Voice of America (Washington, DC)

South Africa: New South African Beers Flavored With Boer History

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"The money is welcome, of course, but that was never my motivation in making beer," he said. "That's why I'm still in the business today. If money was my main driving force I wouldn't have been here today. My passion and my ambition [were] to create a beer culture and to share with other people the unique flavors in craft beer."

'Horrible' beer as inspiration

Unlike van Tonder and Kallmeyer, Steve Gilroy believes in keeping his customers happy with much more than his award-winning beer.

His elegant restaurant and pub on the northern outskirts of Johannesburg swings with live music. The TVs are tuned to sports. On weekend afternoons he pauses the party to recite his poems, which more often than not feature stinging criticisms of the government, corrupt police departments and other social ills.

But Gilroy is most famous - or rather infamous - for his "beer speeches," in which he enlightens his audiences about his beer and how it's made, and during which he seems more of a standup comedian than a brewer.

At one such event recently Gilroy told the crowd to thunderous laughter, "There are a few benefits to my job - like I've never faced my wife sober. If I go home sober she thinks I haven't been working."

His talks also feature his disdain for wine, to which he applies various denigrating labels, including "vinegar that's in the process of rotting."

Gilroy was born in Ireland but grew up in Liverpool and London; he moved to South Africa in 1970. It wasn't the climate or the culture of the country that shocked him, he said - it was the "horrible" beer.

"When I came to South Africa I couldn't drink the beer. I was used to the bigger [bodied] beers and they simply didn't have it; it was just a sea of generic lagers. So I started home brewing," the genial Gilroy explained.

He owned a pharmaceutical printing company in Johannesburg and brewed beer at the back of the premises.

"Brokers I used to deal with were always asking me for my beer. They'd deliver work for me whenever they knew I was brewing up some beer. My beer got really popular," he remembered.

Gilroy said the complete computerization of printing in South Africa finally forced him to do what he's always wanted to. "I thought, 'Do I really, at my age, want to get involved in all the new technology, when anybody with a computer is a printer? Or do I follow my passion?' And my passion has always been beer. So we started off a little microbrewery."

That little microbrewery is now one of the busiest in South Africa, and Gilroy's beer is turning into a brand that's available across the country.

Blues inside The Cockpit

"Whiskey and women almost wrecked my life," drawls John Lee Hooker, the great American bluesman, as people drink beer inside the bar of The Cockpit Brewery in the diamond mining town of Cullinan in Gauteng Province.

While pouring another pint, brewer Andre de Beer laughed and said, "The hardest workers in my brewery [are] the yeast cells; I've got billions of them working for me. And I'm convinced that they're happier when they listen to decent music. So always when I brew I love to listen to Pink Floyd, John Lee Hooker, Eric Clapton, JJ Cale - nice laid-back blues - and it makes my yeast happy, I believe."

The brewhouse is decorated witi all things aviation: navy, gold-braided pilot uniforms, model airplanes, portraits of airplanes... .

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