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Your first fermentation. Learning how to brew

Current rating: 1 from 1 votes.
Writer Jules Mercer tries her hand at a beer brewing class…

Homebrew, artisanal beer, microbrewery. Heard these terms before? These are the new buzzwords of the brewing industry, which has gone ballistic for “craft beer”. 

The term simply means that the beer has not been produced by a mega brewery, but a smaller, more intimate and hands-on company. While traditional methods are maintained, each individual brewer is able to put a personal stamp on their beer, producing unique brews.

For most people, craft beer is attractive because the production line is shorter. This makes the brewer (and knowledge about the ingredients used) more accessible.

“You know the ‘oke’ who started it, have heard of his cousin who joined him and, bam, they formed a business.” – it’s a great relationship to have with your choice beer. But if that’s not close enough, you can go brew your own, bru!

Enroll in a Beer School

Beer School is a one-day class, held in Cape Town monthly, that teaches eager beer-ers how to brew. Lasting 4-5 hours, this class is an introduction to the art of beer making. And as far as introductions go, you’ll get more than a bit of theory – there’s hands-on boiling, stirring and sieving involved.

Lynnae Endersby, Beer School founder, started the classes in response to the growing interest in homebrewing – the rise in brew kit sales at her BeerLab shop suggested a growing demand.

“It’s been incredibly popular, and most of our classes are fully booked way ahead of time,” she smiles. I can see why – this is one innovative and fun course. 

Nick Birby is another big name in homebrewing. He consults to microbreweries when he’s not at home making his own kegs. He also teaches at the Beer School and can’t help but infect you with his enthusiasm for what he calls his “hobby”. 

Jules’ first day at school

We arrive early in the morning and settle down with a mug of steaming coffee – we need to be alert as we’ll be operating some serious equipment. The theory behind the brew is intricate – we talked through yeast strains that have been perfected over years; the addition of hops; how the flowers are farmed; and locally grown hops from the Outeniqua Valley near Knysna. Beer begins to feel even more steeped in our culture than I imagined.

I’m taken aback by just how much you can manipulate the standard beer recipe. The boiling process extracts the bitterness from the hops, so if you’d like something slightly tarter and more acidic, you can time your boiling appropriately. You’ll need this bitterness to balance the sweet barley malt.

Yeast, we learn, is the active ingredient in beer, which needs a warm, carbohydrate-filled liquid in order to ferment and produce sugars and carbon dioxide. The sweet barley malts are balanced at the end of a (quite long) boiling process with the addition of hops. 

Beer making continues after we have left the school – our brews need a few days to ferment in special vats. Afterwards, they’re bottled - this last lap takes the best part of two hours. It’s then a two-week wait before you can try your very own batch of home-made brew. Worth the wait? Certainly.

The theory side, in all its glory, is both simple and complex. Luckily, I know only the simple part of it and so beer making still seems like something I could achieve at home. I do wonder, however, if, with more information, I would still feel this way.

For more information on brewing classes and kits, check out the Beer School website or contact Lynnae at lynnae@beerlab.co.za. Or you can enjoy the fruits of a microbrewer’s labour instead. Pick n Pay now stocks a wide selection of craft beers. Visit a Pick n Pay Liquor store near you!

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Current rating: 1 from 1 votes.
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