There has been a rapturous reception to iBhiya in the market. What started as a limited edition beer for #SANBeerDay has drawn attentio across the spectrum. I’ve had many interviews in person, virtually and over an iBhiya or two. There have been so many great questions about brewing, innovation, growth, strategy and simply what food goes well with it.
Here is all you ever wanted to know but not yet asked.
Craft beer is quite a niche area, how did you discover the potential in its market or what interested you in it?
It is a niche area representing only a few percent of total beer production in South Africa. There is potential however the local beer market is dominated by the big commercial brewers, craft beer producers need to offer something different – beer experiences, beer tours, tasting sessions, new beer styles and in all of this awareness and education in new segments. What interested me was that we had grown up in South Africa thinking that beer is lager and when I discovered that lager is only one style of beer and that there are hundreds of defined beer styles and new ones being created all the time. This sense of innovation potential really excited me. Growing the beer market in South Africa is the best potential for growth – one of the most rewarding things I find as a brewer is when non-beer drinkers come to a tasting session and afterwards say to me “I don’t usually like beer but now I am convinced – there is a beer for me” Entrepid Brewing was founded on principle of creating new beers, pushing the limits and brewing beers that no other brewery brews.
Is the brewing process of this modern blend different or unique to how you produce the other traditional blends? i.e. Is it a longer or shorter fermentation process, does it use more local products and environmentally sustainable practices etc.
It’s the additional step of making the umqombothi mash that makes it different. The sorghum, maize meal and flaked maze is mixed together in warm water and sours overnight. The next day the strained umqombothi is then added to the beer brew and ‘cooked’ before fermenting. Fermentation is a bit faster than normal as the alcohol is lower than standard beers – about 3.5% only slightly more than umquombothi on its own. Ingredients are all South African (except the yeast but that’s not really an ingredient anyway)
So I believe that this is the first time ever that this craft beer blend will be tasted?
I have had it available at a homebrew festival before. I have made some changes to recipe and process since then. This was the first time the beer has been commercially available albeit to a limited customer base.
What inspired iBhiya creation? Who taught you to make uMqombothi?
After moving from Johannesburg to the farm it took a while to find someone to teach me to brew traditional uMqombothi as everyone has their own unique process so with some local help that was the first step. It really was an experiential journey to learn about the traditions of brewing uMqombothi – it could have been as simple as following the instructions on one of the bags of sorghum however that wouldn’t give context. I visited spaza shops, attended tastings on township tours, asked many questions and then jumped in bought the ingredients and tried. I got together in the start-up brewery at the time with the employees we had and brewed over the next few days. When it was ready we all sat down and followed local tradition and passed the cup around to appreciate, enjoy and further discuss the traditions.
At the same time sour beers had also been gaining in popularity in the craft industry so my idea was to merge these two concepts together and create something local by fusion of modern beer brewing and traditional methods.
What is behind its name? Is there an interesting story there?
Its more of a project name than a beer brand. I started matching Xhosa translations for beer terminology and the only word for beer was iBhiya which to me couldn’t have been a linguistically correct word but a word formed from the English ‘beer’ but adopted into Xhosa which represented the concept described above quite well.
Why should the traditional craft beer drinker try out this modern blend of craft beer?
Craft beer trends are moving towards sour beers, this is slightly sour but steeped in tradition.
How have people responded so far?
The response has been overwhelming – I would have never expected such an interest. It was only a small batch especially brewed to have a taster and to drink for the pub-crawlers on #SANBeerDay. My inbox is filling up with interested customers wishing to order. Feedback on the beer has been hugely positive so this will all play a part in shaping the course.
Umqomboti is a particularly African drink, how would you respond to someone if they accused you of co-opting an African tradition for profit?
Craft beer is all about the beer – if profit is a motive you cannot call yourself a craft brewery anymore. This is all about appreciation of traditions enjoyed in a new way. uMqombothi changed in the 1600’s when maize was introduced to Africa – the next quest will be to recreate the original brews using just sorghum, millet, honey and herbs.
Since it started, roughly how much has your business generated in a year?
We received our liquor license on 24 March 2019 it couldn’t have been a worse time to get started with five liquor bans in spite of that we have grown – the capacity is about 3000L/month and we brewing 2000L/month after recently expanding production.
What marks apart Featherstone Brewery and Entrepid Brewing from other breweries?
Entrepid stands for a sense of adventure by pushing the limits and brewing totally different beers the first beer is an historical beer that hadn’t been brewed since 1877 when it was banned in Germany the other core beer is a lite beer using modern brewing techniques to reduce calories, carbohydrates whilst retaining flavour. Featherstone is totally local to Makhanda whilst brewing standard style beers the emphasis is on quality and local taste. Bell Ringer African Pale Ale uses Rooibos tea infusion for beer balance rather than flavour.
Is there a plan of expansion?
Not immediately we just increased production capacity and to expand further will require a significant investment so if it is viable in the future we could expand further.
With such a short ‘shelf life’ is Ibhiya only available at Entrepid?
The early phase of launch we need to conduct tests on the freshness of the beer over time. There is no biological or chemical reason for the shorter than expected life its about the particulates that are in suspension may settle over time and change the beer. So at this stage we produce small batch and may repeat small batches with limited distribution until we have a clear idea how the beer changes with time. Its actually only available at Olde65 in Makhanda.
Are there plans afoot to tweak the formula to make it available across a wider market?
With the enthusiastic reception we’ve received we need to consider this although it’s early to say how it will develop at this stage of the product lifecyle. I don’t believe he formula should be tweaked in order to achieve in the above cold chain distribution may be a better option.
How would you describe the taste?
It would really help if someone had described the taste of uMqombothi then I could use it as a ‘cheat sheet’. For me I get a pleasant slightly sour rustic earthy flavour with slight herbal hops and hints of the honey. It has a smooth creamy mouthfeel with medium carbonation and a ‘fluffy’ white head.
I’ve just done a story about food and alcohol pairing. So lets ask the question. What does ibhiya pair well with?
It wouldn’t make logical sense to pair this with any food other than local and traditional style foods so I would go with umngqusho and chicken stew. I think the corn base flavour of the ibhiya will complement the samp.