When COVID-19 was infecting hundreds across South Africa in 2020, the government instituted lockdown measures to contain the spread of the virus. Other measures the government took were to ban the sale of alcohol.
Although the intentions of the government were sincere and based on public health advice, they had unintended consequences. The ban on alcohol, which was in place for half a year, led to the collapse of many local breweries.
One of the breweries affected was owned by Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela. She founded Brewsters Craft in 2015 after leaving her position as master craft brewer at South African Breweries.
“The journey of starting the brewery was not easy. Like a lot of people, I struggled to raise capital. I ended up applying for a loan at the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa (IDC). The process took over a year before they approved the application,” she told News24.
In 2018, Brewsters Craft opened its doors in Johannesburg and began manufacturing beverages for smaller craft beer brands. The company was showing signs it will be successful then the pandemic struck and there was a ban on the sale of liquor in South Africa.
“We are still surviving lockdown and trying to make ends meet…For us in the alcohol and tobacco industry, we’re hit the most. It was a rollercoaster – emotionally, mentally, financially and physically,” Nxusani-Mawela told News24 in January last year.
For Nxusani-Mawela, her headache was not only the shutdown of her brewery which manufactures Tolokazi (a sorghum pilsner) but she had to repay a loan she took to expand her business operations.
“I had loans that need to be serviced as well as rent and staff that needed to pay. The worst was not knowing for how long we would be banned for or what’s going to happen. Beer brewing is a three-week process that you can’t turn on and off,” she said last year.
Despite the challenges she faced, Nxusani-Mawela was still optimistic about finding success. Widely regarded as South Africa’s first female microbrewer, she received a LinkedIn invitation from the chief marketing officer of subscription service Beer52, headquartered in Edinburgh. Beer52 is a club that introduces drinkers across Europe to new beers from around the world.
According to Business Insider South Africa, as part of Beer52’s initiative of offering new liquor to Europeans, it subscribed to 200,000 cans of Tolokazi this month, which will reach 100,000 subscribers in the UK.
The Tolokazi cans for Beer52 were brewed in Croatia but not without challenges particularly with raw materials sourced mainly in South Africa.
“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,” she told Business Insider South Africa.
Since the collapse of her brewery, Nxusani-Mawela has been producing Tolokazi under a contract manufacturing arrangement with OC Brewery in Kya Sand, just on the outskirts of Johannesburg.