LABRATS Shine in Inter-Varsity Brewing Competition

UKZN’s LABRATS at the SAB Brewing and Tasting (Inter-Varsity) Competition in Bloemfontein.

Hops, barley, and water is all one would think take to produce the ideal beer, right? Well, not entirely…

UKZN’s LABRATS recently attended the annual South African Breweries (SAB) Brewing and Tasting (Inter-Varsity) Competition held at the University of the Free-State in Bloemfontein, and learnt that there is a lot more to the process of making the perfect brew.

It was not the vivid red UKZN-branded t-shirts that made the LABRATS apparent from every angle of the room, but their perseverance, expertise in beer brewing, and sheer determination. The team came tops in the African Wild Ale category!

This was the 15th instalment of the competition in which students from various universities across the nation gathered once again in person for the first time in two years. The two-day event was spent establishing new networks and competing against each other to be dubbed the ultimate beer brewer in various categories.

Former SAB Senior Trade Brewer and innovative Brewing Legend, Mr Ben Lamaletie organised the first SAB Intervarsity Beer Brewing Challenge. SAB sponsored the first university micro-brewery at the University of KwaZulu Natal’s Pietermaritzburg campus back in 2003, all thanks to his efforts.

This event is notable as it exposes students to corporate conglomerates and leaders in the beer-making sector. It is much simpler to get recognition, sponsorship and potential business opportunities with this kind of exposure.

‘Taking part in this competition helped me understand the depth and beauty of brewing,’ said Fermentation Monitor, Mr Solomzi Ndlovu.  ‘It helped to reignite my passion for brewing as I networked with corporate brewery managers from SAB, Heineken and owners of microbreweries. I have also improved my ability to taste things well and identify different types of smells when tasting beer.’

The process of making malt drinks is called brewing. The predominant malt beverages created by brewing are beers, ales and lagers. It is a sophisticated fermentation technique that differs from industrial fermentation in that the final product’s flavour, aroma, clarity, colour, foam generation, foam stability and alcohol content are all major determinants. Malting, kilning, mailing, mashing, boiling of the wort, adding hops, fermentation, finishing, ageing, maturing and carbonation are all steps in the beer-making process.

To many people, the process of making beer can be as alien as a foreign language, but if craft beer connoisseurs want to properly appreciate the exquisite beverage in front of them, learning the fundamentals of brewing can be helpful – and that is what the LABRATS did this year.

‘Brewing has a special effect of uniting people as it did with us as a group, the team has been a second family to me. It has given me great joy in one of the most challenging times of my life,’ said Mr Thokozani Mahaye who was in charge of Hops Experimentation.

Team Leader and Brewmaster, Mr Qiniso Mthethwa said he would be pleased to see the brewing club gain recognition as a legitimate club like other societies or sports clubs that the University sponsors.

‘By doing so, we will actually have the opportunity to educate our friends about beer and responsible drinking,’ he said. ‘We request that the University devote the same amount of time and resources to brewing as they do to other sports in order to support the brewing culture. In addition to teaching practical skills that could lead to income generation and sustainability, we hope to expand so that we can give back to the community through community outreach initiatives.

‘I do not take this win lightly considering the fact that our team does not have advanced equipment and a proper establishment compared to other competing teams who have sponsorship from breweries such as Heineken and SAB,’ said Ms Nomacusi Sibelo, Assistant Brewmaster specialising in yeast culturing. ‘Our win speaks volumes about our passion and dedication for craft beer.’

The team’s objective moving forward is to obtain financing to assist them purchase modern equipment, pay for their accommodation and travel expenses to and from the competition destination, and win in their category once more.

‘The aim of our brewery is to promote the art of brewing to more people and students and to encourage responsible drinking. To conclude, we invite new members to join our group,’ said Mr Daniel Tessema who was responsible for Quality Control.

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Words: Cindy Chamane

Photograph: Supplied