Behind the brew, part 1: How COVID-19 is impacting the beer industry

It’s no secret that the craft beer industry has taken a massive knock during the current pandemic. Just when things started to stabilise after the initial ban that devastated many brewers, the industry was hit with a second unexpected and immediate ban. We sat down with four brewers to learn more about how they are weathering the storm. Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela is an SAB veteran, Master Brewer and the owner of Brewsters Craft and the newly launched Tokolazi Beer.

How has the last 100+ days been for your brewery/taproom?

It has been a very tough 100 days; an emotional rollercoaster of note. As things were about to start looking up, we had another ban.

How has your business adapted to survive?

During the initial lockdown/ban we started packaging hand sanitisers at the brewery and launched our online brewing training. When we got to alert Level 3, we shifted focus back to brewing. With the current ban, we are working on launching a non-alcoholic offering.

How have your employees/staff been affected?

Fortunately we have managed to keep all our guys (for now) – not sure for how much longer, though. [During] the initial lockdown we benefited from the UIF TERS, but haven’t heard anything about similar relief this time.

Do you think the initial alcohol ban was needed and do you feel it was effective?

Yes, the country needed time to prepare. I do believe that even then we shouldn’t have introduced a total ban. During the initial lockdown, we should have introduced restricted sale of alcohol – restrict trading hours or days – instead of a total ban.

How do you feel about the second and immediate ban?

Unfortunately, when the ban was lifted, some people behaved irresponsibly and thus affected everyone else. The COVID-19 cases keep increasing and unfortunately it seems alcohol is being singled out as the main cause. I think had we kept the curfew in place, plus maintained police visibility when the ban was initially lifted, things would have been in better control. The second ban without any notice was very unfair. Brewing is a natural process that takes place over weeks and it can’t just be switched on and off like a light switch.

Do you think that this is the end for our young craft beer industry?

Things are very, very tough and don’t look promising at all. I am hoping this is not the end and hoping some will survive this and carry on out the other side.

Do you think we will ever go back to normal? Or what will the new normal look like for craft beer?

I don’t think things will ever get back to normal. We will have to live our new normal, where sales are more online with less people coming by for brewery tours and tastings, which is unfortunate.

Do you see any positives coming out of this pandemic?

Breweries will have to innovate and create non-alcoholic offerings. The other positive is seeing more people having interest in home-brewing and craft beer.

How can people support your brewery/taproom through this time?

We are working on an exciting non-alcoholic brew to replace our originally planned Women’s Month special brew. This will be launched before the end of the month under the Tolokazibeer range.

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