infusing a sense of African identity into the craft beer industry.
“Most modern beer styles have their origins in European countries. I thought, why can’t we make beer with ingredients from Africa for an African palate?” says Tshabangu. “We’re here to tell that African story.”
That story is best told in the beer dubbed “Utywala”. Here Tshabangu blends Belgian Saison yeasts with sorghum malt — a key ingredient in traditional African umqombothi — to fashion a fragrant farmhouse ale with an African twist.
Tshabangu has also garnered plenty of attention for his India pale ale (IPA) — cheekily called “State Capture” — alongside the crisp lager-style “iBhiya”.
Most modern beer styles have their origins in European countries. I thought, why can’t we make beer with ingredients from Africa for an African palate? We’re here to tell that African story
“We live in a hot climate. It’s a beer made for African summers,” says Tshabangu.
In 2019 Tshabangu took on a new partner in SA actor, producer, and filmmaker, Thapelo Mokoena. The pair opened the Ukhamba Beerworx Taproom in Claremont, Cape Town, pairing Ukhamba brews with generous platters of lip-smacking shisanyama.
“We wanted to have a home for the brand,” explains Tshabangu. “Our own space where we can move volumes of beer, and create a culture associated with Ukhamba.”
As with so many restaurants in the country, the Covid-19 lockdown has hit the taproom hard.
“We’re standing on one leg, trying to keep it surviving, but each day that lockdown lasts is killing us,” says Tshabangu with a sigh. “And in the future we don’t know, with the new culture of social distancing. How long will it take until people are comfortable in crowded public spaces?”
He’s not one to take a setback lying down though. Ukhamba will soon launch an online store, creating a direct route to market, and Tshabangu is looking ahead to a brave new world of brews.
He hopes to revisit the “Black Honey Vol 1”, an imperial stout created as a collaboration with brewer JC Steyn from Devil’s Peak Brewing Company, as well as the unusual “Red Brick Shit House”, a 10% alcohol-by-volume barley wine made in collaboration with Hop Hazard Brewing.
“There are a lot of other projects that are still coming. We want to make beers that a rural boy from somewhere in Africa can drink and relate to,” says Tshabangu. “We want to use African herbs; we want to use more African grains. Those are the stories we want to tell in our beer.
For more information, visit: ukhambabeerworx.co.za
FOUR MORE BREWERIES TO FIND
1. Old Potter’s Inn and Brewhouse, Greyton
Situated in a century-old building on the main road through town. Alongside the excellent “City Slicker” pale ale, look out for the rice beer dubbed “My China”; a collaboration with one of Cape Town’s favourite ramen bars.
2. Cederberg Brewery, Cederberg
In these far-flung mountains you can now sip on award-winning wines and top-notch craft brews. Made with mountain spring water, the “Voertsek” IPA is superb, and pays subtle tribute to famed local author C Louis Leipoldt.
3. Saggy Stone Brewery, Nuy Valley
Hidden between the valleys of the Langeberg mountains, a visit to Saggy Stone’s charming country brewhouse allows for a taste of more than a dozen creative craft brews.
4. Fraser’s Folly Brewing Company, Elim
An English winemaker brewing on Africa’s southern tip may sound like a joke, but Fraser Crighton takes his small portfolio of craft brews beer seriously. They’re best discovered with a visit to the brewhouse near Cape Agulhas.